Tears shed at residential school hearings

Northwest BC residents tell their stories to a federal commission

TEARS WERE shed at the Kitsumkalum Community Hall this week as two days of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) community hearings took place.

Survivors from across the northwest spoke of their experiences of abuse while living in residential schools as children, as well as the generational impacts.

More than 30 people came forward to share their experiences before the commission June 25-26 which was established by the federal government.

Dozens more were present to bear witness to the public hearings. Each speaker was allowed 15 minutes.

“There is no public record unless we create one,” Commissioner Marie Wilson said in stating the purpose of the hearings.

She said the survivors stories are missing from this part of Canada’s history as letters from the children wrote were censored. This process ensures their stories are now heard and that Canada can never deny this having happened in our country, she said.

One survivor said at eight or nine years old, she would be given a yellow pill at night, that would make her sleep. She recalls many times waking up sore, but as a child did not understand why. “They’d get me in a daze so I wouldn’t tell on them,” she said sobbing.

Lorna Brown travelled from Hazelton to share her story. In 1947, Brown was six years old when she and her sister were sent to a residential school in Port Alberni.

Having never been on a trip and having never gone to school, Brown initially found the idea exciting, but says as soon as she arrived she wanted to go home.

“Physical, mental, sexual abuse, I went through. That’s why I have a hard time talking about residential schools,” she explained.

Brown described seeing boys dragging large, lumpy, cloth bags behind them. She was not allowed to ask questions about what she saw, but later in life realized the boys were burying fellow students.

This week was Brown’s first time speaking publicly about her experience. When she later became a counsellor, Brown started using a lot of what she learned to help heal both her clients and herself.

“When I hear someone telling their story about residential schools, it takes me back to my time,” she said.

Canada’s last residential school closed in 1996, and for over a century more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were placed in these schools.



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