April 12/17 |
by Rev Gordon Taylor
What follows are some very painful stories of students victimizing other students. These reports are not suitable for all ages of readers.
However, these narratives from survivors are part of the truth of what the Canadian residential school system allowed and generated. Reconciliation cannot progress without understanding something of this experience.
Victoria McIntosh said the Fort Alexander school reminded her of a “prison yard.”
If you didn’t have older siblings to protect you, you’re on your own, so you learned how to, to fight, anger, and not trusting anybody, and just being hard, you know, and you weren’t gonna cry, and if you cried then that was not a good thing, and it was a sign of being weak. But I always felt, like, inside that I hated, I hated all of that. I never wanted to intentionally hurt anybody.
To survive at schools in northern Ontario in the 1960s, one former student said she made herself “tough” and began “picking on those younger than me.” She said she was “trying to look out for me since nobody else was.”
In their statements, former students rarely made reference to attempts to report episodes of bullying to the school administration. The statements of those who did make such reports suggest that they found it difficult to get staff to believe them, or take them seriously. Eva Bad Eagle, for example, felt she was not believed when she reported the abuse to the staff.
Janet Murray had a similar experience at the same school.
I thought here I would have an easy life but the kids picked on me and abused me. So where the little kids were between seven and five years old, that’s where I was. That’s where I was placed. And the supervisor was old, very old. He couldn’t look after us, so he asked these two seniors to come look after us, help us out. Comb my hair and to teach us how to make our beds, I guess. And that’s when the abuse started … there were three of us, and things were always done to us. Seniors. These girls—young women—were big that came there to look after us. They combed our hair. I don’t know if it’s a wire brush or something. They used to hit us on the head like this until we had scabs. We had to have a brush cut because we had scabs all over our heads.
And when we went to school, the boys, young men laughed at us because we had bald heads. Sometimes they stabbed us in the face, and we had bruises but they say we were so clumsy they said we banged our face into the wall, that’s what they said.
And one time they came and woke us up in the middle of the night. They told us to take our panties off. They told us to spread our legs and they used that brush between our legs and they even put a cloth in our mouths so we couldn’t yell or cry. For two weeks we couldn’t go to school because we couldn’t walk. There were scars all over there.
Sometimes they would come to our bed and spread our legs just to see what damage they had done to us, and they’d laugh like if it’s funny. When she tried to get help, she was punished again. “But that time I couldn’t talk English. Even now. I was trying to speak for myself. Talking Cree I was trying to tell the supervisor. Instead I was hit for talking Cree.”
Within a week of being placed in a Manitoba residential school, Greg Murdock was raped by a group of older boys. That assault represents a failure on the part of the residential school system to protect him. But the failure did not end there. Murdock told school officials about the assault the day after it occurred.
They said, “Don’t worry, Greg, we will look after it.”
The next night it happened again, I got raped again. I remember getting beat, putting my hand up, “Don’t hit me, stop hitting me.” No, they did it again.
The next day I went again, but this time, the second day I couldn’t speak so loud, my voice was a little smaller now. “
They hurt me again,” I said. “What did they do?” But at that time I was only seven, I didn’t know what it was, so I just said, “Well, they hurt me.” Well the next night it happened again.
This time they said, “You really going to get it if you speak, you are really going to get it.”
When school staff asked him the next day if anything had happened, he said, “No, nothing happened.”
There is a reason for the silence … and a reason to speak. Do we cover our mouths in horror? Do we cry out in sorrow or rage? How does this knowledge change our hearts? If you wish, you may speak at UCiM Facebook page.
“Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ ” Luke 22:50.
The Survivors Speak. 2015. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. pp. 165-176