Chapter from The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), @ http://www.myrobust.com/websites/trcinstitution/File/Reports/Survivors_Speak_English_Web.pdf
“I thought that I was the only one that it was happening to.”
The mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifies that the Commissioners
shall not name names in their events, activities, public statements, report or recom- mendations, or make use of personal information or of statements made which iden- tify a person, without the express consent of that individual, unless that information and/or the identity of the person so identified has already been established through legal proceedings, by admission, or by public disclosure by that individual.536
In keeping with this instruction, this report does not identify or name alleged perpe- trators of sexual or physical abuse. In instances where Survivors spoke of individuals who have been convicted of abuse, those names have been included.
While reports of sexual abuse were common, it was far from being the only type of abuse experienced by students. In many cases, a single student described many different types of abuse they experienced. Jean Pierre Bellemare, who attended the Amos, Québec, school, said he had been subjected to “physical violence, verbal violence, touchings, everything that comes with it.”537
Andrew Yellowback was at the Cross Lake, Manitoba, school for eight years. ”During that time, I was sexually, physically, emotionally, and mentally abused by both the sisters and brothers.”538 Some students were abused at more than one school.539 Students reported assaults from staff members of both the opposite sex and the same sex as themselves.540 For many students, abuse, fear, and violence dominated their school experience. Sheila Gunderson recalled there being “a lot of physical abuse and sexual abuse” at Lapointe Hall, the Roman Catholic hostel in Fort Simpson,
Northwest Territories, in the 1960s.541 Given the power relations in a residential school, no sexual relationship between a staff member and student could be consid- ered consensual. Many former students spoke of hav- ing been raped at school.542 Stella Marie Tookate, who attended the Fort Albany, Ontario, school, said, “I didn’t enjoy myself when I was in school because I was too much abused. I didn’t learn anything; that’s what I was feeling.”543 Her words echo the experiences of many former students.
Stella Marie Tookate.
While some sexual abusers carefully recruited their victims, providing them with treats and small favours, others made use of threats and physical force. At the Fort Albany school, one of the lay brothers cornered Josephine Sutherland in the school garage.
I couldn’t call for help, I couldn’t. And he did awful things to me, and I was just a little girl, not even thirteen years old yet, and he did something to me that the experience as having a horrible pain. You know he got me from the back, and he was holding me down with his, covering my mouth, and, you know, and, and I couldn’t yell out. I was so stunned, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t.544
One former student said he was sexually abused by a staff member of the Blue Quills school when he was five years old. His abuser told him that if he did not submit, “he’s gonna smack me, you know, he was gonna strap me.”545
Marie Therese Kistabish said she was sexually abused in the church confessional at the Amos school. “The priest was there. He told me to kneel down. I knelt, and then he began to raise up his, his robes, his tunic, it was a long black tunic, and when he started to raise the tunic, I started shouting and crying, yelling, so he let me go.”546
As a student at the Fort Frances school in the 1960s, Richard Morrison said, he was called into a change room by a staff member. Once he was in the room, a bag was put over his head and his clothes were removed.
I remember that he had struggled with me really, really hard and I fought back and fought back and I don’t know how long it was, I just fought and pretty soon he just, I don’t know what he did, he had restrained me somehow. And when that happened, he had sexually abused me, he penetrated me and I was just, all I remember was just a pain. A pain was just strong. It was really hurtful and I remember that day after that I was a very, very angry kid.547
At the Qu’Appelle school, Raynie Tuckanow said, he witnessed staff committing sadistic acts of abuse.
But I know what they did. I know what they did to me and I know what they did to others, too. Looking up here, just like that up here, I watched the young man. They tied him. And I know him today, I see him today. They tied him by his ankles and they tied him to the [heat] register and they put him out the window with a broomstick handle shoved up his ass. And I witnessed that.548
Leonard Peter Alexcee was abused at the Alberni school. The abuse began one night when a staff member tapped him on the shoulder and told him it was time for him to take a shower.
