APTN National News
OTTAWA–Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan unveiled a stained glass window in honour of residential school survivors Monday, marking the June 11, 2008, anniversary of the prime minister’s apology for one of the darkest periods in Canadian history.
The unveiling of the stained glass window, which was designed by Metis artist Christi Belcourt, comes as crisis swirls around the multibillion dollar residential school settlement that led to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology.
The stained glass artwork, titled Giniigaaniimenaaning, which translated from Ojibway to English means Looking Ahead, was unveiled at the Chateau Laurier, a luxury hotel next to Parliament Hill. The artwork aims to tell the story of Aboriginal people journeying through the “darkness” of residential schools, through “awakening” and eventually reconciliation.
“There will be people who will say, ‘Well what will a glass do when there are so many unresolved issues to deal with?’ Issues about land, about the environment, treaties, Metis rights,” said Belcourt, during the unveiling. “There will be 60,000 people walking through Parliament ever year…they will always be reminded.”
Belcourt asked non-Aboriginal Canadians to remember that reconciliation takes two sides and urged them to stop writing “filled-with-hate comments” on news website in response to stories about Aboriginal issues.
“Aboriginal people have contributed great things to this country and we have always done it in peaceful ways,” she said. “We have always given and given and given…We are going to be stronger if we come together, two sides.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan called Belcourt’s stained glass window a “magnificent work” and said it was a symbol of reconciliation.
“The stained glass window will be a visible reminder of the residential school’s legacy,” said Duncan. “It will be a beautiful l and powerful reminder of the lessons learned through the residential school experience. It will also be an enduring symbol of Canadian’s efforts to make amends and achieve reconciliation with Aboriginal people.”
Architect Douglas Cardinal, who designed the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C., and the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., along the Ottawa River, said Belcourt’s artwork was chosen unanimously by the selection committee.
“The selection committee sought artwork that among other things honoured the First Nations, Inuit and Metis children that attended Indian Residential Schools and that depicted the concept of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians,” said Cardinal, who was on the committee.
The unveiling of the artwork, which will be installed on Parliament Hill’s Centre Block, above the entrance reserved for MPs, comes a week after a British Columbia judge barred a Calgary lawyer and his firm from handling any more residential school files, leaving thousands of claims in limbo.
The BC judge found that David Blott and his firm Blott & Company were using residential school settlements to enrich themselves by offering high interest loans to former students and doing little to help their clients through the process.
Evidence has since surfaced that suggests other lawyers handling residential school claims across the country may be engaging in similar tactics.
Duncan, however, dismissed concerns the Blott fiasco had tarnished the residential school settlement process.
“Yes, the people who are victims of malfeasance on the part of the legal community certainly did not deserve that, but the process will address all of those people and so they will not be penalized in any form,” said Duncan. “It wasn’t the process that led to this circumstance. The process was designed to deal with people with fairness and respect.”
Canada, the churches and Aboriginal organizations agreed to a $5 billion residential school settlement agreement on behalf of former residential school students. The apology followed the settlement agreement which was the largest of its kind in Canadian history.
About 150,000 children were cycled through residential schools which lasted over 100 years. Hundreds, maybe thousands of children died at the schools and, in the majority of cases, parents were never informed. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was also created by the settlement, is currently involved in a project to find out who these children were and where they are buried.