Community radio to share legacy of Indian Residential Schools

When she was six, Gunargie O’Sullivan went to St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Alert Bay, British Columbia for one year, but never forgot it. Her mother had gone to St. Michael's too, but for a lot longer. Gunargie can’t forget that either. And she recognizes that without people participating in reconciliation, First Nations children are still at risk, just in different ways.

Now living in Vancouver, Gunargie says she sees the lasting effects those schools had on former students, taken from their families and subjected to abuse; their children, raised in the shadow of those experiences; and on Canadian society, every day.

“If you are First Nations, you are in some way a product of Residential School," she says. "But the absence of our perspectives in the media is rampant, and that needs to change."

Gunargie has been using community radio to tell these stories. A new initiative will ensure she has some company in this important work.

The project, called “Resonating Reconciliation”, will fund 40 community radio stations across the country to each produce a 30-minute radio documentary on the legacy of Indian Residential Schools in their community, with additional funding to provide training to local Aboriginal volunteers.

It was proposed by the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA), where Ms. O’Sullivan is a member of the Board of Directors and the head of the Native Caucus.

The application was also supported by the Indian Residential School Survivor's Society and will work with the Red Jam Slam Society to put on five performance art slams across Canada where First Nations’ artists come together to perform and tell yet more stories.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada funded the work as part of the Commision’s mandate to acknowledge Residential School experiences, impacts and consequences and create a lasting historical record with a focus on the lived experiences of former students and their families.

The project will also fund resources and workshops on how community radio stations can better cover the legacy of Indian Residential Schools throughout their programming.

“This is something all Canadians need to know more about,” said Shelley Robinson, Executive Director of the NCRA. “We can’t reconcile until we acknowledge the truth of what happened. And community radio is a place for stories you don't hear anywhere else.”

As a survivor herself, Gunargie says she can’t wait to get started.

“This project will support youth to communicate with elders who are the survivors of Residential Schools, which is important as there has been a huge awareness gap between the generations. We need to share our survivors’ experiences and then we can all rise above the years of trauma and begin to build a relationship between ourselves and the rest of Canada."