Residential school abuses: 'Trauma and loss' exposed - Thousands who lost their aboriginal identity, their family and even their childhood get to tell their stories to Canadians at a national gathering that starts today
By Ethan Baron - June 18, 2010
WARNING TO RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL SURVIVORS: This story contains material that may trigger a traumatic reaction for survivors of residential school abuse.
He carried a rattlesnake in a small wire cage, and his big black dog followed him around. A supervisor at Anglicanrun St. George's Indian Residential School in Lytton - one of 18 residential schools to operate in B.C. - he caught nine-year-old Ruby Dunstan in a second-floor hallway, and dragged her into a closet.
It was 1949. While other Canadians were embarking on an era of postwar prosperity, First Nations children were living in residential schools under the domination of priests, nuns and staff charged with purging the kids of their culture and traditions and replacing them with their own.
By the time the last of the 132 schools was shut down in 1996, thousands of aboriginal children had suffered horrendous physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
Some 75,000 former students are still alive. More than 5,000 of them, including several hundred from B.C., along with thousands of non-aboriginal Canadians, are expected to attend the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission healing gathering, starting today in Winnipeg.
"This will be our first opportunity as aboriginal people to really reach out and call to Canadians to hear our stories so we can begin to identify solutions to the fallout from Indian residential schools," said Vancouver Island Kwagiulth Nation hereditary Chief Bob Joseph.
"The kind of quality of lifestyle that most Canadians enjoy now and most British Columbians enjoy now is as a result of those policies that were implemented to minimize our existence and access the resources that were available in our territories."
The gathering will help non-aboriginal Canadians understand the experience of First Nations people, a crucial step in building public support for resolving issues such as land claims and inadequate educational opportunities, said Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
"Canada embraces and always remembers its history," Atleo said. "This is another part of history that needs to form a part of our collective consciousness not only so we don't repeat it, so that we can be successful in repairing the past."
Former residential-school students will tell their stories through statements to staff, in "sharing circles" and on video, said TRC executive director Tom McMahon. That information will be used in the residential-schools national research centre and schools report that the TRC is charged with creating, McMahon said.
Six more gatherings, including one in B.C., will be scheduled to take place across Canada in the next few years.
At the Winnipeg event, Joseph plans to tell the story of his time at St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Alert Bay. Counsellors will be on hand to help anyone troubled by the process of revelation.
"There was so much suffering in those schools, so much trauma and loss," Joseph said. "We bury it deep within ourselves. When those feelings get uncovered, we get retraumatized."
- - - - - -
Two years before the supervisor dragged Ruby Dunstan into the closet, she had been hustled onto a manure-splattered cattle truck and taken to the Lytton school.
On her first night, a matron caught her resting on a pile of dirty linen and beat her from head to toe with a wooden pointer, she said. Many beatings followed, sometimes with the pointers that the staff carried, sometimes with a metal-edged ruler that gave her permanent scars, she said.
The supervisor raped her several times, she said.
"He said if I screamed, he'd let that snake go and the snake would bite me," she said. "He said, 'If you run, I'll snap my fingers and the dog will get you.'"
At night, she and the other girls in her dorm room would lie awake in fear, she said.
"He would lift the girls right out of their bed and he'd take them. When the girls would come back, they'd be crying."
Dunstan left the school at 14, and her life took a downward path of drinking and despair. She had a son, who was taken away and put into a residential school, then drank heavily before dying at 18 in a house fire.
Eventually, she pulled her life together, and in 1983 she started an eight-year term as band chief. She went into counselling in 1985.
Dunstan is now a sexual-abuse counsellor for the Lytton band's family-services agency, but said she's "a long way from being a well person."
The Settlement Agreement to compensate former First Nations residential school students was reached in 2006. The deal took lawsuit claims by about 1,100 former students in B.C. and a total of about 15,000 across Canada out of the courts and into a process of review and assessment.
Compensation has been approved for tens of thousands of people. Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 issued a public apology for the schools, the first of which opened in 1879. But the issue is far from finished, advocates say.
"It's something that the people of Canada have yet to face up to," said Victoria lawyer Scott Hall, who represented numerous residential-school survivors in court before the Settlement Agreement.
