This is a rather difficult post to write…I am sitting here in class, listening to Lorne Green speaking about the history of residential schools, the effects and healing.
This semester I have been involved with different classes doing some work around residential schools which has been very impactful to say the least.
I saw first hand what kind of impact these systems and school had on people. My father and his younger brother were put in foster care and then in a catholic orphanage when they were young. The experience and its effects stayed with them through their lives. They each spoke a bit about it, even on their death beds. My dad and I were very close and spoke about many different subjects quite openly. When the horrors of residential schools began to be exposed more and broadcast my dad and I had several discussions about it. I did come out and ask him if anything had ever happened to him while in an orphanage and all he replied was that: “There are a lot of weird people in the world and a lot of sick people. Really sick people”. He also told me he saw a lot of severe beatings of kids, some where he knew they would never be the same. When I asked about sexual abuse he told me they stayed away from him for some reason. For a person that was always positive, optimistic and full of life and energy, this was one of the rare occasions where I saw my dad slide into a dark place with a different look on his face.
My mother and father very rarely disagreed on anything, however, I do remember one of the fights they had was about my mother wanted to take my sister and I to church or at least to Sunday school. My father absolutely refused. Its was one of the only times I saw him raise his voice and I knew there was no way to sway him. Even my mother crying didn’t help the situation. He said that there was goingto be no discussion about it, that when us kids were old enough that we could make our own decision about whether or not we would attend. I never really understood until experiencing and learning about the effects of trauma and grief later on in life. Funnily enough, towards the end of his life, my father asked to meet with one of the catholic priests in our city. They had several visits and I saw the effect that these meetings had on his sense of peace and well-being at the end of the terminal illness he died from.
I grew up in the Northwest Territories. Apparently between the NWT and Nunavut there were a total of 10 residential schools. The first were in Fort Resolution located on the South side of Great Slave Lake in 1867 and in Fort Providence on the shores of the Mackenzie River also in 1867. I still have friends residing in both these places. When I was growing up Fort Res was home to several dog mushers and kennels who did very well on the race circuit. My dad spent several weeks a year in Fort Providence hauling supplies over the river during break up and freeze up with a helicopter. It’s only been in the last few years that a bridge has replaced the ice bridge that we would travel on. When the bridge was out during these times there was no other way to cross the mighty Mackenzie.
Growing up, I heard stories about abuse that had gone on in these schools. Many different stories. I remember my friend’s mother telling me that when she was a young woman in her home community that she refused to go to church until they got this “half daft, sicko priest out of there” and she told us a story that is to obscene to repeat here. Coincidently, that same man many years later was brought before the courts for things he did to children in his care and in his community. She told me and her daughter to be very leery all the time and not to trust a soul.
Other stories included explaining the reasons as to why adults I knew around me drank or acted wild and abusive and crazy. As a kid, I didn’t really understand that it had a lot to with being taken away from their families and put into residential schools…in looking back now and knowing what I know about severe trauma and grief…it did. The witnessing of ongoing shame and trauma, blame and neglect. Struggle with severe addiction and different forms of abuse and just general insanity and the normalcy of it all is something which has permeated my life and beliefs and has taken a great deal of thought to somewhat sort out.
I look at my own two children and I think of them being taken from me, abused and neglected and I have no idea as to how a family ever would recover from that. My first instinct is always to think of my children’s wellbeing. That is very strong within me and I put it out there that it is very strong within every parent. To have your child taken from your care and subsequently abused is unimaginable. Like really sit and think about that for a moment. Think about what went on. The effects of these schools and this system had will be apparent for generations to come.
I believe that more healing will come from others speaking out more about the effects that these systems had on individuals and families. I am also going to propose that the current system continues on with these abuses today. That the abomination of indigenous and aboriginal individuals, families and communities in this country is blatantly continuing on today. One example that I put forth is the abuse and poisoning of one of the largest fresh water systems in the world, the Athabasca. Aboriginal communities along this river system are essentially being poisoned. There are children who are sick. Imagine being a parent of a sick child. A child you know is not going to get better. This is going on in this country today. There are still children being taken from their families by our government in this country. I encourage you to really sit and think about that. Has our society evolved at all? From residential school abuses to environmental abuses…Is this at all acceptable for any reason? It’s not to me.