Dallaire speaks with Inuvik students about trauma, reconciliation
Inuvik high school students spent Monday questioning retired Canadian Lieutenant General and Senator Roméo Dallaire, who commanded UN peacekeepers during the Rwandan genocide.
East Three Secondary School student Autumn Gordon-Thrasher and her class have spent their first week back at school studying the 1993-94 genocide, carried out by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi people.
“It was really exciting, but the story behind it was really sad,” said Gordon-Thrasher. “It was heartfelt to know what people went through in Rwanda. It resonated … because it was a really traumatic experience, and I learned a lot from that, and the way he told us how he felt and how he healed after that. I am thankful I had the opportunity for it.”
Teacher Ethan Lavoie’s Grade 10 social studies class have examined the lead-up to the genocide, Dallaire’s peacekeeping efforts and calls for international intervention.
“Seeing and listening to his point of view opened a new lens of learning that a textbook is not always able to provide,” said Lavoie. “You are able to feel the human emotion from his story.”
After a week of preparation, students led most of an online talk in which Dallaire appeared from Quebec City.
Jordanna Ruben, for example, asked how Dallaire had tried to heal after he returned from Rwanda. (You can see other questions and students’ reflections in a set of online slides.)
Dallaire described his and others’ post-traumatic stress disorder, and how his career ultimately led to the development of the Halifax-based Dallaire Institute, which has a stated mission of preventing the recruitment and use of children in armed violence.
“Love is the most powerful ingredient of humanity,” he said, describing the love of his wife and opening up about his own contemplations of suicide.
“Love will help you overcome everything … now I see that it’s worth living and hopefully having the opportunity to talk to people like yourselves.
“I hope that the sessions that you’ve had did not create fear, nor did it create uncertainty, but on the contrary, created interest and some wisdom. The aim is to make you aware … to be able to participate in avoiding anything similar to that, as we’ve seen too much of in this country … and become activists.”
‘Generation without borders’
In October last year, the NWT’s chief coroner took the unusual step of releasing an early summary of suicide statistics, expressing concern that the numbers are higher than anticipated. In that year to date, the coroner said eight suicides had been recorded in the Beaufort Delta.
Dallaire, addressing that, urged the importance of commemoration and community-based healing. He described how some of Rwanda’s truth and reconciliation had taken place through community court hearings known as Gacaca courts.
The NWT Help Line is available at any time of day or night on 1-800-661-0844. Kids Help Phone is also available around the clock at 1-800-668-6868 or you can use live chat or text options instead of calling. If you’re trying to help someone who is talking about suicide, the GNWT has a list of resources.
He encouraged students to learn more and try to make a difference in their community and abroad.
“Keep your eyes open to what’s happening around the world and what is happening to young people,” he said, referencing reports of the involvement of children in the Russia-Ukraine war.
“Talk to people, learn about them [and] become part of the generation without borders, which you are.”
East Three instructor Michael McClocklin said asking Dallaire if he would be available to speak to Inuvik students was something of a moonshot. He was astounded when Dallaire said yes before Christmas.
“As teachers … we need to encourage reflection for ourselves, not just in terms of the genocide in Rwanda but also how we may connect to that in different ways, from all of our variety of pasts,” McClocklin said.
“I felt immediately I can relate to it,” said student Trenyce Voudrach. “Us Indigenous kids in the school can relate to it because we also experience genocide and horrors and stuff like that.”
Children across the NWT were sent to residential and day schools in Inuvik. The Inuvik Indian Residential School, at Grollier Hall, was one of the last in Canada to close in 1996.
“I think it’s great for us to all learn about this and understand that things like this do happen,” Voudrach said. “But we also have to learn about how to heal from that and how to get better, which is not easy.”
Book due next year
Dallaire “doesn’t speak very often to high schools,“ said Jessica Humphries, the executive director of his office.
“But when this far-north school approached him, we were so glad to know that these extraordinary young people, so far from Rwanda, were taking up the task of learning about the genocide in Rwanda and ensuring its lessons are not forgotten.”
Dallaire is working on a manuscript for an upcoming book titled The Peace, said Humphries, set to be released in April 2024, 30 years on from the genocide.
Inuvialuit Elder Gerry Kisoun, who was invited to attend Monday’s event, said he was impressed by the work students had put into preparing questions to Dallaire.
“We still have to also keep in mind reconciliation, in regards to what happened with the residential schools,” he said. “We had our own experiences that our people have gone through, and … we want to make a better day tomorrow.
“Conflict is such a dangerous thing … keep yourself healthy. Do not go into conflict.”
Kisoun says more counselling and therapy are needed in the region.
“We need some mental health support,” he said. “We’re having issues in some of our communities. We need to support our youth. We need to support our communities.”
Teachers and Dallaire’s office are discussing holding another meeting with the general, potentially a public meeting with a larger audience.