A disturbingly honest look at residential schools

Christine Wood/Staff Writer / Staff writer
February 21, 2014 01:00 AM

Hundreds of people came to the Sechelt Nation's showing of We Were Children - a hard-hitting film about life in residential schools on Feb. 15. Before going into the Raven's Cry Theatre to see the film attendees gathered in a circle and held a candlelight vigil to honour the residential school survivors and to remember those who have died.

Tears were shed by most of the more than 200 people who came to the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation's Feb. 15 showing of the movie We Were Children - a disturbing yet honest portrayal of residential school life in Canada.

At times the audience felt ill at the images on screen, made worse by the knowledge the troubling scenarios were lived by thousands of First Nations children.

We Were Children is a film featuring two residential school survivors and their powerful stories.

In the movie, Lyna Hart and the now late Glen Anaquod tell their stories of rape, sodomy, starvation, captivity, intimidation, beatings and cruelty, which began in 1958 when they entered separate residential schools in central Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The Sechelt Nation invited members of the public to see the film in order to shed more light on Canada's dark residential school past, which affects members of the Sechelt Nation to this day.

The event also provided an opportunity for local survivors to share their stories and for the Sechelt Nation to raise funds for the legal fight they're in with government of Canada. The Sechelt Nation (in conjunction with the Kamloops Nation) has filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government to have day scholars recognized as part of the residential school survivors who were offered compensation and an apology by Canada in 2008.

On the Coast the residential school buildings used to sit where the Raven's Cry Theatre and St. Mary's Hospital are now located. Children were forced into the schools during the day, but allowed to return home at night.

Despite being able to leave the schools at night, attendees still suffered many of the same abuses other residential school students endured.

On Feb. 15, after being hit with the harsh reality of residential schools through film, a panel of local survivors and supporters told their stories to a packed audience inside the Raven's Cry Theatre.

Panelist Randy Joe said he entered residential school at the age of five. He said the specifics of what happened to him and his sisters are too painful for the family to speak about to this day.

"All the physical and sexual abuse I had through this school, it was tremendously painful," he said.

He explained that many of his friends ended up addicted to drugs or alcohol or committed suicide after getting out of the residential school system.

He too went down the road of addiction to numb himself at one point, almost ending his life to "end the pain."

"It's been hard, but I've been healing myself. For the last six years now I've been off drugs and alcohol, but it took me three treatment centres to get to this point," he said. "What happened to me at that school will never go away, though, and a lot of my friends are dead because of that school."

The obvious pain inflicted on the day scholars is why the Sechelt Nation is fighting for compensation for its members now, but Chief Garry Feschuk said the government isn't prepared to talk.

"We're in the midst of a class action suit, and if the government really wants to apologize, why are they making us go through the courts to seek justice for those who were left out?" Feschuk said.

He said the government of Canada has appealed the class action lawsuit three times now.

"We know what their plan is. It's a stall tactic. It's a stall tactic in order to dry up the resources of the First Nations because Canada has the resources and the financial ability to do this and we have to strategically balance our budgets every year. We set money aside, but as we sit through appeal after appeal after appeal, it becomes draining on our finances. But we're not going to quit," Feschuk said, noting the final appeal filed on Feb. 10 is the last one the courts will allow.

"I really believe they're going to be denying this appeal too, and we're going to seek certification this year. Once it's certified, Canada's going to want to negotiate an agreement and that's how it should be. It shouldn't have to go through this process in order to seek this reconciliation."

On a positive note Feschuk said he was pleased to see so many locals come to the We Were Children movie and talk. He noted the Sechelt Indian Band is currently in negotiations to rid themselves of the last residential school memory in Sechelt.

That memory is tied to St. Mary's Hospital, which is built on land donated by the Sechelt Indian Band.

"We're in the process now of having the hospital recognize Sechelt for the donation of that land and we're in the midst of a name change because St. Mary's is actually also the name of the residential school," Feschuk said. "It's going to be called shíshálh hospital."

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