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Winnipeg residential school survivor speaks to Sweden’s truth commission about her experiences

A Winnipeg boarding school survivor has been invited to Sweden to speak before its truth commission as the country goes through its own truth and reconciliation process.

Geraldine Shingoose, who attended Muscowequan Residential School in Saskatchewan from 1962 to 1971, was invited to Sweden earlier this month to address that country’s truth commission, which was first announced in 2019 to look into the injustices committed by the Swedish state against the Sami people uncover .

Shingoose was asked to describe her experiences of life in a boarding school and Canada’s journey to truth and reconciliation.

“They call it the truth commission,” Shingoose told CBC. “They left out the ‘reconciliation,’ and I commended them for it, because we cannot have reconciliation until that truth is shared.”

The Sami today live in Sápmi, which stretches from the northern parts of Norway through Sweden and Finland to Russia. They once faced oppression from their culture, including bans on using their mother tongue.

“Also, the sad part was that they took their sacred objects and burned their drums… I could feel that connection to the Sami when I heard that story,” Shingoose said.

“Here in Canada we were not allowed to participate in our indigenous ceremonies and our sacred objects were stolen and taken.”

In 1977, the Riksdag – the Swedish parliament – recognized the Sami as an indigenous people in Sweden.

Today, the Sami mostly live a modern lifestyle but still herd reindeer and some still wear their traditionally colorful national dress.

Shingoose shared her experience of Canada’s truth and reconciliation process in Sweden with the hope that this will help the Sami and Swedes in their own process. (Submitted by Geraldine Shingoose)

Shingoose said she told the Truth Commission how the abuse she suffered at boarding school affected her mentally, physically and emotionally. She also described how schools in Canada were set up to “bring the Indian out of the kid, out of me.”

“They had to understand this story,” she said. “My language was taken. I was taken from my family. They were very open to my feedback and very open to hearing my experiences and learning from my experiences.”

She also recommended that the Swedish commission be led by indigenous commissioners, as was the case with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked at the history and legacy of Canada’s boarding school system and presented its final report in 2015.

dr Kim Anderson, a Canadian research chair in indigenous relations, agrees that keeping “reconciliation” out of the name of the Swedish Truth Commission was a good start.

“Here sometimes people think we jump straight to reconciliation without addressing the truth or without people really knowing the truth,” said Anderson, an associate professor at the University of Guelph.

“Ideally, you can then begin the reconciliation process.”

Beginning of a special relationship

The Sami people share similar experiences with Indigenous peoples in Canada due to their history of oppression and marginalization and dispossession of land and culture, Anderson said.

Last summer she took a group of indigenous and non-indigenous students to a field school in Sweden to engage with the Sami people.

The journey was a profound experience for Indigenous students who were able to recognize parts of themselves across the ocean, Anderson told CBC.

“We could understand what the other was saying,” she said. “We already speak each other’s language, and that’s the language of indigenous peoples and the similar experiences we’re having.”

For non-Indigenous students, the trip was an opportunity to reflect on their own role in reconciliation in Canada as it allowed them to see the process from a different perspective.

The field school is ultimately a knowledge exchange to help everyone involved move forward, Anderson said.

“I think it’s great that they can have these conversations so we can share our knowledge.”

Shingoose says she brought several gifts to Sweden, including an Every Child Matters flag. (Submitted by Geraldine Shingoose)

Shingoose hopes that sharing her story will ultimately help the Sami and Swedes on their way to reconciliation.

She brought gifts including an Every Child Matters flag and a Métis sash.

“The Métis sash is so similar to the colors they use. They were just amazed by this gift,” she said, adding that she received gifts like dried reindeer meat, which reminded her of smoked elk meat from her homeland.

The Anishinaabe Elder says she has learned fika while she was in Sweden – a custom where people take breaks to eat, drink and think a few times a day.

Shingoose’s journey was the start of a special relationship, she says, and she hopes the Swedish Truth Commission will continue to reach out to tribal peoples like her in Canada.

“I just want them to know that if they ever need support or guidance, we will be sure to support them here in Canada.”

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