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Tobique First Nation Elder Edward Perley identifies as a survivor of Indian day schools. (Joseph Tunney/CBC) Indigenous elders gathered to share stories with students at a Saint John-area high school as part of a reconciliation Action Day Tuesday.

Hundreds of students filtered into the gymnasium at St. Malachy’s Memorial High School around mid-morning, where Tobique First Nation Elder Edward Perley opened the assembly with drum and a song as the students stood at attention.

Principal Brad Stevens said the Action Day was part of an effort to educate the student body on the history of the Indigenous experience in Canada.

“It’s in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation,” said Stevens. “In bringing awareness to residential schools and Indigenous and First Nations peoples’ histories and perspectives.” Indian day school survivor

Perley told the teenagers about residential schools, and how the separation of families and loss of culture will affect Indigenous peoples for years to come.

“How they were able to achieve that, this is what … Duncan Campbell Scott wrote,” Perley said. “He said, ‘save the man, kill the Indian.'” Seventeen-year-old Connor McFarlane, right, said a gap in the education system exists. He stands next to Alexandria Knockwood, who was giving a presentation about social work in First Nations communities. (Joseph Tunney/CBC) The elder identities as a survivor of Indian day schools, which is distinct from a residential school.

While Indian day schools allowed students to return home at the end of the day, they were also run by Catholic charities and many attendees claim the same level of abuse as those who attended residential schools.

“These are what happened to our brothers and sisters for long periods of time. Only to be placed in these schools, to be abused, to be punished, to be neglected,” Perley said.

“Some of the kids who attended these schools never had the opportunity to come back home.” No community near city

For many students in the Saint John area, the assembly was unusual.

There’s no First Nations community close to the city, as there is in Fredericton and Moncton.

Seventeen-year-old Connor McFarlane said a gap in the education system exists.

The Plains Cree Grade 10 student says his classmates generally don’t know what happened at residential schools up until 1996.

“There is a lack of knowledge. A lot of teachers don’t really know either. Some of the students don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s better to get it into the schools.”

The students will also read a graphic novel about Chanie Wenjack, a residential school student who died trying to walk back to his home 400 miles away.

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