OPG workers take cultural mindfulness journey

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You could hear a pin drop on the carpet.

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Pictures of children burying their friends, unmarked graves overgrown by weeds and countless sad faces appeared on a large projection screen.

Award-winning Indigenous speaker George Couchie provided a glimpse of the horrific abuses Indigenous children endured while attending residential schools across Canada during a two-day workshop attended by Ontario Power Generation employees.

These employees work in or near many First Nations communities across the province.

Sheldon Masson, senior manager of maintenance and production for OPG in North Bay and Coniston work centres, said every OPG site operates in a First Nation treaty territory.

“What better way to understand their culture and traditions than to go through a journey of cultural mindfulness.

“The gift of nature has allowed us to operate our facilities, in some cases, for more than 100 years,” he said Thursday.

Couchie, who has provided workshops to countless groups including Ontario chiefs of police, education workers, troubled teens and corporate businesses, said it’s all about changing the ripple effect.

He said it’s important people have the knowledge about First Nations communities, especially those working in the community or in close proximity.

“There’s still struggles in our communities, but we are moving toward a thriving mode.”

Couchie delivered some startling statistics that left most attendees speechless.

He pointed at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, family breakdowns, loss of identity and culture, suicide rates three to seven times the national average, rising tuberculosis and diabetes rates and addictions that “are out of control.”

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“One man’s voice and actions can change seven generations,” Couchie said.

He said most men don’t talk about their time in residential schools. Women survivors seem to talk about the trauma they endured.

Couchie said it’s important to let survivors open up and talk and not shut them down, even if they’ve told the story numerous times.

He said many times people will comment that it’s time to move on from what happened and forget about it.

“That would be like going to the legion and telling those inside that we’re just going to forget about the First World War and the Second World War, because it’s time to move on. And we’re going to shut down the legions and forget about Remembrance Day,” Couchie said.

“You would be chased out, because that’s their history and it’s important. You can’t downplay their history. It’s all about healing and the only way you can do that is through culture.”

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