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Program Benefits Community Healing: Waterhen First Nation Residential School Survivors Program

Christine Fiddler

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SPRING 2002      v32 n02 p06  
There is a tremendous amount of Indian children who have gone to Saskatchewan Indian residential schools in the past. Waterhen Lake First Nation has the number standing at approximately two hundred and fifty. A variety of abuses and injustices arose from the schools and continue to have an affect on the lives of people in the First Nation.

The Residential School Survivors Program is situated on the Waterhen Lake First Nation. Its services exist primarily to provide healing initiatives to those who have gone to the schools and those who suffer from inter-generational effects as a result of parents who attended the schools. Armand Fiddler, program coordinator of Residential School Survivors Program and band counselor, explains how the program was started in November of 1999. "I heard the Aboriginal Healing Foundation had 350 million set out for residential school survivors. As soon as I heard this I applied for it, submitted a proposal, and it was accepted. We were one of the first bands to have this kind of program. I saw the need for something like this because there were 250 survivors in Waterhen who attended one of the Beauval, Duck Lake, Onion Lake, and Delmas residential schools in our area."

The purpose of the program is to heal people from the trauma of residential schools. Fiddler explains that they incorporate healing in their program by encouraging people to start talking about abuse, "bringing it out, then dealing with it and trying to help them cope with life after talking. Also to create a better situation for the younger people whose parents were students in residential schools". The Residential School Survivors Program carries out its purpose by providing healing programs and services to the people in the reserve. Some of those services include workshops, attending healing conferences, therapy sessions, sporting events, old time dances, karaoke nights, and sponsoring community events like powwows, rounddances, and Sundances. Their program also holds one community round dance and feast a year.

Those who work in the program include a program coordinator, program manager, holistic counselor, researcher, and administrative/financial manager. The program coordinator overlooks and ensures program progression, while the program manager writes the reviews and proposals for submission to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The holistic counselor is available for those who want counseling, the researcher develops newsletters and compiles information on survivors, and the administrative/ financial manager carries out administrative and financial duties. There are also two elders who work as casuals to advise on concerns of the staff and initiate traditional counseling. The Residential School Survivors board consists of elders and residential school survivors who meet to discuss the program and work on their healing, with the healing done through talking circles and personal development sessions.

Those who run the program want to see it continue to help more people. "We hope to get the people to work together. To get us out of the systematic thinking of Indian Affairs. To believe in ourselves and have self-confidence, so we will be able to make our own decisions. To be strong."