It was an emotional day for Jackie Fletcher and Shirley Horn.
The sisters - Shingwauk Indian Residential School survivors - were in attendance at the official unveiling of a new plaque at Algoma University’s Arthur A. Wishart Library on Friday.
The reworded plaque replaces an outdated 1977 version that excluded facts about the purpose of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School and misrepresented the experiences of students.
“In terms of Truth and Reconciliation I see this as being a start, to change the wording that reflects what happened to us as a people. It’s a template for other people to look at because there’s a lot more work that needs to be done and that’s why we work so hard in the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association,” Fletcher said, visibly moved as she addressed a large audience in the Wishart Library.
“Our younger sister…was so traumatized she almost died here.”
Fletcher said a similar memorial is being planned for the area of Great Northern Road and Wawanosh Avenue where the Wawanosh Home for Girls once stood.
“We’re getting older now and we need people to come and take up our work. We need so many more other partners,” Fletcher said.
Shirley Horn - who served as Algoma University’s first chancellor - said “we need to think about how we can make this world a better place.”
“This circle is becoming larger every year to help us do the work we need to do, to share the stories and share in the ceremonies. It’s been our work for the past 40 years. We recognize the good will as we share the story. People take the story to heart and say ‘this is the truth in Truth and Reconciliation.’”
“We’re still on the truth part and we won’t be there until all the truth is known and then we can move forward in good conscience.”
Two plaques - written in Anishinaabemowin, Swampy Cree, English and French - came into being through the efforts of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and historical research.
The plaques were provided by the Ontario Heritage Trust, a branch of the Ontario government.
The plaques will be erected outside the Bishop Fauquier Memorial Chapel outside Algoma University where the original plaque once stood.
Friday afternoon’s plaque unveiling came on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and on the heels of an official opening ceremony for Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, an Indigenous postsecondary institution located across the street from Algoma University.
The full text of the new plaque follows:
The Shingwauk Indian Residential School operated on this site from 1875 to 1970 as part of the Canadian Residential Schools system.
An Anglican minister, E.F. Wilson, named this school for Chief Shingwaukonse (Little Pine).
Shingwaukonse had a vision of creating teaching wigwams where Anishinaabe and settler children would learn from each other’s cultures.
In 1935, Shingwauk Hall was built to replace the former school building, known as the Shingwauk Industrial Home.
The assimilationist Residential School created in Shingwaukonse’s name did not fulfill his vision for cross-cultural education. At its peak, 150 First Nation, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their homes every year, most of them forcibly, and forbidden to speak their languages.
Education focused on physical or domestic labour, English language and religious instruction and was meant to break cultural, linguistic and familial ties, often separating siblings. The cemetery on site includes burials for over 120 students and staff, with many remaining unmarked.
Since the closure of the Residential School in 1970, Survivors have formed the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, which works to dedicate Shingwauk Hall to cross-cultural education in the true vision of Chief Shingwaukonse and the healing of communities from the harms of Residential Schools.