By Kristi Pollard 

Surviving. Like most of us, I thought I knew what it meant. And then I participated in an event called Survivors Documentary Screening, hosted by Spring Garden Church on November 23. Now I have a better idea of what real survival is about. 

The Cree of Mistissini, Quebec and Indigenous Peoples in Canada are continuing to survive as individuals, a culture, and a community. Their not-so-distant past is full of experiences that sought to tear them apart and break them until they no longer knew their own identities. 

This documentary, by filmmaker Stephanie Armstrong, highlights ten brave individuals from Mistissini. They shed light on what it was really like to live in Residential Schools and what happened while they were there. They share what life after the Residential School looks like for them.   

Five and six year-olds were packed into tiny planes like sardines and flown away from their families. When we heard of the horrors that they encountered in this new place, it is no wonder that one gentleman had mixed feelings when he went back to visit one of the Residential Schools attended by the group. He wanted his family to understand a little of what he went through. He, and the other children with him, were not able to express emotions. He was separated from his siblings to cause a disconnect with his family. Being mentally shattered over right and wrong behaviors was a side effect of the corrupt or perverted examples set by those who were trusted to ‘care’ for the children.   

They were forced to practice religion. It wasn’t until years later, after returning home and encountering Jesus that they saw God is not only about religion but wants a relationship. A relationship with God and relationships with one another, are helping them on the path to healing and forgiveness. Carrying the shame that was heaped on them, in silence used to be the acceptable way, but now talking to each other, to family, and to friends is releasing the pressure valve and creating understanding.  

One participant put it this way: “The scars will always be there.” So, what are some elements needed for healing? Community, acknowledgement of wrong, space, and time. And what could be some next steps? We can pray, read, learn, and engage in relationship driven listening. 

Seeing the documentary has changed me. I still have processing to do because this was so truthful and powerful. I would urge parents to watch it before you show your children because of the raw, honest, content. But I hope this film will open our eyes, cause us to turn to God’s leading and humble ourselves to pray. God have mercy. 

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