Middle of the night. So, I thought that was one of the things going on there. I’ll go back a bit. First morning, he woke us up about 6:30. Take us down to the playroom and this big, big guy. I was a small, very small, but you know and he start pushing me around, pushing me around, slapping me. “Come on! Let’s fight,” he said. “I’m the boss here.” There was no kids in the playroom. They’re all looking through the little
window outside, so I just fell down and cried, and cried, and cried. Finally, he left me alone. And then we went into the dining room.
Later, Leonard was told to take his clothes off. “The next thing I know he had all his clothes off too. He said, ‘I’m gonna wash you.’ He washed me down. He started fooling around with my part—private parts and then he took his—he took my hand and put it on his private parts. And then I started crying.”549
In some cases, students said that discipline was mixed with sexual abuse. Mary Vivier told the Commission about her experience at the Fort Frances school.
And there was a priest, I’m not sure what he, what he was, I don’t know, but he was the head priest at the time, the principal, I don’t what they call it. He had a chair.
Whenever, whenever we were brought up to his office to get our strapping, he, there was chairs outside his office, and then there was, like, a leaning chair, I guess. It was low enough for us to, from here on down. He’d remove our, our unders, our pants, our underpants. He would strap us, and he would rub us, saying. “You shouldn’t have done that, you shouldn’t have done this.” Another strap, another fondling. Where, where I was, we were exposed. I think I was, when I was younger, I only got five, but as I grew older I got more and more.550
Donna Antoine was exposed to ongoing harassment from a staff member at one of the Roman Catholic schools she attended in the interior of British Columbia.
He was [the] maintenance person, he would come over, and he, he would stand in my way. He did that for a while, and then he just, and other times he would tap me on the backside, and that felt very uncomfortable. And then when I was go, when I’d go by, ’cause he’d stand right by the table and we had to squeeze by him in a little, little area, he made sure that he stood in the way, and he grabbed me by the backside. And so I told my sister about it. I was afraid to tell the sister because she might think I was an evil person; I didn’t want to displease her. So and the next time, he, he found me carrying up a load of laundry in my hands, going up the stairs, and then he took that opportunity to put his hands between my legs. And I thought why, why is that happening? What did I do to deserve to be treated like this?551
Female students spoke of how some staff members took advantage of their inno- cence, rubbing against them sexually while they were sitting on their laps.552 Vitaline Elsie Jenner said that a bishop used to seat children on his lap when he visited the Fort Chipewyan school.
I just went and sat on his lap, but when I sat on his lap, he, he was holding me, you know, holding me around like that, and pressing me against his, his penis, and, you know, like, kind of like moving me up and down, and I could feel, like, a hardness of his penis underneath my bottom, and I didn’t know what to do. I became scared.553
Louisa Papatie said that at the Amos school, the head of the school once summoned her upstairs. “‘Come.’ That’s what she said, ‘Come with me.’ She gave me a, a kiss on the mouth.
And at one point she started caressing my back, and I fought back, and I tried to get away, but I didn’t have the strength, because I was just a child, and she was bigger than me.”554
Ricky Kakekagumick said that one of the supervisors at the Poplar Hills, Ontario, school used to invite him into his room every weekend.
