Many seeking support after discovery of unmarked graves on former residential school site; Counsellor says it’ll be a long road to recovery

Last week’s announcement of the discovery of evidence of 751 unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school on the Cowessess First Nation, has taken a mental toll on many country-wide.

Keith Pratt with Fox Valley Counselling Services says the mental health toll of the impact of residential schools is, unfortunately, nothing new for Indigenous Peoples.

Pratt says the mental impact has led to many survivors using drugs or alcohol, which has been passed down to other generations.

“It’s always on the back of our minds, it never goes away because we live it, and we’re also products of our parents,” said Pratt. “Generations through generations, the history has been brought down to some of the impacts that led up to last week.”

Pratt says he has seen countless clients who have been impacted by residential schools in some way, whether directly or not.

He adds it would be difficult to find an Indigenous family who doesn’t have a relative who attended a residential school.

“If you look at families in Saskatchewan, all of them are a product of the residential schools,” said Pratt. “My parents talked about forgiveness, which they still had a hard time with and I think most families do. It’s going to take a generation, or two, to actually move on, and I think we need to let the outside world know some of the things that have happened.”

He knows the discovery of the graves may have come as a shock to many non-Indigenous people, as it wasn’t something that was taught in schools or talked about very openly.

Pratt adds many non-Indigenous people have approached him feeling guilty about what happened, which he says isn’t a helpful feeling.

“I think understanding and listening is going to be the biggest tool for non-Indigenous people to understand,” said Pratt. “I think they need to take a step back and give it time to heal. There may be some feelings of guilt, but I think they shouldn’t be there because this was back in the day. It’s a changing world, and we need to help and work with that.”

Pratt says he knows a lot of people who have reached out asking how they can help people affected by residential schools, to which he says just be there to listen when they need to talk.

He adds apologies only go so far if no real action is taken.

Anyone seeking help with dealing with the impact of residential schools can call Fox Valley at 306-757-5100 or visit their website.

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