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Boy, 11, slams residential schools legacy

An 11-year-old boy stole the spotlight at the opening day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings into the tragedy of Canada's residential schools.

The former foster child, who turned up to ceremonies at The Forks in Winnipeg on Wednesday, told CBC News that members of his family still suffer from the aftershocks the federal government's former policies had on his grandparents and elders.

He cannot be identified because he's a former ward of the child-welfare system — a system he says continues to remove children from their homes and places them in care where they are sometimes subjected to abuse.

In Manitoba, recent data from the provincial children's advocate shows there are more kids in state care than ever before, most of them spread across a number of regional child-welfare authorities throughout the province.

"When I was a baby, like two years old, I was taken away from my Mom to a foster home," the boy said. "And still nothing has changed. They might do something today for residential schools but nothing's changed.

"Well, some kids are still in foster homes, still kids are still being treated bad and you cannot take away what happen to those people that went to residential schools," he said.

He wondered why the government wanted residential schools to exist in the first place, given their legacy of damage and trauma.

"That doesn't, what you call, make sense — like why would they do that?," the boy said. "And still, still, still today, our grandfathers and grandmothers — our elders — are still sad about what happened," he said.

About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend the government and church-run schools over much of the last century. The last one closed outside Regina in 1996. About 85,000 former students are still alive.

The $60-million truth commission, meant to expose and expiate the pain and suffering caused by the policy, was part of a landmark deal reached with survivors who had filed a class-action lawsuit against Ottawa and the churches that ran the schools.

Others also shared their experiences — some in private, some in public — with those at the commission charged with recording their stories for a national public archive.

Robert Joseph, from British Columbia, told the commission he was sexually abused by two people as a young student. He said he used to hide under his blankets and dream about this family, whom he was not allowed to see.

Leanne Sleigh, from Alberta, told the commission she felt worthless after attending a residential school where she was sexually abused.

Mary Simon, head of Canada's largest Inuit group, said she was made to feel ashamed of her culture at a day school in northern Quebec. She said she had her hand strapped whenever she spoke her language.
Healing and forgiveness

While many spoke of their trauma and anger toward the government and those who ran the schools, others, such as Rev. Guy Lavallee from St. Laurent, Man., spoke of the need for healing and forgiveness.

Lavallee, a Catholic priest who is Metis, said he understands why people are upset.

"I think that animosity has been in the minds [and] hearts of survivors for many years now," he said. "They have the opportunity to express themselves fully here."

All Canadians need to take part in the commission's work, he said.

It is expected that more than 5,000 people, including former students, leaders of aboriginal organizations, church groups and members of the general public will attend the event during its four days in Winnipeg.

The commission has the ability to record as many as 600 statements from survivors during its time in the city.

By noon Wednesday, about 50 people had given one.

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Tags: canada, youth
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