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Executive Director of Napi Friendship Association reacts to unmarked grave discoveries

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The staff of Napi Friendship Association in Pincher Creek are still dealing with the aftermath caused by discoveries of unmarked graves near former residential schools.

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“It hit hard because it’s a large number and it keeps growing and growing. It’s not a surprise, we already knew that there were children that had lost their lives to the school. We just didn’t know where they were,” said executive director LeeAne Sharp Adze. 

“Here, at the friendship center, we understand a lot of our own staff.,. it impacts them in every different way. Some are survivors, some are not survivors, some are first generation or second generation survivors,” she said. 

As part of the healing process the association which provides many different support programs for indigneous people in the area, gathered items such as teddy bears, shoes and flowers and took them to the Piikani Nation cemetery to honour the children. However Sharp Adze says this is just one of many ways to mourn.

“Everybody’s gonna have their own way of honoring these children is how I look at it.”

According to Sharp Adza there has also been an outpouring of support from the non-indigenous community. 

“The one day after they had found those children we got a lot of calls’ in regards to, how can we help?’ And a lot of Caucasian people had called in regards to that. And the best thing for everybody to do is to educate them, and to read about it. And then I think we can converse in regards to how they’re feeling and how we’re feeling,” she said.

The non-indigneous staff of the Friendship Association were also greatly impacted by the news, Sharp Adze said.

“Because of working at a friendship center they have insight into how things are happening within our community, with how it has happened in the past. And it hit them hard. ”

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Healing is going to take a long time

Although the healing process has already begun it’s not going to happen overnight, Sharp Adze said.

“Because there’s still more schools out there all the way across Canada and the United States. There are a lot of kids there. And think if people acknowledge it and understand it, then we can heal, she said.

“We’re making those small steps and it’s going to change over years. You’re still gonna have some of those people with the old mentality, ‘oh, get over it.’ And then you’re gonna have some that I find now since the late 1990s and in the early 2000s, people are more open to things and they’re educating themselves about everything. And it’s a good thing. ”

One key thing Sharp Adze pointed to is that any steps taken in the healing process, particularly those by politicians, needs to be done with sincerity. 

“When Stephen Harper did his apology for residential schools, it was something he needed to do, [however it] doesn’t mean he was sincere about it. Just like Trudeau.. in regards to find the findings of the kids, when we first found out he said ‘I wouldn’t want my kids be put in that same situation,’ you have to see if they’re sincere, or if it’s just something they have to do as a politician,” she said.

While the Alberta Government has pledged a total of $8 million to search for unmarked graves at former schools in the province, Sharp Adze questioned if that will be enough. 

“I don’t think it will cover very many schools because it’s, you have all that machinery that needs to come in, you have the people that are going to be looking for those bodies, and they’re not going to find the bodies overnight. Some places you don’t even know where they are,” she explained.

“$8 million isn’t going to cover it. But it’s a step. The main thing is they’re making that effort and how I look at it, they’re trying to help.”

“A lot of words can be said, it doesn’t mean anything until you have action going on.”

For Sharp Adze that action means not having the conversations or just acknowledging that residential schools happened, but making sure something similar doesn’t happen in the future. 

“But as long as we’re making those steps, I think we’re going to get ahead.”

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