Remembering the Past: A Window to the Future

On November 26, 2012, the Government of Canada commemorated the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools through the dedication of a stained glass window in Parliament. The window is permanently installed in Centre Block on Parliament Hill. This video highlights the making of the stained glass window, an interview with the artist and former Indian Residential School students on the day of the dedication ceremony.

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Transcript: Remembering the Past - A Window to the Future

Stephen Harper: The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history. Two primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their home, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. Indeed, some sought, as was infamously said, "to kill the Indian in the child". Today we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country. The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly. Nous le regrettons. We are sorry. Nimitataynan. Niminchinowesamin. Mamiattugut.

Narrator: October 2011. The Honorable John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, announces that as a gesture of reconciliation, the Canadian government will commemorate the legacy of Indian Residential Schools with the permanent installation of a stained glass window. It will be installed in the very heart of parliament…in the Centre Block, above the Members' entrance.

John Duncan: A permanent commemoration of the legacy of Indian Residential Schools will encourage all parliamentarians and visitors for generations to come to learn about the history of Indian Residential Schools and Canada's reconciliation efforts.

Narrator: Submissions for the window design came from aboriginal artists across Canada. The design by renowned Metis artist Christi Bellcourt was chosen.

Christi Belcourt: My main concern at all moments throughout the process of designing it was to honour the students in the best way that I could.

Narrator: The task of transforming Christi's design into a glass window falls to Andrew Florczak, of Vision Art Studio in Toronto.

Andrew Florczak: All the glass is cut individually…each piece. So we cut probably about a thousand pieces of glass.

Christi Belcourt: It begins in the bottom left corner in a lodge, where a grandfather is smoking his pipe. This is before residential schools when everything was whole… when everything was intact.

The middle panel of the left hand side is the panel that depicts the residential school era, where 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their families. The children were abused sexually, and abused physically, and mentally.

In 1990, Phil Fontaine was the first national leader to publicly acknowledge that he had been abused in residential schools. There was something that happened when he did it that made the rest of Canada kind of wake up to the idea that this had happened. So within the design there's a shattering of glass. And that represents the shattering of silence and the shattering of lives. Then the drum dancer…the Inuk drum dancer is there. The drum is our heartbeat, and so it's awakening the people. The dove is there as a hope of reconciliation.

In 2008, which is the middle panel, the Government of Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly apologized, and our leaders were for the first time able to be on the floor of the House of Commons and respond. As it moves down into the right panel the lines and the colours are meant to bring a feeling of bringing it forward into the future.

The jingle dress is a sacred dress. It's a healing dress and so the jingle dress dancer is there. She's dancing for the future of her grandchildren. The child is now with the mother…no longer being separated…no longer being taken away. She is able to tell her child "I love you". The grandfather in the back is practicing ceremonies and able to pass on that traditional knowledge.

And so the bottom panel is the other half of the circle where the grandmother sits in the lodge and she's smoking her pipe for her grandchildren. And it is a restoration of cultures…a restoration of traditional practices. If we look at the history, we won't repeat it. If we remember history, we'll be able to move forward from it.

John Duncan: It's my great honour and privilege to join you here today, on Algonquin traditional territory for this dedication ceremony. I'd like to acknowledge the former Indian Residential School students who are here with us today, some of whom have travelled great distances from across the country to join with us. Through the official dedication of this window, we honour your experiences and ensure they are never forgotten.

Angie Hazel Crerar (former student): I got very emotional. Looking at it brought back so many memories. I could just visualize all those children that I went to school with for 10 years. To me, it meant more than the apology. The apology was words…but this one was visual.

Noel Starblanket (former student): I'm grateful that they're doing it. Now when the members of parliament, the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers come out of that House of Commons, everyday, they face that window.

Martha Greig (former student): To see that window, it's representing that there is hope.

Francois Paulette: And that that hope will continue with our children and particularly our grandchildren.

Singers: Though it was hard…it's a new day….

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