When he would start changing, taking his church clothes off, he kept his underwear on though. He would just stand there only in his underwear, every Sunday that was me in there. I didn’t like being in there. I was so uncomfortable. It’s a smaller room, just enough for his bed to fit and a drawer and a chair. So every Sunday I had to go in there. I felt violated, I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t, like he liked me being in there, him standing there, ’cause he didn’t put his pants back on right away, he just stands there, talks to me, in his underwear. He made me feel uncomfortable, ’cause usually you can see the bulginess of, of that underwear. I think he was getting his thrills like that. I don’t know if he wanted, I don’t know if he wanted to violate me, physically. I just kept on ignoring him, try and look away. That still bugs me this day.555
Students recalled being humiliated because staff, sometimes of the opposite sex, would watch them when they showered. In some cases, they say, staff members would touch them inappropriately at these times.556 Doris Judy McKay said that at the Birtle, Manitoba, school, the principal would come into the girls’ shower area. “And then we’d have our, we’d go and have our showers, and when we were in the
shower, he’d come there, walk around, check us out, and as we try and hide ourselves we’d crouch into a corner of the shower and try and hide, and he’d be walking around there, check, just back and forth, checking us out.”557
At the Beauval school in Saskatchewan, Mervin Mirasty was told to take a lunch pail to a priest’s room. He had not been warned that boys who were sent on such errands were likely to be abused, as Mirasty was in this instance. When he returned, he felt that boys
who knew what had happened to him were mocking him. “The boys looked at me, and some of the older
Doris Judy McKay.
ones, they were all smiling.” He warned his own brother to never take the lunch pail to the priest. “And to this day, I don’t know why he didn’t listen to me, like, he, he went up there I guess the next day, or soon after, he come back crying.”558
Students were particularly vulnerable when they were alone. Flora Northwest said that she was victimized by both staff and fellow students at the Hobbema, Alberta, school. To protect herself, she said, “I always tried to make sure that I was not alone. I’d try not to be alone.”559 Aaron Leon said he was abused by supervisors at the Mission, British Columbia, school. The abuse generally took place on the weekends when there were fewer students and staff at the school.560
Certain dormitory supervisors used their authority to institute dormitory-wide systems of abuse. Arthur Plint was eventually convicted for abuses he committed while he was a dormitory supervisor at the Alberni, British Columbia, school. Richard Hall was one of his victims. According to Hall, Plint coerced a group of older students into assisting him in imposing a regime of abuse upon the rest of the students in the dormitory.
And there’s times when that, the bullies, I called them goons, I called them. They chased me, get me and bring me to that pedophile so he could molest me, have his way with me. And you would live in constant fear. You’d watch for these guys all the time. You’d be running all the time because I was in a group of boys that I was one of the smaller, a runt of the boys, I guess you would say but I was aggressive. And that’s probably one of the reasons they moved me really quick because I was aggressive. I did learn to be aggressive. And times, at night, these boys under his thumb would get their ways and do things to the kids. I could hear the kids and those fears were also in me that you’d be urinated on and they had an ointment called Winter Green that they used to put, at night, used to reach under the blankets of the young boys and wipe it all over their genitals and it would burn. And if you added water it will burn even more, and they laughed about it. They got what they wanted. If the dorm was punished these boys got the food, they got to do what they want. And for some of the behaviours, Plint, I think also gave them alcohol. These boys would also in the night travel to other dorms. I know because they asked me to be part of it but it wasn’t in my nature.
The experience of abuse changed his life immediately. “I went home for the summer. I went home a different person back to Bella Coola for the summer. I was twelve years old. At twelve years old I began drinking alcohol to forget.”561
Frances Tait was also sexually abused by staff and students at the Alberni school. In this case, several supervisors might have been involved in the abuse.
