Survivor Stories

We Were So Far Away > Marius Tungilik

Marius Tungilik

Legacy of Hope Foundation | 275 Slater St, Ste 900, Ottawa, ON K1P 5H9 | Telephone: 613‐237‐4806 or 877‐553‐7177 |

Marius attended the Chesterfield Inlet Residential School in Nunavut, then called Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School, from 1963 until 1969. He was only five years old when he was sent to live at the school.

“It was very strange because all throughout the year we were told that our way of life back home represented something completely different than what was actually taking place in our home town. So when you’re told over and over again that Inuktitut is a dead language, it’s a forbidden language, that our way of life is primitive, you begin to think and see your own people in a different light. You see them eating with their hands. You think, okay, primitive. And that’s brainwashing.”

The title of this exhibition, “We were so far away…”, was a quote from our interview with Marius Tungilik, a Survivor of Chesterfield Inlet’s Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School, which he attended between 1963 and 1969. Today, Marius is a father, a grandfather, a public speaker, and an active participant in contemporary Inuit politics. He has also spent many years working tirelessly towards healing the legacy of residential schools for Inuit Survivors. While he notes in his story that this healing process must take place on a number of levels, he firmly believes that for Survivors, “one of the hardest parts is just to get started.” He shares his story in part to inspire others to embark upon their own path towards healing and reconciliation. In 1993, he was the principal organizer of the Chesterfield Inlet Residential School reunion called “In the Spirit of Healing: A Special Reunion.” He is currently organizing another reunion for the summer of 2009.

I went to the Chesterfield Inlet Residential School. It was called the Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School when we were there. I was five years old. I have some very fond memories of my childhood. Before I went to school I was very carefree as far as I remember. People used to talk to me in terms of endearment all the time; cutie, or – I don’t think they ever called me by my real name: Marius. But then it was always “my wonderful son” or anikuluk. It was always something to do with something wonderful. We spoke Inuktitut of course all the time and there were times when they let me roam around freely. There wasn’t anything to be afraid of so I would take a walk out on the tundra once in a while and I would be by myself. That is where I would let my mind wander. I have very clear memories of those days, but I don’t remember ever being told that we were going to school. I just knew that we were going to meet the plane. It was always a big event when an airplane came in. So the next thing I knew I was in this plane and I had no idea why.

The first plane ride was terrifying from Repulse Bay. I just remember crying and crying and holding onto my cousin. I really had no clue as to what was going on.

I guess there were no indications that I would not be able to see my parents for such a long time. I had been with my parents all this time and I was still bottle­feeding when they sent me off to school. I don’t know what they did with my baby bottle. They gave us a hair cut, bath and new clothes, well, uniforms actually, with moccasins. I remember they were asking each one of us who we were and I couldn’t remember my name. I had to think about it because I couldn’t understand at first what they were asking “what is your name”, and I had to check with the others to see what it is they were asking. The person right in front of me was named Andre so I almost said “Andre”. I knew my name wasn’t Andre. I have some memories of that.

They would wake us up. I don’t know how we slept the first few nights because we were crying all the time. We had chores to do. Well, my chores were to sweep the stairs and do the dishes. I don’t know whether we went to Church first and did our chores first or not. Breakfast was porridge almost every day except Sundays.

We had lots of crackers in milk. Then we went to school. We would line up in the hallway and we would all sing “God Save The Queen” and “O Canada”.

The first year wasn’t too bad after a while. We settled into a routine. Sister Rocan was our kindergarten teacher. She was a nice woman. But it was difficult. I didn’t know how long we were going to stay there and it was difficult going back to our home town because things change over a period of nine months when you’re only five. You don’t know how to act towards your parents or your younger brothers and sisters.

In May, around the 19th or 20th of May we went home. Just once a year. I don’t know what that was like for my parents. I never really asked them. I know they were so happy to see us come back every time. They would shower us with love and all that. I’m sure it was hard for them. They told us to listen to our supervisors, whoever was taking care of us, because first of all they were non­Inuit. In that time we felt basically inferior to White society and secondly my parents were very religious so we took it for granted that we had to listen to the Clergy. There was no choice in the matter. So with those instructions we were sent off.

That was further reinforced by the shroud of secrecy in the Residential School. We were told not to say anything. We were threatened not to say anything. It was a Roman Catholic­run school. There were Oblate Priests there, Brothers, and Nuns. The Grey Nuns. They treated us very differently from back home. There were no signs of affection or love. It was very sterile in that environment. Everything was regimented. We had to follow the rules. We had to speak English. We had to learn, speak, write and read in English. We had to follow the clock. Time was the all­important thing it seemed, whereas back home it wasn’t a big factor at all.

