In recognition of Orange Shirt Day, Hockey Hall of Famer speaks at Indian Horse screening
By: Xavier Ranville and Wynter Taylor
It was a chilly last evening of September when Naotkamegwanning’s roundhouse was filled with more bodies than it has had in a long time – dedicated to residential school survivors.
The 40 plus community members and guests of all ages enjoyed traditional foods as wild rice and bannock before sitting down for the big screen and local George Kakeway’s similar story of residential school survival through hockey.
“Be who you are because that’s how you survive,” said Kakeway in discussion after the award-winning film adaption of the novel by the late Northwestern Ontario’s Anishinaabe Richard Wagamese.
Indian Horse, follows the fictional Anishinaabe character Saul, and his experience at residential school and his talent through hockey. The story captures many of the realities of racism and ill treatment Indigenous persons have faced.
The film left many people in tears touched by the story, either seeing for the first time on screen the real experiences of their loved ones or because they had no idea of this part of Canada’s history and what they went through.
Like many adults and elders like Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation’s George Kakeway, the story of Saul and his peers was very much a reality.
“As a survivor it becomes very hard to express what we went through,” he said in the community discussion.
George was taken from his home in 1951 at the age of 6. He talked about his time at St. Mary’s Catholic Residential School in Kenora, that his hair was cut bald and punished for speaking Ojibwe. He expressed that this place, along with its sanitarium, was one of the loneliest places.
“The intent was to assimilate us, not to educate us,” he said.
Like character Saul, he was an orphan at age 10, and hockey had come available for him and he excelled, not just out of interest but a method of survival from experiences.
He said hockey gave him the opportunity to chose to go to Winnipeg’s Assiniboia Residential school which let him study and also gave him time to play hockey. His focus led him to become the chief at his home at the young age of 25.
In October of last year George and his team were inducted into Manitoba’s Hockey Hall of Fame.
September 30, Orange Shirt Day is not just the last day of the month but a national movement, and proposed national holiday of sharing residential school experiences. It remains a hard day for many elders to relive and share, taking courage.
While having heard about residential schools, Judi Cannon, a non-indigenous attendee, was overwhelmed to learn about what was going on inside and outside of the residential schools.
“I can’t even believe it would happen,” she said. “I don’t understand how people could treat other people that way.”
Cannon, Director of Ontario SPCA for Partnerships and Community Outreach, along with her crew were invited into the community for their second year extraction of unaccounted for dogs.
Event was put on by the community’s journalism trainer and the community’s Women’s Shelter.