I was taken out night after night after night. And that went on until I was about twelve years old. And it was several of the male supervisors plus a female. And it was in the dorm; it was in their room; it was in the carport; it was in his car; it was in the gym; the back of the crummy that took us on road trips; the public school; the change room.562
Abuse often took place at night, when supervisors might summon a student to join them in their room or a private location. Many students spoke of the fear and anxiety that spread across many dormitories in the evenings. Timothy Henderson, who attended school in Manitoba, said he recalled the tension he felt lying in bed. “I know nobody was sleeping, ’cause he hadn’t picked anybody yet. So you’d be under your covers; I know I was. You know right under them. I could hear light footsteps.”563
At night in the Sioux Lookout dormitory, Nellie Ningewance said, “the supervisor would sneak in, in the dark; take one of the students out. I’d freeze when they would come in; wondering if I was going to be the next one. I was never able to go to sleep. Wondering
where they were taking her; what was happening. Then she would come in by, then the student would come in by herself.”564
Students were particularly vulnerable to abusive staff members who sought to win their trust through what initially appeared to be simple kindness. Marlene Kayseas recalled that at the school she attended, the principal began focusing extra attention on her. “I don’t remember if he did that to other kids, but he used to let me stay up when they used to have movies, sometimes, if the sister was in a good mood, I guess. We watched a movie on tv and if the kids, some kids went to bed, if they didn’t listen they were sent to bed.” This favouritism, however, was the prelude to a sexual assault that left her scared and confused. “‘Why is my friend doing this to me?’ I trusted him. And I just started to feel really, not good.”565
Andrew Captain recalled being well treated by a female staff member at a school in northern Manitoba. Having won his trust, she would order him into a room and demand sexual attention. “I thought that’s how much she cared for me in a different way, but I didn’t know it was coming in the wrong way…. This kept on for a long time. But like I said, I didn’t know if it was right or wrong.”566
Shortly after one student’s arrival at the Chapleau school, one of the staff members became closely attentive to his needs, encouraging him in sports and telling him to let him know if anyone was bothering him. One night, this particular staff member escorted the student into a small room and hugged him. In later encounters, the staff member attempted to fondle him.567
Fred Brass said that on one occasion at the Roman Catholic school at Kamsack, Saskatchewan, a nun, who he thought was consoling him after he had been beaten up by other students, “made me put my hands down her panties and made me feel her up and this went on for a long, long time. That was supposed to be the one that was supposed to comfort me and help me. But she used me in that way for her own self-gratitude.”568
Elaine Durocher recalled that the staff at the same school took advantage of the chil- dren’s simplest needs to coerce them into sexual activities.
And then after church, there was a little canteen in the church, and the priest would sell us candies. Well, after they got to know us, they started making us touch their penis for candy. So not only were we going to church to pray, and go to catechism, but we were also going to church ’cause they were giving us candy for touching them. We didn’t have money.569
According to John B. Custer, one abusive staff member at the Roman Catholic school near The Pas “would give us little gifts, like bananas and oranges, and I had no choice but take them, because we were always hungry.”570 At the Blue Quills school, Louise Large said, students were sexually abused by staff who offered them money to buy candy.571
Shortly after Ben Pratt started attending the Gordon’s, Saskatchewan, school, the resi- dence supervisor, William Starr, asked him if he wanted to work in the school canteen. He
agreed, since it was a way of making some extra spending money. However, after a short time on the job, he was invited into Starr’s office.
And I remember after that evening, he took me into his office, and there was about five or six of us boys in there, and he started touching us boys. Some would leave, and some would come back, some would leave and come back when we’re watching tv in, in the back of his office. He had a couch in there, and a tv. And we’d all get ready to go to bed, and he made me stay back. And at that time, I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I was sitting there, and I was wondering how come I had to stay back, and I was watching tv there, and then he start touching me, and between my legs, and he pulled my, my pyjamas down. And the experience that I went through of him raping me, and I cried, and I yelled, but it didn’t do any good, ’cause he shoved the rag in my mouth, and he was much stronger than me, he held me down, and the pain and the yelling that I was screaming why are you doing that to me, there was no one to help me. I felt helpless. And after he finished doing what he did to me, he sent me back to my room, and I was in so much pain I couldn’t even hardly walk, and I could feel this warm feeling running down the back of my leg on my pyjamas and on my shorts. And I went to the washroom. I tried to clean myself up. This was blood.
Starr organized a variety of extracurricular clubs to justify taking students on field trips.
According to Pratt:
We went all, all over, Saskatchewan, and dancing powwow, and going boxing, be different places, cadets, but it still continued to happen. As we were travelling in the vehicle, we always had big station wagons, or a van, and he fondled us boys. All of us boys knew what was happening, but none of us ever spoke about it, or shared any- thing what happened to us. We were too ashamed, too, too scared.572
Percy Isaac, who also lived in the Gordon’s residence, recalled how Starr would first win the confidence of the students he intended to abuse.
