My name is Danielle Lanouette, but I go by Dani. I’m an Anishinaabe woman living in Ottawa, Ontario.
I’m writing to you, not as anyone affiliated with a political organization, but as the granddaughter of a residential school survivor. The granddaughter of a beautiful, amazing, strong woman whom I never had the privilege to meet, due to the traumas she endured during her time at residential school.
When my paternal grandmother was a young girl, she, along with many other children in her community, were taken from their small community of Rapid Lake, Quebec and brought to Spanish Residential School. My grandma and her siblings spent the rest of her childhood and adolescent life there. There, they endured years of abuse and assimilation. This is trauma that was passed onto my father and his siblings, then onto my brother, my cousins and I. This is trauma that none of us will ever be able to rid ourselves of.
I want to tell you a story. In March 2016, I visited Spanish Residential School while at a conference that was based and centred on reconciliation and decolonization. That day I went to Spanish was the day I felt closest to my grandmother. I think I was trying to hold on to what small physical connection I had left with both of my grandmothers, especially since it had been less than a year since I had lost my maternal grandmother. We had presentations by some incredibly strong survivors, one who had attended around the same time as my grandmother. Everyone in our group had then gathered in a circle to listen to people talk a bit more, but I couldn’t hold myself together anymore. I could feel all the pain, the hurt, the suffering, and the tears from all the children who had walked through those doors, some never walking out. Not only was that pain emotional, but it was physical as well. I was having a hard time breathing, my stomach knotted up and I felt this pain in my heart that I can’t describe. I remember going outside on the porch and having to hold myself up on the rail to keep myself from collapsing. I cried and cried and cried. Knowing that this was the spot where my family members had everything stripped away from them, had their heads shaved, and were abused constantly, I just felt this immense pain.
This was the center of all the pain I’d felt throughout my 18 years of life. When I didn’t feel like I was native enough, when I couldn’t understand my elders when they spoke our languages, and when I was dealing with my mental illness that I seemed to have no cause for, it all made sense. I was finally able to identify what all of this pain was that I was feeling.
This is a big part of who I am and my identity as an Anishinaabe Kwe. I live each day knowing my ancestors are walking behind me, helping me on my journey. I grow my hair long to honour my grandmother and the rest of my family members who attended residential school, as they couldn’t do the same.
I don’t expect you to understand this exact pain, I can’t expect you to feel something that you’ve never felt. But I do expect a certain level of understanding and empathy from someone in such a high up position in our government, especially representing the Conservative party. The party that was in power on June 11th, 2008, when Prime Minister Harper issued a formal apology to all who were in the Indian Residential School System. At the time of this apology, I had just turned 11 years old. I didn’t know a lot about what my family had been through, and how residential schools had affected us, but I knew that this was important. I knew that a lot of people were hurting and that a lot of people needed that apology. They needed the government to recognize what had happened, and that it was an act of genocide.
You have said that you are educated enough on this subject, and that you have support from many survivors who didn’t have the same traumatizing experiences as others. I’m so glad that they don’t carry that trauma from their time in residential school, but please do not let their experiences overshadow those who have had experiences like those of my family. We are still living with the trauma that the residential school system has inflicted on my family. There was nothing my parents could do to shield me from that pain, other than keep the truth from me, and there is nothing I will be able to do to shield my children from that pain.
The job of the Indian Residential School System was to “kill the Indian in the child,” as said by Indian Affairs Deputy Superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott. He said that the government’s goal was “to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and that there is no Indian problem and no Indian Department.” You can’t deny that the Indian Residential School System was built with the goal of eradicating my culture, and ultimately, my people.
I am so incredibly grateful to be here today. I know my grandmother fought with everything she had to make it through her years at Spanish, and there is no way I would ever have been able to thank her enough for that. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of each of my grandparents, as they, along with my parents, have instilled in me the strength, courage and resiliency that I need to get by in this world. I live every day in honour of them, and when my depression hits me hard, I remind myself of the strength they’ve passed down to me.
As Indigenous people, we’ve survived an incredible number of attempts to assimilate us into the European culture, but we’re still here. I am proud to introduce myself in my language and to say that I’m from Neyaashiinigmiing on my mother’s side and Barriere Lake on my father’s side. I love introducing myself as part of the Otter Clan and I adore teaching Anishinaabe youth how to do the same and honour their families as they see fit. I pray that I can instill that same pride in the next generation that is to come and that they will live with less pain than those before them.
I am grateful to be able to say my grandmother was a survivor, and I will spend my whole life doing my best to honour that.