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Success stories shared at Children of Shingwauk gathering

‘I’ve come full circle in my journey’: Residential school survivors had the chance to share stories of hardship and success at Algoma University on Sunday

To kick off day three of its annual gathering, the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association celebrated success stories inside the halls of Algoma University on Sunday.

Several survivors of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School took the opportunity to share their personal journeys, including some of the unimaginable challenges they’ve faced since childhood, and how they’ve worked to prevail over those hardships in their adulthood.

Residential school survivor Wayne Rabbitskin shared an inspiring story about how his father battled to reaccept certain traditional ways of his culture later in life in an effort to overcome the oppression he faced at Shingwauk.

“My family attended a treatment program when I was 17 years old,” he said. “Every morning, we would stand in a circle and have a smudge – everyone was smudging. They would come around, and as they got closer, my dad would tell me not to do it – that it’s not our way.”

Rabbitskin described a sleeping area at the treatment centre where he would smudge more privately so he wouldn’t upset his dad, who had grown up at Shingwauk and was wrongfully instructed that smudging was strictly forbidden.

“Every now and then I would look and be afraid my dad would come in there and know I was smudging,” he says. “I was always hiding.”

At 18 years of age, Rabbitskin said his mother took him to a sweat lodge and a sweat lodge ceremony for the first time.

“I felt good seeing it,” he says. “We went in there, me and my mom, and we didn’t tell my dad. She told me, ‘Don’t say anything to your dad.’ But after a while, my dad said to me, ‘I knew what you guys were up to.’”

Around seven years ago, Rabbitskin was hunting with his then 60-year-old father – long past being afraid of smudging around him.

“We sat down for the first time and talked,” he said tearfully. “My dad said to me, ‘I see you, you’re a good man – bring that smudge. Smudge me.’ And I smudged him. I felt so happy and so proud.”

“After I finished smudging him, he said, ‘Son, I’ve been thinking a lot about something. I want to go into a sweat lodge, and I want you to come with me, and I want to sit with you there.’”

“To me, that felt like one of the success things – that our family can go and sit together in a sacred place and pray together. I feel like coming [to the university] today with my mom and sitting next to her, that I’ve come full circle in my journey.”

The Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association’s annual gathering continues this afternoon with workshops and family activities, as well as a sharing circle, at Algoma University at 2:30 p.m.

The George Leach Centre will then host a dinner and giveaway at 5:30 p.m., followed by bingo at 6:30 p.m.

The gathering will wrap up on Monday with breakfast at the George Leach at 9 a.m., followed by a closing ceremony on the university’s front steps at 10:30 a.m.