STONEY NAKODA— Members of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, Stoney Health Services and the Stoney Education Authority gathered at the Morley Community School to honour the survivors of the Residential School System on Monday (Aug 30).
Thed day began with a private pipe ceremony for members and elders of the Nation before speeches were given, beginning with Jeanette Wildman, the cultural liason with the Stoney Tribal Administration.
“Back on May 29, the first discovery of the Residential School grave sites were found in Kamloops, British Columbia. After that a movement went across Canada supporting Residential School survivors and also giving support to the families whose children were buried in those grave sites,” Wildman said. “We had an interest, they kept on asking when is Morley going to have their ceremonies towards this movement. I went out and asked elders and pipe-holders – it took me a some time to gather some information to bring this day forward.”
Wildman is a survivor of the Residential School system, and said she has heard many instances of children who attended the school disappearing and never returning home.
“The Morley Residential School started with the Morley Orphanage. From what I have been told there were some children that attended the Residential School that never made it home. Parents were told that their children were sent to the hospital because they got really sick. The parents assumed that the children were in the hospital some place, or that they were placed in another residential school, but they were not returned to their parents.”
Wildman said she has spoken to many of the elders in the community about their experiences, and all of the stories share the same common thread.
“All of the stories were identical; it was the abuse. Our people were kept in cages,” she said. “Some elders spoke of the horrific abuse that was upon them by the Residential School supervisors and teachers. That is all they remember of being in the Residential School, is the abuse.”
Eighty-year-old Tina Fox spent 11 years in the residential school in Morley, and recounted many of the horrific experiences she went through during her stay at the school during the ceremony.
“My very first day, when my parents brought me, my mother had made me a beautiful little dress and moccasins, brand new moccasins. She brought me by a horse-drawn wagon to school. They registered us, there were two other girls there too. After our parents left, they took us down into the basement,” Fox said. “This tall — to us she was a giant, to us little girls, we had hardly ever seen white people at that time – she said something to us, but we didn’t know. She grabbed us and ripped our clothes off and then ran a shower. I thought we were all going to be drowned. We never did see those new clothes we had worn to school. I still think about those little moccasins … that was the first day of Residential School.”
The abuse was not a one-off for Fox or the other children who were students at the Morley Residential School, she said.
“They hired a dentist to come to the school each year, and my very first visit he extracted, I think, about six teeth. When I started crying, he slapped me in my face and said, ‘shut up you stupid little Indian,’” she said. “That has affected me my whole life. I feared dentists for the longest time. That didn’t just happen to me, that happened to all of the students.”
Fox also spoke of instances of rape and other accounts of sexual abuse she heard from the children at the Residential School.
She said many of the problems facing First Nations communities can be traced back to the traumas that were experienced in the Residential School system.
“We need a lot of healing in our community. The social problems we see in our communities, the family violence, the drug addiction, alcohol addiction, all of those are because of Residential Schools, what happened to young people. We need to heal somehow, so that we can move forward without bitterness, so that we can learn to forgive what happened to us, because, personally, I know that forgiveness frees you from that bondage,” she said.
Wildman echoed Fox’s sentiments and said the impacts from Residential Schools still ripple throughout the community, as the trauma is passed down through generations.
“It has a very deep impact on how you raise your children. We were never taught affection, we were never taught to say I love you, we were never told by anybody that we were loved. It was all, every day, degrading comments,” she said. “No matter what we did there was always something wrong with us, and that has deeply affected Residential School survivors.”
Since the remains of the 215 children were found near the Kamloops Residential School, and well before that terrible discovery, there have been many people who have claimed the atrocities committed at Residential Schools have been exaggerated or completely fabricated.
Wildman said she feels as though the grave sites were discovered to cast aside that doubt, and provide concrete proof of the terrible history that occurred in those places.
“I believe that the grave sites were found for a reason – to tell our story, to tell Canada that we were never lying. I, as a residential school survivor myself, have experienced the abuse, but not as much as the people who were in there that are older than me,” she said.
Canada’s Residential School Survivors and Family Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.