Like paying us off, paying us off when we worked the canteen. Paying us off when we’d work the bingo. Paying us off to do any kind of things which he had. Like he had a boat, he had skidoos, he had all these different kind of gadgets, cars, let us drive cars when we were underage, we were driving a car.
He too recalled how field trips were both rewards and opportunities for abuse. “Abused, abused in hotels, motels, all over the damn place. Toronto, Ottawa, you name it. Finland, went to Finland, got abused over there, you know. I was just constantly abused, sexually abused from this man. It was horrible.”573
In 1993, Starr was convicted of ten counts of sexually assaulting the Gordon’s residence students.574
Most students came to school with little knowledge or understanding of sexual activ- ity, let alone the types of sexual abuse to which they might be subjected. As a result, their experiences were not only painful and humiliating, but they were also bewildering. Eric
Robinson said, “As a little boy, you don’t know a whole lot. When you are a five-year-old boy and you are placed in this place, and the priest takes a liking to you, and then things start happening, and then you don’t realize it at that age, but you are being sexually abused, in fact, you are being raped.”575
Many students thought they were the only children being abused. Clara Quisess said she was abused by a staff person at the Fort Albany school.
There was no support, no one to tell that this is all happening in this building. A lot of girls must have experienced it, what the priest was doing and you’re not to tell anybody. I always hate that priest and then I had to live like that for two years, even though I didn’t want to. It’s like I had no choice, put myself in that situation. Him,
putting his hand underneath my dress, feeling me up, I felt so disgusted. Even though I didn’t have no words for what I was feeling.576
This confusion made it difficult for students to describe or report their abuse. Lynda Pahpasay McDonald said she was sexually molested by a staff member of the Roman Catholic school in Kenora.
And this woman, what she did to me, and how she molested me as a child, and I was wondering why I’ll be the only one being taken to this room all the time, and to her bedroom and stuff like that. And I thought it was normal. I thought it was, you know, this is what happened, like, to everybody, so I never said nothing.577
Helen Harry did not speak to other students about being abused at the Williams Lake school. “I thought that I was the only one that it was happening to. I always felt like it was just me.”578
Abusers often told their victims never to speak of what had happened. Larry Roger Listener, who was abused when he attended residential school in Alberta, said a priest told him that “‘God’s going to punish you if you say anything.’ I always fear God. All these years I never said anything. I still kind of fear God because I never forgot what that priest told me. He going to punish me.”579 Mary Vivier, who was abused at the Fort Frances school, was told she would “be in purgatory” for the rest of her life if she spoke of her abuse.580 The staff member who sexually abused Elisabeth Ashini at the Sept-Îles, Québec, school, told her she could never speak of what he had done to her. He said “‘You have to keep it to yourself, because little Jesus will be angry, he won’t be happy.’” As a result, she did not report the abuse.581
In some cases, school officials took immediate action when abuse was reported to them. Norman Courchene said he was sexually abused by a supervisor while he was on a field trip from the Fort Alexander school. When he told the principal about the abuse, the supervisor was fired.582
For many other children, however, the abuse was compounded by the disbelief they met when they spoke about what had been done to them. Amelia Galligos-Thomas said she was sexually abused by a staff member at the Sechelt, British Columbia, school. “I
didn’t know it was wrong. I always thought I did wrong, so I didn’t tell people right away. So, I held it in. I just went to the dorm and cleaned up.”
