UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Residential school survivor Geraldine Robertson in a frame from the documentary 'We Are Still Here.' Courtesy of Dwayne Cloes

Roads to reconciliation

A United Church-funded documentary preserves the difficult memories of residential school survivors

By Nicole Laidler


Geraldine Robertson was 11 years old when her father died and her mother was hospitalized with tuberculosis. Shortly after, a government agent collected Robertson and her two younger sisters from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ont., and put them on a train to Brantford, Ont. That was the beginning of Robertson’s experience at the Mohawk Institute Residential School.

Almost 70 years later, she and two other residential school survivors — Sylvia Deleary and Susie Jones, both of Bjekwanong First Nation on Walpole Island, Ont. — share their memories in We Are Still Here, a new documentary produced by the right relations group of Lambton Presbytery and paid for through a grant from the United Church’s Justice and Reconciliation Fund, with matching funds from London Conference and Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

“Relatives started asking me questions about what life was like at the schools,” Robertson says. Many had parents who had been raised in the residential school system and came looking for answers about their own upbringing. “In order for the second generation to find forgiveness and peace in their hearts with how they had been raised, I thought they should know what had taken place at the schools, how their parents as children had been raised at these schools, and how abusive it was.”


Robertson credits Rev. Matthew Stevens, her minister at St. Clair United in Sarnia, with encouraging her to share her memories with churches, schools and other community groups. She served on the United Church’s national committee on Indigenous justice and residential schools and on London Conference’s living into right relations committee.

This year, Robertson was nominated for the Order of Ontario in recognition of her long-standing dedication to exposing the truth about Canada’s residential school system.

“Those of us who are survivors are getting older,” Robertson notes. “We felt filming our stories was something important that needed to be done.”

Last year, the London Conference right relations committee hired Sarnia filmmaker Dwayne Cloes to help preserve the women’s stories. Cloes spent three months taping interviews and editing hours of film into a 40-minute documentary.

After an emotional private screening for friends and family at Walpole Island, We Are Still Here debuted to a packed theatre at the Sarnia public library in February. Since then, interest in the documentary has grown. “It’s pretty much been one screening a week,” Cloes says.

The film is often met with tears and disbelief, he adds. “And at almost every screening, a First Nations person will stand up and say, ‘I was at a residential school, and I’ve never talked about it.’”

We Are Still Here is available on YouTube, as is a 17-minute version of the documentary. “I tried to create a film that can be screened in schools,” Cloes explains. “Those are the young people we need to reach.”

Robertson echoes his sentiment. “We need to teach the children the truth about residential schools, across Canada and in our own communities,” she says. “If you want to find true healing, you do need to face your demons.”

Nicole Laidler is a freelance writer in London, Ont.




Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image