There were mealtimes. Back home we would eat whenever we were hungry. In Chesterfield Inlet in school we had to eat only at a certain time and we would all eat together. And we had to report our behaviour every day. Basically they would get out this Report Card and they would call out our names and we would have to say “good” or “not so good” for the way we behaved that day. And if we were “extra good” they would give us a star for good deeds, they would say. If you earned enough stars you would be able to go to a movie that weekend. That was a big deal, going to the movies. So they were strong motivators. Everybody knew the rules, basically.

In school we didn’t interact. We didn’t have any interaction with young babies or with the Elders for nine months of the year. So how did they expect us to become parents and learn parenting skills when you’re living in a complete bubble isolated from what is going on in the community? I guess my saving grace was that I knew by example what it was like to a cherished member of the family. Before I went to school that’s all I knew. I was given unconditional love. I tried to follow that.

If we hadn’t been at school, depending on our age, we would be given a lot of freedom at first and then we would be taken out on trips to learn by observing our parents or our Elders how to hunt, how to be patient, how to build igloos, everything from skinning wild game to preparing the skins for clothing or other uses. We would have learned how to make kayaks, harpoons, and kakivaks for fishing. We would have been taught by example. This is how we make these things. These are the reasons why we make them the way we do. We would have been taught the oral tradition of history. Nothing would have needed to be written down or read. We would have learned the songs, the legends – we missed out on so much of that. Over the years I have regained it to a certain extent. I still don’t know how to do many of the things and that’s something that was taken away from me. The legends – I related to them more as fairy tales or like something completely distorted from the original concept of Inuit legends. I used to fall asleep every time they were being told because it was more like a bedtime story when we went to school, or that’s the way we learned.

So in that sense our spirituality was taken away from us. Our sense of identity with babies, Elders, we had no contact with people in Chesterfield Inlet. We were not allowed to have any contact outside of the school with the residents of Chesterfield Inlet. We missed out completely on a valuable resource of knowledge and expertise that was available right in Chesterfield Inlet because they were afraid that the residents would abuse us. That is sick logic. That is the sickness behind their – they wanted to control every aspect of our lives, the Church, the school system wants to.

We were told that we were Eskimos. We did not amount to anything. The only way we could succeed was to learn the English way of life. So in that sense it was psychologically degrading as well. We were made to hate our own people, basically, our own kind. We looked down on them because they did not know how to count in English, speak English or read or any of those things that we were now able to do. That’s sick.

It was very strange because all throughout the year we were told that our way of life back home represented something completely different than what was actually taking place in our home town. So when you’re told over and over again that Inuktitut is a dead language, it’s a forbidden language, that our way of life is primitive, you begin to think and see your own people in a different light. You see them eating with their hands. You think, okay, primitive. And that’s brainwashing.

Being made to feel inferior or superior with your own kind is psychological abuse in a very bad way. None of us spoke about it. We kept it all inside. No one dared to talk. It was something we just never talked about. So for many, many years, for years, it was probably the best­kept secret of what actually happened in school, what actually happened in the hostels, you know. None of that ever came out.

You could see the manifestations of dysfunction everywhere. There were people who tried to escape reality by drinking or doing drugs, through violence, misplaced anger, confusion, crime — The signs were everywhere. But no one talked about it.

I knew there was something wrong with the way I was feeling inside and the way I saw things and the way my parents and everybody else was seeing things. They were seeing things through different eyes. We were told we’re not White and we’re no longer true Inuit. We don’t know the traditional ways so we were caught somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

We have a lot of good skills. We’re good interpreters. We are good accountants and bookkeepers. We’re good administrators. We were able to earn money in the wage economy. But that’s all on the outside. We were hurting inside and we didn’t know how to express our anger or our confusion.

I tried talking to psychologists as far back as the seventies about the problem, into the eighties. No one took it seriously. No one knew what I was talking about. They said, “Pray”. Pray. What does prayer have to do with anything? “Ask for forgiveness”, they said. Forgiveness for what? The way I am? For what was done to me?

It became clear to me that no one in the professional field knew what it was like to be in an institutionalized situation and to have dealt with physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse of that magnitude. It became very clear that there was a great gap between knowledge and what was actually taking place; the trauma. No one had the language. Healing was not part of our vocabulary until all this came out.

In many ways many things have changed since then. I remember the first time I spoke about Residential Schools in a public forum. I was one of the first so it was very, very hard for me. I was really undecided as to whether I should openly speak about it because it was not done. I was tormented inside because I knew it was the right thing to do and I felt I did not have the courage or the strength. I felt I was going to die if I said anything publicly. But luckily I was able to spend some time out on the land, not by choice. I got lost out on the land for three days just by myself. I was okay. It was in the late fall, November. But those three days alone gave me enough time to make up my mind. Yes, I’m going to do this no matter what.

A week after I was found I made my submission to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Rankin Inlet. We organized the Reunion in Chesterfield in 1993. I had to field questions from everyone. No one actually believed that this could actually happen. I was getting calls from people all over the North who did understand and who knew exactly what I was talking about and they supported me. We worked together on many different issues.

