AKWESASNE — The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council continues to join efforts to bring awareness and understanding on the dark chapters of Canadian and American history that has left a traumatic scar across Indian Country. During this week’s work session, the Tribal Council signed Tribal Council Resolution 2022-42 to formally declare September 30th of each year as “Every Child Matters Day” to bring attention to the ongoing legacy of Indian boarding schools.
Enacted in 1819 through the Civilization Fund Act, the federal government assisted missionaries and churches in the removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities in an attempt to assimilate them into western society. Some parents unknowingly consented, as they were led to believe their children were going to receive a formal education, while some objected and had their child forcibly removed from their homes.
At distant schools, the children were intentionally isolated and stripped of everything associated with their cultural identity; which included removal of their traditional clothing, cutting for the first time the long hair that they have known since birth, and being violently reprimanded for speaking their own Native language. Some endured far worse; as they were confined in small, dark spaces for long periods of time, were often raped and sexually abused, and countless numbers of innocent children were fatally punished — never to come home again.
The Indigenous children who were fortunate to survive and make their way home to their communities were victims of a federal extermination policy that sought to “Kill the Indian. Save the Man.” Removed from their Indigenous heritage at a young age, those that returned no longer knew their traditional language, were unfamiliar with their community’s customs and ceremonies, and struggled to feel once more their family’s affection.
The trauma inflicted upon children at Indian boarding schools continues to have a generational impact on many Indigenous communities. Academic scholars and researchers, as well as health officials, have identified the effort by the federal government to eradicate Indigenous Peoples through Indian boarding schools as a main contributor to many of the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical problems being experienced today.
By declaring September 30th as “Every Child Matters Day” in the community of Akwesasne, the Tribal Council wishes that the day be used each year for remembrance, reflection, and reconciliation. They call upon humanity to open our hearts and to listen with open ears to our recounting of the history, stories of survivors and their families, and to remember those that didn’t make it home, as well as those who did and were never whole again.
The process of healing does not always come easy, but resources are available to help us through this painful part of history. If you need support, please call the National Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, SRMT Mental Health at (518) 358-3145, or SRMT After Hours Crisis Center at (518) 651-4475. We are here to help each other.