A monument with a plaque recognizing the role bush planes played in Canada’s residential school system was unveiled at Lions Park overlooking the Burntwood River in Thompson Oct. 10, near a restored float plane erected by Spirit Way in 2008 as a tribute to northern aviation and its role in opening up Manitoba’s north for economic development.
“The whole purpose is to just tell the many stories of this plane,” said Thompson Urban Aboriginal Strategy chair Charlene Lafreniere. “[Indigenous children] were picked up for residential school, they were picked up fro the ’60s scoop, they were picked up for TB facilities, so this plane doesn’t bring great feelings to everybody and so we need to honour that. It’s not about bashing an industry, it’s about telling the many stories and moving towards transforming and tolerance, not intolerance and hate.”
“This reflection space is dedicated to the Indigenous children who were put on bush planes to attend residential schools,” reads the plaque. “As you stand in this space we ask you to reflect on the imagery of bush planes. We ask you to remember that although they are a symbol of economic opportunity they are also a painful reminder of the residential schools’ legacy. Take a moment to consider this question: ‘What if it was my child or my grandchild who was taken away on this bush plane?’ Let us remember our shared history in the hopes that we will never again allow government policies to allow any children in Canada to be torn away from the loving arms of their parents, their grandparents, and communities.”
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said the monument was significant, both as a commemoration of past mistakes and as a signpost towards a brighter future.
“This story is not a very pleasant story for our people,” he said. “It’s a very dark chapter in our history. Today we honour the survivors of the residential school system and those that did not survive, that died in the residential school system. Some are buried in the back of the churches, in the back of the residential schools, in unmarked graves. There’s no monument for them. This is their monument. This is their time to be remembered.”
That the plaque was erected in partnership with the City of Thompson is significant, said Settee.
“It’s a big step towards reconciliation, meaningful reconciliation, not just rhetoric but we’re actually making those significant steps to reconciliation.”
Mayor Colleen Smook said the symbolism of the bush plane wasn’t considered from all angles when the tribute to aviation was developed.
“Originally this park was planned and then there was talk about a plane to commemorate the opening up of the north and the economic value of the north,” she said. “Once the plane is up and then you start hearing people talk about the meanings that that plane had for them and there weren’t good feelings for the most part. I think it’s showing that we’re walking the walk in the spirit of reconciliation, not just talking about it. This is just acknowledging our partners in the north and how we feel about the inclusion of everybody in our everyday life. At least you know now that you have acknowledgment, someone’s acknowledging that you were there or your parents or grandparents. It just shows everybody is starting to get on the same page, that we are moving forward.”