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SLCC exhibit explores legacy of residential schools

Includes archival photos, maps and textbooks

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During visitor tours at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), questions often come up that share a common thread.

"We've had so many people come on tours and ask why Aboriginal people are uneducated, why we're alcoholics, why so many of our kids are in foster care, wondering how we got to where we are," said Alison Pascal, the SLCC's curator.

"And they don't know this because the residential school system wasn't talked about until the 2000s."

Many of the answers to those questions can be traced back to Canada's Residential School System, which took thousands of Aboriginal children from their homes to be placed in government-sanctioned and church-run schools.

The end goal, as Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, once said, was to "take the Indian out of the child."

With the opening of a national exhibit — called Where Are the Children? Healing the Legacy of Residential Schools — Pascal hopes to help people better understand the answers to those questions.

"It's just a really good place to start to understand each other, and to understand what happened and how it affects everybody today," she said.

A grand opening for the exhibit was scheduled for Feb. 3, but has since been delayed until the end of the month due to a death in the Squamish Nation. Check www.slcc.ca for updates.

The exhibit will remain at the SLCC until at least October.

It consists of 118 framed archival photos, text panels, maps, original classroom textbooks and historical government documents.

Once the exhibit opens to the public, the SLCC will offer guided tours every day at 1 p.m. followed by a question and answer period.

You can also take the tour on your own at any time of day, with the option of using a free app available from the iTunes store called Legacy of Hope: Where Are the Children?

"The biggest takeaway from this is hope," said SLCC executive director Brady Smith.

"This is a conversation starter on a local scale, and it allows people from our region — whether you're a local of the 10,000 that live here, or you're part of the Sea to Sky corridor, or you're one of the 2.5 million people that visit here a year — to actually have a true understanding, a bit of a grasp, on what took place in Canada."

Understanding the history behind residential schools is crucial to moving forward, Pascal said.

"If you don't know about residential school, you don't know why it's important to participate in healing, to participate in mental health or education programs, and you don't see what the benefit is," she said.

"We just want people to realize how beneficial it is for Canada as a whole to participate and to learn the truth, and to participate in the healing journey, because it's not just our healing journey, it's everybody's."

In the 1960s, the Lil'wat Nation — of which Pascal is a member — consisted of just 460 people, she said.

The strength and resilience they showed in keeping their culture alive proves the importance of exhibits like Where Are the Children.

"They made sure that no matter what hardships the government put on them they still spoke the language, no matter what punishments, they still went and practiced their songs. They still went out and danced," Pascal said.

"It was very important for them to keep it alive, so it's very important for us to keep it alive and to teach the children."

To learn more about the exhibit, the Residential School System and its legacy, head to www.wherarethechildren.ca, www.legacyofhope.ca or www.trc.ca.

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