- Category: news
- Created: Wednesday, 18 September 2013 13:07
- Published: Wednesday, 18 September 2013 13:07
- Written by Administrator 3
- Hits: 500
By David P. Ball, 24 hours Vancouver
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins four days of hearings in Vancouver Wednesday into residential school abuses.
Hundreds gathered around False Creek Tuesday to witness a flotilla of ocean-going canoes paddled by aboriginal youth and non-aboriginal supporters.
It was part of a week of reconciliation for Canada's residential schools, in which roughly 150,000 students were placed in church-run schools, many abused sexually and physically.
Watching the boats arrive, Irene Stevens recalled the day authorities arrived at her home to take her to Lejac Indian Residential School at Fraser Lake, B.C.
“They had a gun in their hands,” Stevens told 24 hours. “They told my dad that if none of us children went to the residential school, they were going to take (social support funding) away from him.
“We come from a family of 12, but now we've dwindled down to five – lots of drugs and alcohol in our lives now. In a way, it's kind of hard for me to be here. But I'd really like to try to get all this behind me.”
Fellow Lejac student Edward Dennis said the school left him with little but “hatred and animosity” towards Canada. He recalled three students who died trying to escape from the school's abuses one winter.
“They were running away,” he said. “One of them turned around at Piper's Glen. He could hear the other three fall through the ice.”
He said manual labour taught aboriginal students “how to serve the white people – then you were a good Indian.
“I've prayed to the creator to get me out of that,” he said. “I don't want to hate any more.”
Another survivor told 24 hours his memories of residential school were of “beatings and starvation.” Recently, widespread nutritional and scientific experiments on unwitting children were revealed.
“All they taught us was how to work,” said John Dennis. “We did all the work on a farm – looking after the cows, horses and chickens.
“They got the money, but we got nothing. We hardly ever ate chicken or eggs. We got garbage. Lots of times I had to steal food, especially when I worked in the garden.”
For the leader of the B.C. First Nations Summit, himself a school survivor, the legacy was disconnection and brokenness.
“It's created a whole foundation of dysfunction, which was the government's intention to begin with,” Grand Chief Ed John said. “It was the government's policy, as the prime minister acknowledged, to 'kill the Indian in the child.' That's what these Indian residential schools were for.
“They went after our families, our communities where we lived, our languages, our cultures, our songs and teachings – to disrupt them (and) Christianize and civilize us ... Events like this help our people move forward, to acknowledge the past with other Canadians ... and for them to understand and collectively try to reconcile that dark past.”