Eventually, she told a staff member she trusted, who arranged for her to see a doctor. “But nothing got done because no one would believe me or her. So, that went on for years of me being sexually assaulted.”583
When he went home for the Christmas break, Ivan George told his father he was being abused at the Mission school. “And he’d say, ‘What did he do? What he’d been doing to you?’ And I told him, ‘He was kind of drunk.’ He says, ‘No, you’re going back. You’re just making that up just to stay out of there.’” The following year, he ran away and refused to be sent back to the school. “I never did return … and I was glad of it. I was put into foster homes, group homes after that. I didn’t go back.”584
When Dorothy Jane Beaulieu told an aunt she had been abused by a priest at the Fort Resolution school, she was told, “‘Don’t make up stories. You’re just making it up. They work for God, and they can’t do things like that.’”585
Lorna Morgan said she was sexually molested by a female staff member at the Presbyterian school in Kenora. The molestation took place at night, when the staff mem- ber would take her into the school dispensary. When she tried to tell her family about the abuse, she was told, “‘Don’t talk about people like that, that are looking after you, you know. You shouldn’t say stuff like that, you know.’”586
In Ben Pratt’s case, a laundry worker at the Gordon’s residence realized that something was wrong and asked him what had happened. Pratt initially resisted telling her, but then he explained how William Starr had abused him. “The look on her face she was angry, but she never said nothing.”
When he was an adult, Pratt told his mother about the abuse that he and other students were being subjected to at Gordon’s.
And she screamed, and she started crying, and I continued telling her what was hap- pening when I was there. And the look on her face, the anger and the rage that came out of her, she screamed and yelled, and she went quiet for a long time, and this is the first time I ever had talked to my mother. She went calm for about fifteen, twenty minutes. And she said, “My boy,” she said, “the school I went to, when I was a young girl,” she said, “I, too, was sexually abused,” she said, “by the fathers.” And I asked her, “What school did you go to, Mom?” She said, “St. Philips.” I didn’t know where it was. And the things she told me that happened to her as a girl, from the fathers that run the school or worked there, the anger that came up inside me was so painful. I bent over, and I couldn’t sit up straight, how much anger and rage I had inside when she was telling me what happened. We talked for a good half-hour to an hour, me and my mother. Then it’s the first time I ever heard my mom tell me “I love you, my boy.”587
Some students never reported abuse for fear they would not be believed. Michael Muskego said he was sexually abused by a staff member at the Roman Catholic residential
school near The Pas in the 1960s. “I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t tell the priest or the police ’cause if I did, the priest won’t believe me.”588
In some cases, students who reported abuse were told that they were to blame. Josephine Sutherland started attending the Fort Albany, Ontario, school in the late 1950s. After being attacked by a male staff member on several occasions, she went to speak to one of the nuns who worked at the school. “I told her something just happened to me, some- body did something to me, and she said, ‘You must have been bad again.’”589
Shortly after he was enrolled at the Sturgeon Lake school in Calais, Alberta, Jimmy Cunningham was sexually assaulted. When he told one of the nuns what had been done to him, he was strapped for lying.
I told the sister what happened. She didn’t believe me. She strapped me for lying. So, I went to see the priest, Father Superior … and he says there’s nothing he could do. Sent me back to the boys’ hall and then the first thing you know the phone rang. The old crank phones. The sister answered it and it was Father telling her that I had been there complaining about what happened. She immediately took me again and strapped me again for doing that without her permission.590
Others simply felt too ashamed to ever speak of the abuse. One of the supervisors at the Assiniboia school in Winnipeg attempted to rape Violet Rupp Cook in the school gymna- sium. She was able to beat him back, but the event left her shaken. “I didn’t know what to do. I was, I was afraid, I was just shaking, I went, I went
back to the dorms. I didn’t tell anybody I was so, I felt so ashamed. I didn’t tell my supervisor, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell any of the girls that were there.” From then on, she was always afraid and unable to concentrate on her school work.591
Elizabeth Good said she was abused during her years at the Alberni school. “I won’t get into detail about the abuse, because it was so violent. I had three abusers, two men and one woman. I was also the youngest one in the residential school at the time.” She wondered if
that was one of the reasons she was targeted by one of the abusers. “There was a couple of occasions where he
Violet Rupp Cook.
