By James Wastasecoot

Former students of Mackay Indian Residential Schools gathered at the old school in Dauphin Aug. 5 – 7. 2022 to share and support one another in their healing journeys. Groups of students have been holding reunions at the school since 1987, two years after it closed for good. “It was an emotionally wrenching experience for some and for others, it was a happy occasion to visit with old friends and former colleauges,” said Clara Kirkness, event organizer and survivor. “We have about 45 individuals, many of them were new to the experience. It was hard for them to confront what happened to them here.”

The guest speaker was Eric Cook, of Grand Rapids who presented a Powerpoint on Grieving and Loss.

“Grief is the normal reaction to any kind of loss. We’ve all felt it, in this case, of children who had to leave. Leaving home, leaving your parents, leaving your family to come here and then there’s the loneliness. It’s very important to acknowledge the grief and address it.”

He told the gathering that grieving occurs in stages. Initially, it common to be shocked and then live in denial that you’ve suffered.  People often do this to mask the pain. But pain and guilt persist from the experience. Individuals react to their grief and may be remorseful about their conduct. Anger and bargaining describes the individual’s attempt to cope by lashing out, a phase in which relations with relatives are vulnerable to being severed. Depression, reflection and loneliness usually follows in which a person has time to think about their loss. At this point, as the physical symptoms lessen, a person can bridge the gap between their depression and healing by experiencing an “upward turn”, a feeling of leaving depression behind. From here, there is the potential for reconstruction and working through the pain and suffering by getting your life grounded and organized to live a normal life. This phase opens the way to acceptance and hope for a better future and finding a way forward.

“It’s important for people to touch and to find comfort with one another. Each of us has a way of expressing grief, and people shouldn’t feel ashamed to feel their emotions. Everybody wants to be strong, but we also need to be understanding as human beings and be able to show genuine human emotion.”

Staff from Keewatin Tribal Council, West Region Tribal Council and Peguis Child and Family Services were on hand to provide support and guidance throughout the event. Former students who participated came from north and south including: Split Lake, Mile 412, York Landing, Easterville, Grand Rapids, The Pas, and Peguis. The reunion was organized by the Mackay Residential School Gathering Inc, a non-profit organization run by residential school survivors. The MIRSG wants to thank the following donors who supported the reunion:

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Dauphin Friendship Centre, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Peguis Child and Family Services, Keewatin Tribal Council and Jim Wright.

Some participants

Mauice Bear text and Alice Bear text

Show group shot: Winnie, Alice, Maurice and Anne Marie Prince

Emily Kematch

Photo of her.