Residential school survivors produce end of life planning guide
- Betty Ann Adam | April 21, 2021
Frank Badger was nine years old, playing with marbles in the small boys’ dorm at residential school, when a supervisor came and said, “Frank, your Mushum died this morning,” and then walked away.
“There was no, ‘I’m sorry,’ or any condolences or anything,’” he recalls.
That night, as he cried in his bed, a nun approached. Thinking she was coming to console him, he sat up. “She wound up and slapped me right across the face and said, ‘Shut up. All this crying is not going to bring your grandfather back.’
“That’s when I quit crying in regards to death.”
Badger said his childhood experience affected his ability to grieve for many years.
He learned to accept death and grief when his three teenage children were killed in a car crash in 1995. He and his wife followed the tradition of giving away all of their children’s possessions in appreciation for the many people who came to their memorial feasts. They became public speakers, traveling across Canada and parts of the United States, talking to students and families.
Rick Daniels, also a residential school survivor said that for children who came through Catholic residential schools, thoughts of death were always connected to the Church and hell.
But Indigenous people traditionally talk about death as simply being inevitable, and about getting ready to go to the other side to be with the Creator, he said.
“Death to indigenous people, a lot of times you’re going to hear, ‘it was his time’ or ‘it was her time.
“Death is something you have to come to understand. It’s inevitable. Our day is going to come no matter what you do. A lot of people prep for that through ceremony, a sweat lodge or just a smudge every day in the morning or evening, just for help to live a good life for that day, to be prepared. If your time comes, there’s nothing you can do about it.
“Its something we accept. It’s hard to lose a loved one.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with hell or purgatory or evil. It’s to put the positive, to think about the things you’ve done, to raise your family, make sure your kids are taken care of, not just materially but spiritually as family to take care of each other.”
Badger and Daniels are now members of Saskatchewan’s Indian Residential School Survivors’ Circle, which has produced When the Time Comes, an end of life planning guide for Indigenous people.
“It’s time we started making changes,” Badger said.
The guide is a compassionate, culturally appropriate walk through the many decisions and tasks that must be made when someone passes.
It is meant to start conversations before people pass and to help the living when the time comes.
Myrna LaPlante was one of the eight-member committee who assembled information with two Elder advisors.
“It’s from an Indigenous committee’s point of view and our lived experience. We all have lots of experience planning funerals in our communities,” she said.
The committee researched other end of life resources and sought to create an Indigenized guide for, “really getting people into the mindset that this planning is part of what I need to do,” LaPlante said.
The guide discusses cultural protocols and customs, explores end of life care, resuscitation and the use of life-support technology, types of services and burial or cremation.
There are sections on funerals, traditional feast and food services, on giving away possessions, coping with grief, and Powers of Attorneys to look after health-care needs and finances if one becomes incapable.
The guide gives useful information about creating a will.
“(A will) really gives the individual control over what happens at the time of their passing,” and helps family members to know they are honouring the wishes of the deceased about the funeral and giving away their belongings, LaPlante said.
“It would be comforting for the family to know their loved one has completed as much planning as they wished, and the family is not left having to guess what the loved one would have wanted.”
The guide addresses some topics that Indigenous communities don’t often talk about, such as organ donation, which is not acceptable to some elders.
“They are difficult topics to discuss… Our goal is for people to have a say, make a plan.”
The guide has a handy checklist of important documents to gather or to tell where they can be found.
The Guide is available on the website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation under the News & Events tab and the Community Information tab.
The Survivors Circle also wants people to be aware of the Na-mi-quai-ni-mak (I remember them) Community Support Fund which offers small grants through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTRC) and Parks Canada for community-based healing and remembrance projects.
Information is available on the NCTRC website under the Memorial tab.