had mentioned that I was the baby in the residential school, and he always told me that I was gonna be a no good for nothing squaw. All I’ll be good, good for is having babies, and they’re gonna be worthless, and he is so wrong today.”592
To the extent that they could, many students tried to protect themselves and others from abuse. At the Gordon’s school in Saskatchewan, the older children tried to protect the younger ones from abuse at the hands of the dormitory staff. Hazel Mary Anderson recalled, “Sometimes you’d get too tired to stay up at night to watch over them so nobody
bothers them ’cause these workers would, especially night workers would bother the younger kids. The younger kids’ dorms were next to the older girls’ dorms.”593
Peter Ross said that a staff member of the Roman Catholic school in Aklavik attempted to sexually abuse him when he attended the school in the 1940s. “It just happened a cou- ple of times with me, but I stayed away from the, the lay brother that was trying to bother me, but he never got anywhere with me. Because a lot of my friends were there for me and I was there for them. And we sort of looked after one another.”594
Some students ran away from school in an attempt to escape sexual abuse. Hazel Mary Anderson and her sister found the atmosphere so abusive at the Gordon’s school that they ran away so often that they were transferred to the Lestock school.595 Wayne Reindeer was abused while attending the Roman Catholic hostel in Inuvik. He had been placed in resi- dential school by his family because his mother was ill and his father could not care for all his children. He ran away from the school several times. On one occasion, he returned to the family home in Inuvik. “I hid under the house for two days and my sisters fed me, until the hostel contacted my father and he said, ‘Wayne has been missing.’ And my dad found out from my sisters and he dragged me back, kicking and screaming all the way. I wanted to stay home.”596
Students also fought back. Ken A. Littledeer was sexually abused by Leonard Hands, a member of the staff of the Sioux Lookout school. Initially, he submitted to the abuse because he feared Hands “might get mad, and hit me, and spank me, or something like that, or punish me.” But when Hands approached him a second time, Littledeer punched him and ran away.597
Sphenia Jones said that when a staff member attempted to abuse her one night, she fought back.
I grabbed her, and I, boom, I went like that to her, and she went flying, and then all the kids in the dormitory woke up when I started screaming. She crawled back out the door, and she didn’t come back in the dormitory for, gee, for maybe a week or two after that, right, but she never bothered me again.598
Many of those who fought back were overpowered. Lawrence Waquan said that he was sexually abused by male and female staff at a residential school in northern Alberta. He told the Commission that he eventually concluded, “Nothing you can do. You can say no, and the more you fight back, she’d slap you over and over again. Finally, you can’t cry, you know, you are shaken, scared.”599
In some cases, students fought back en masse. At the Edmonton, Alberta, school, stu- dents deliberately barred the doors to the dormitory in order to stop the abuse during the nights. Mel H. Buffalo said he was one of the organizers of the protest. He told the Commission about how the students had
backed up the, the … dressers that were full of clothes and stuff, and put it against the entrance to the dorm, and at 4:30 in the morning the people were, I guess they were
doing the checks, couldn’t … couldn’t open the door. And this time they were really furious. They got the bigger boys from the other areas to come help them try to break down the door, but they couldn’t.
Eventually, he said, the police were called.
We threw our shoes and stuff out at them, and yelled … some guys knew how to swear, I didn’t, they were swearing at everybody. We threw a list of demands down to the principal; we wrote on there that we wanted better food, we wanted certain staff people fired that we were suspicious of, and we wanted our clothes back that we came with when we, we got to school. Because they confiscated all our clothes
and gave us government-issued clothes … we finally decided, well we better do, what needs to be done.
When the protest ended, he was called into the principal’s office. “I went down to see the principal, and to my surprise there was my grandfather, sitting there. And the principal said, ‘Mr. Buffalo, your son is here … we can’t handle him, we’d appreciate it if you could take him back, and good luck in raising him.’”600
The multiple authors tell their survivor tales of life in Canadian Residential Schools for First Nation Peoples, edited together under themes by chapter in The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation of Commission of Canada (2015).