BONNYVILLE – On Saturday afternoon, community and Legion members gathered on the corner of 51 St. and 49 Ave. to watch the unveiling of a Residential Schools Memorial Monument.
Next to the Legion Cenotaph stood a podium and a covered monument surrounded with children's stuffed animals. Before the monument was revealed, retired members from the Canadian Armed Forces spoke about the importance of acknowledging the wrongs in the past — to learn from it and to remember it.
Throughout the event Legion members referred to the monument as a symbol of atonement for a dark chapter of Canada’s history and an important step forward.
Jamie Beaupre, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 183, told guests in attendance “It was an uphill battle getting everything together, but we got’er done.”
Beaupre thanked those who helped make the monument a reality. He said at times the group wasn’t sure how it would all come together, but with a gracious donation of marble slabs from a community member the pieces started to line up, making a monument to honour children who were forced to attend Indian Residential Schools a reality.
Also in attendance was Ramona Jebeaux and her family. Jebeaux, who is originally from Kehewin Cree Nation, was asked to speak by the Legion as her father was a Canadian veteran who served in the second World War and was also a residential school survivor.
When describing her late father, Norbert Clarence Jebeaux, she said, “He was an Indigenous man, a Canadian, a Rifleman and a medicine man.”
Jebeaux told Lakeland This Week, that “If he was here, I would think that he'd be really happy to see this monument and he would probably be extremely moved. I don't know what he would share about residential school because some of the stuff that happened to the survivors and those who passed on was extremely shameful for them and it shouldn't have happened.”
Growing up, Jebeaux and her sisters were never told stories about their father's time in residential school. Thinking back, the only stories her father shared about the war was that he and the other soldiers spent a lot of time boxing during their free time as they moved through the European continent.
“He grew up before they had terms like post-traumatic stress. He never talked about war and he never talked about going to residential schools. They never talked about their experiences, they never talked about the traumas. They saw death, but never talked about any of that,” she said.
Speaking to how men coped returning home from war, Jebeeaux said, “They tried to integrate into society again, some of them were alcoholics and some of them died of alcoholism. I am sad to say, my dad was an alcoholic, but then he achieved sobriety and he founded the Bonnyville (Indian- Métis Rehabilitation) Centre.”
Jebeaux said she is grateful that the Bonnyville Legion took the initiative to honour the victims of residential schools.
“They didn’t have too, but they chose too,” she said, which is one of the many reasons Jebeaux has stayed connected to the Bonnyville Legion, even though she has relocated to Edmonton.
A monument and a prayer
Following the unveiling, Bob McRae, the Sergeant at Arms for Branch 183, read a dedication as the audience had their first opportunity to take in the new monument.
“If I had a wish — I would wish this monument would never have been needed. I would wish we would not open old wounds. I would wish every child be loved, supported and nurtured to the fullness of their time. I would wish our society respect the memory of those gone, those surviving, remaining and healing, and from whom we may learn most valuable lessons,” read McRae.
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