"They want it to go away."
- - - - - -
Murphy Johnny can't take a bath when there's anyone else in the house.
He's 65 now, living in Duncan, the same town where he was living with his grandparents before he was sent to Kuper Island residential school just off Chemainus on Vancouver Island, a Catholic institution that has been the subject of some of the most horrific allegations to come forth about Canada's residential schools.
Johnny recalled that priests kicked the children, and caned them, and one grabbed the tongue of a boy speaking his native language and pulled on it till the boy's face turned purple.
Two years into his five-year term at the school, Johnny fell victim to his first sexual assault, by a nun who forced him to sexually touch her, he said.
Another student taught him to wet his bed to deter the hands of a priest who groped the kids at night. It was another priest who used to fondle him in the shower that has left him terrified to bathe unless he's alone, he said.
The sexual abuse drove him to flee the school one night with his brother and another boy, he said.
They stole a canoe and when they hit Vancouver Island, the other boy headed north, and never returned to the school.
The brothers made it home, but were caught the next day by police and returned to the school. Three girls, he remembered, drowned trying to paddle a log to freedom.
Now, he's an aboriginal-support worker for the Duncan school district, and shares his home with his neice. When she's out, he can take a bath.
"When there's nobody here, I feel safe getting into the tub."
In 2003, an RCMP task force probing criminal abuse at 15 B.C. residential schools wrapped up nine years of investigating 974 claims.
Fourteen people were charged. Eight had received prison sentences by that time, including Glen Doughty, a Catholic brother at the Kuper Island school and St. Joseph's school in the Cariboo who was sentenced to 19 months for sex offences against boys.
Dorm supervisor Derek Clarke from St. George's in Lytton, was sentenced to 14 years for sexual abuse; and dorm supervisor Arthur Plint from Alberni Residential School was sentenced to 11 years for physical and sexual abuse.
While cases of abuse by school staff have been widely publicized, Dan Ish, chief adjudicator of the Independent Assessment Process Secretariat that decides on compensation for serious abuse, says his impression is that up to 20 per cent of the physical and sexual abuse at the schools was committed by other students.
Clarence Pennier, grand chief of the Stolo Tribal Council in the Fraser Valley, said he suffered sexual abuse by two older boys at St. Mary's residential school in Mission.
"It drove me to drink," Pennier said. "I drank for a long time."
Alcoholism related to residential-school abuse leads to family abuse and crime, Pennier said.
Some former students, such as Pennier, overcome their trauma, but others don't, Ish said.
"Many common effects are alcohol and drug abuse, turning to criminal behaviour, that you can directly link to experiences at the school," Ish said.
"If people experience trauma, often to try to put it behind them, they'll turn to substance abuse. It doesn't help. It makes the consequences worse."
2006 SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT COMPENSATION PROGRAMS
The Common Experience Payment provides every former pupil $10,000 for the first year of residential school and $3,000 for each additional year.
More than 100,000 applications have been received, and more than 95,000 processed.
Individual compensation averages $20,000, with $1.56 billion in payments approved so far for more than 76,000 people.
About 21,000 applications have been rejected.
The Independent Assessment Process provides additional compensation to former students who suffered serious sexual or physical abuse or "other wrongful acts."
Payment is based on a points system, with five to 10 points for fondling or kissing; 45 to 60 points for repeated rape; and 11 to 25 points for physical assaults.
Awards for sexual abuse range from $5,000 to $85,000; for physical abuse from $11,000 to $35,000; for wrongful acts from $5,000 to $35,000.
Maximum compensation for the abuse and its effects, future care including counselling, income loss and legal fees is $511,750.
- Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
© Copyright (c) The Province
For more on this story, see:
Pilot recalls flying terrified kids to residential school
'Spirits still crying' of residential-school children who died unknown
Strahl breaks down at hearings into residential schools
Residential schools will be nixed from Indian Act
Residential school survivors to share sorrow as reconciliation events begin
Ottawa makes own gesture of healing at Truth and Reconciliation event
Residential school survivors in need of accommodations in Winnipeg
'Significant changes' needed between First Nations and government: chief
Canadian archbishops will examine abuse scandals =
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(so many articles covering this issue, no way to find them all.)
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