Waterloo Region Record

For more than a century, 150,000-plus aboriginal children were taken from their families to attend church-run, residential schools across our country.

"In all, an estimated 144 schools operated at different times from the late 1800s to 1996," writes Larry Loyie in "Residential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors" (Indigenous Education Press, Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, 105 pages, $34.95 hardcover).

The Alberta author can't forget the hardships and suffering he endured in the prison-like conditions, where he was banned from speaking his native Cree language, and couldn't even communicate with his four sisters there. Child labour, sexual and physical abuse were also prevalent. Food was scarce and many students died over the years.

Co-authored by Fort Erie's Wayne K. Spear and Loyie's partner Constance Brissenden, the book chronicles the experiences in words and photographs from more than 70 former students and family members, on the damage done when Canada tried to blot out the culture, traditions and languages of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, in favour of a European society.

In an effort to acknowledge the damage that was done, the Canadian government issued a "statement of reconciliation" in 1998. Talks with the churches involved led to compensation of former students in 2006.

And in 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to Canada's Aboriginal people "for the injustice, pain and suffering of the residential school system."

But the work continues and this is a must-read for those looking to better understand the background behind current reconciliation efforts.

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