Everyone Needs to Watch This New Heritage Minute About Residential Schools

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A powerful look at the horrors of residential schools. Photo via Heritage Minute.

A powerful look at the horrors of residential schools. Photo via Heritage Minute.

Watch CUT-OFF, VICELAND's documentary on First Nations youth.

Much like Hal and Joanne McLeod's fitness breaks for ParticipAction, Canada's hokey Heritage Minutes are embedded in the collective unconscious of most Canadian millennials. From Laura Secord's harrowing journey to warn the Mohawk about an impending American attack to those adorable little Irish orphans who desperately wanted to keep their Catholic names, the educational vignettes were overwhelmingly cheesy and presented a uniformly whitewashed version of our Canadian history.

In recent years there's been a desire to modernize the shorts and revisit the parts of our past that Heritage Minutes often glossed over. For this year's Black History Month Historica Canada created a video documenting Viola Desmond's fight against segregation in 1940s Halifax.

And today, in honour of National Aboriginal Day, they just released a powerful, heartbreaking video scripted by Indigenous author Joseph Boyden of The Orendafame.

A glimpse into the horrors enacted on Indigenous children at residential schools as recently as 1996, the emotional minute is narrated by Pearl Achneepineskum. She is a survivor of the system that deliberately sought to "kill the Indian in the child." Through violence, sexual abuse, and whitewashing, children were taught to cauterize their Indigenous parts. But while Pearl lived through the horrific ordeal, her brother Chanie Wenjack did not. The new Heritage Minute opens on Wenjack's attempt to escape his residential school in 1966 and ends with his tragic death on a railway track, not far from where he began. The video is raw, heartbreaking and not easy to watch. It will bring you to tears. And you should watch it over and over again. Because as hokey as those old videos were, this new Heritage Minute is not only devastatingly recent, it's devastatingly real and more relevant to our present than any previous video, as iconic as they may have become.

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