A bright red canoe and freshly painted paddles are parked on Jeff Horvath’s lawn in Canmore, Alta. He and his family are packing up, ready to hit the road for three days of driving that will lead him home to his First Nation community in northern Ontario.
“We’ve made it our summer tradition to return to our traditional ancestral land and get our kids acquainted with their culture and family there and paddle like their grandparents did,” Horvath said.
They will also be visiting Horvath’s mother, a former school teacher and respected elder, and also a residential school survivor.
“She has been on a great healing journey,” Horvath said of his mom.
But a lofty job will be waiting for Horvath upon his return to Alberta’s Bow Valley. He is the new principal at Morley Community School.
Horvath said the pandemic, coupled with the ongoing conversation and discoveries at former residential schools, has impacted the well-being of students. He said the pains of the past continue to be felt by students today.
“Those kids who are caught up in cycles of violence, cycles of addiction and poverty — they all stem from previous generations… We need to restore our students’ spirits.”
On Thursday, the provincial government announced it is investing nearly $8 million to go towards mental health supports for residential school survivors and their families.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities will be able to apply for $2.8 million in grant money for up to $50,000 each. About $4.9 million will go to Alberta Health Services’ Indigenous Wellness Core over the next two years.
“This funding will provide supports that are led by Indigenous people,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
But some are concerned the $50,000 per community doesn’t go far enough.
“The nation that I come from, which is Stoney Nation, (is) made up of three bands with a population of 3,700 people. That would only amount to $13 per each member, so I question the quality of service each member would receive,” said Girly Lefthand, a descendant of residential school survivors.
“It (intergenerational trauma) has impacted every aspect of my childhood, and being an adult, it impacts my health, my education and my family unit as a whole,” said Lefthand.
“More effort needs to be placed on the understanding of intergenerational trauma and how that stems from Indian residential schools.”
Lefthand said it was only when she went to university and through the education from her Indigenous teachers that she began to understand her own trauma and start her healing process.
She said it’s important survivors and descendants get access to both Western and Indigenous mental health support systems.
Horvath, who has done his own healing, applauded the funding. But he agreed that awareness among all Canadian citizens is key in the healing process.
“Many Canadians are beginning to understand, but there are some Canadians who say, ‘Get over it, it happened years ago.’ But the reality is, it’s still in our communities. The pain is still there,” he said.
“Of course we want to heal, but it takes a while. It takes strong initiatives to get there.”
The province said it plans to make the grant money available as soon as possible.
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