Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pictures can be Deceiving

Holy Angeles Residence
This is a letter I wrote to the National Post on January 12, 2014 in response to their article on January 11, on residential schools. January 20, 2014 my letter, with others, was published in the letters to the editor section of the paper.

January 12, 2014

Dear Editor of the National Post:


A clear evening with the snow glittering like tiny fragments of diamonds, we walked to the residential school in silence.  I could hardly contain my excitement. 

Because I had been hospitalized, my first day at the Holy Angels Residential School, in Alberta, was in December.  A student ran outside to tell my sister we had arrived.  Outside, one of the other girls gave me a piece of dry-meat as they pulled me around the playground on a sled. Children’s laughter echoed in the darkness. An idyllic picture, maybe. 

I was lucky and was not abused, but I now know abuses were occurring.  I remember the smiling faces, but only now I also see pain behind the smiles.

After Vatican II, positive changes were being made.  But at the same time terrible things continued, not always at the hands of the nuns, but certainly under their watch.Incidents recounted by some of my family bring tears to my eyes. I see how their lives were shattered before they even had a chance to live them. I fully appreciate that they really didn’t stand a chance for any normalcy. Their innocence was lost, or rather, taken, inside that school. Their deep scars are invisible to those of us who didn’t experience what they went through.

There is no justification for what happened certainly not saying: “They received an education that enabled them to cope with life.”  The truth is, their school experience destroyed their ability to cope.

E. A. Pratt
Dunrobin Ontario
Student at Holy Angels Residential School, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta


NOT AS IT APPEARS   

I am top 2nd to the right
A few years ago I could not have written the above letter.  In my mind, I thought it was a blessing that I went to residential school. I enjoyed school, and Holy Angels had a nice library where I spent my time reading.

I recall many happy events, we had movie night, games night, went camping in the summer at Dorey Lake. At Christmas we received gifts before we went home for the holidays.  And my older sister, Dora, was working down the hall, as a cook, cooking our meals. 

But most of all, I treasure the lifelong bond I formed with the other students. We have an intimate connection through a shared experience, which very few can appreciate. 

Perhaps, I was one of the few lucky ones who was unscathed by this experience. I mistakenly thought that because we were one of the last students in Holy Angels Residential School before it was closed in the early 80's, and things were changing for the positive, that the other students had the same experience I had.  I could have not been more mistaken.

As it happened, I wrongly assumed because of these changes, being there was not as bad as what older generations went through. Under the earlier directive of DuncanCampbell Scott, an early 20th century Indian Affairs official said;
      “our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not     been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian       department.” 

Fortunately, by the time I was in residential school we were no longer prevented from speaking our native language, we were allowed to keep our long hair, we were also allowed to go home on weekends and accepted visitors in the pallor.  Times were changing and in large part for the better.  However, under that fabric of change, there still existed the notion that we somehow were still less human in the eyes of our guardians.    

As I learnt more about the horrific experiences of some of the students, especially those in my own immediate family, it became clear to me that no good came from being in residential schools. 

As I reflect back, I remember, students running away only to be returned to the school crying. Until hearing some of the accounts by former students, I could not begin to imagine the horrible things they had to endure.  I was there, and didn’t know what was happening.  And what happened, cannot be denied or justified. To do that is to dishonour the experiences of many, many, many, children. 

Canadian Residential Schools in fact has ruined the lives of generations of First Nations peoples in Canada. Under no viewpoint can this destruction be rationalized. It was horrific and left in its wake many broken children. 

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