On February 27 and 28, 2023, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) hosted its first annual Survivors’ Healing Gathering at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg. The survivors’ healing gathering provided a safe and supportive space for survivors to share their experiences and begin the healing process. The event was an opportunity to acknowledge the impact of the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop, the child welfare system, and the ongoing issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people.
The SCO’s Survivors’ Healing Program developed the gathering, led by Indigenous elders and survivors, to address the way forward for communities that have endured so much pain. The event was free of charge and open to everyone.
“I extend my gratitude to the 550 Survivors from 79 First Nations who joined us for our first ever Survivors’ Healing Gathering,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels. “Survivors joined the Southern Chiefs’ Organization to learn, share, and heal together over two days. We shared stories, reflections, tears, and laughter as we navigate the healing path forward on our collective journey. It was good to come together in a positive way following several years of not being able to gather in person due to the pandemic.”
The event’s success highlights the importance of Indigenous communities moving forward and working towards reconciliation without forgetting the past. The gathering was an opportunity for survivors to heal and find comfort in shared experiences while also recognizing the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous peoples.
The residential school system was a tool used by the Canadian government to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, often through violent means. Children were forcibly taken from their families and communities and sent to residential schools, where they were stripped of their cultural identities, languages, and traditions. Many suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of their captors, leaving lifelong scars.
The Sixties Scoop refers to the period in Canadian history from the 1960s to the 1980s when Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in foster care or adopted by non-Indigenous families. The horrific practice was intended to “civilize” Indigenous children by removing them from their cultural and familial ties.
The child welfare system continues to disproportionately impact Indigenous families and communities. Indigenous children are overrepresented in the child welfare system, and many are placed in non-Indigenous foster homes, separating them from their families and culture.
The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people is a crisis that has impacted Indigenous communities across Canada for decades. The violence and systemic discrimination faced by Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people are rooted in the legacy of colonialism and the ongoing marginalization of Indigenous peoples.
Moving forward, it is essential for all levels of government and Canadians to remain committed to working with the Indigenous communities toward equality while also acknowledging the past. And for this to happen, the reconciliation process of rebuilding relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples must be based on trust, mutual understanding, respect, and the recognition of rights must be sincere and be done in good faith.