Learning to Love
“My childhood wasn’t so great. We were in and out of foster care parents and families and there was always abuse. My brother and I were the only Indigenous kids in white families.”
— Laurie Okimawinew
Laurie explores her experiences and challenges growing up as the granddaughter and daughter of residential school survivors, and how coming to Regent Park and participating in the programming at Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre (Council Fire) helped her find her identity and develop a deep sense of place and community. Before starting kindergarten Laurie was in and out of foster homes frequently. Foster care was abusive and she remembers being the only Indigenous kid. “Growing up I didn’t know about residential schools. I saw the alcohol abuse, gambling abuse, and physical abuse coming in and out of our home, but I never knew why we lived this way, not until now”. She recalls never having an opportunity to learn her own language because her family was ashamed of it. The Circle for Indian Residential School Survivors helped her heal and connected her to where she works now at Council Fire. Today she has a deeper understanding of how her experiences have shaped her identity, from difficult experiences growing up in foster care to memories of bittersweet joy and pride watching residential school survivors reconnect with their traditional culture and experience things about their culture for the first time, especially knowing that her mother couldn’t experience these when she was a child herself. Although these residential school survivors were mostly seniors by now, when Laurie saw them dancing in ceremony, it was as if they were children, children who for the first time finally got to be who they truly are. Laurie remarks about the deep sense of community and belonging she feels working in Regent Park and even as a child remembers late nights running around the park with her cousins, and how no one would bother them or say anything to them, almost like they were free.
“The most memorable moment in the community for me was the first Pow Wow for the (Residential School) Survivors Ceremony. It was in Regent Park, and watching them be part of the community, seeing them going out in that ceremony, coming from where they were coming from, that was very special. I saw them as little children who finally had the chance to come out and live that childhood…like kids experiencing things for the first time, remembering and relearning their sacred teachings.”