Now when you go to conferences you can listen to people talking about their experiences more openly. They are talking about the need to heal, the need to move forward and the benefits of not keeping things bottled up inside. So many things have changed.

But at the same time it has been a rough adjustment. I’ve always known that healing consisted of many different components. One was an apology, a validation of what actually took place, and criminal justice. People have to be held accountable for their actions by spending time in jail, paying fines, and so on. There’s compensation for damages. There’s treatment and counseling. So there are many components to moving forward in the process of healing oneself. And it takes the whole community to do that. We can’t do it alone. You can but it would be much more difficult.

The hardest thing I believe is to acknowledge and to admit that, yes, it did happen to me. This is what happened to me. This is how it affected me. And when we started all this we couldn’t tell our story without crying, without bursting into tears at some point. It was that difficult. So that’s one of the hardest parts is just to get started and to acknowledge that there is something definitely very wrong in our lives that is making us the way we are. And we need to find a way to get past that and to move forward.

It can be very confusing because you get the sense that once you get it out everything is going to be okay now. But it doesn’t work that way. Everything is not okay. But you’ve taken the first step. And you have to be willing to work with others to get to where you want to be.

Reclaiming the past, what we have lost, is going to take a long time. The isolation from our community extended for many years so you can’t expect to resolve all of the complex issues, all of the complexities of being sent away to school in a time frame. We can’t say by 2010 “Thy shall be healed”, you know. It doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot longer than that. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of resources. And some people are more ready than others so you have to make sure no one is left behind. If we leave some people out, the cycle is going to continue for as long as we allow it to.

I’m hoping we will all be able to stand up and say “I am worthy”. “I deserve the best of what life has to offer.” “Life doesn’t owe me a living.” I think we ought to be thinking that way but at the same time we will have better tools to cope with whatever comes our way and not be stuck in thinking that we’re inferior in any way, that we ought to be asking for permission in any way. Am I permitted to be happy, you know, that seems to be our mindset. Am I allowed to be happy? So if we can accomplish that and get people involved in determining their own futures I think we’ve done our job.

Equality is going to continue to be something that needs to be addressed; equality in terms of having access to resources, having access to services and programs that are available to the rest of Canada. We deserve that, too. We’re Canadians. We pay taxes. We went through the same experiences. We’ve been working on this for a long time, myself and so many others as well, my brothers and sisters, my cousins —

I filed a Notice of Objection. When the Common Experience Payment was being proposed we had no chance to object or to submit an Objection, but I did, on the basis that once again we were up north. We would not be getting our buying power from the compensation process simply because something down here that you can buy will cost twenty times more when you finally get it in the north. That was not taken into consideration.

Again, there were so many shortcomings all throughout the process. In the criminal justice system no one was charged. No one spent any time in jail. The criminal justice system thought that what happened to us was minor in nature, as the prosecutor argued. Every step along the way we have been knocked down. People still knock us down. People still think of us as second­class citizens. We’re still being treated in a way that makes us feel we deserve better. We don’t feel superior to them. We just want to feel equal and – we have so much to offer Canada if they would just let us in and let us be part of the family. We could make this into a much better country to live in.

We have a lot of challenges ahead of us. At least we’re not going backwards any more. We’re holding our ground, if anything, and in some cases we’re moving forward. Sometimes we go back a little bit, we transgress, but that’s human nature. I think we give a voice to the voiceless, people who cannot express themselves, you know, who have all these fears of what people will think of them if they say anything. I think it’s them we speak for when we talk, as well. It is not only our needs that we are fighting for, it’s the needs of others in our communities, in our families, in our circle of friends. We see what is going on. We know what is going on. We can see it every day, day after day.

Our people are so generous, so giving, so caring, so sharing and they are so trusting. They can’t help but try to help the situation. We can’t let them down: ever. Our children will have to carry on the work that we do in some way.

It’s very confusing at times, though. Many times you’re wondering, is this a result of what happened in Residential School or is this a result of something else? You can’t put everything into one basket and say everything that goes wrong is a result of our time in Residential School, or the system. There are so many other things that come into play and you have to be able to differentiate between what happened in Residential Schools and what was happening all around us, whether it was Inuit politics, our way of thinking about the spiritual world, our belief systems, our mind set about legends and the powers of nature, the supernatural, the taboos, the curses.

So we have to be able to separate the issues. What is it that we need to do to ensure that our children will be able to become good leaders, to lead the next generation into a healthier lifestyle, in all aspects of life; spiritually, physically and emotionally? They will have to take ownership of all that. We have a duty as parents to lay the groundwork, to do the best that we can to make sure that our children will be able to carry on the work.

Our hands were tied, basically, behind our backs for so long that we couldn’t do a very good job of laying down the groundwork with tied hands. A lot of us suffered from alcoholism, drug addiction, and addiction to gambling and a life of crime. That’s not really laying down a very good groundwork or blueprint for the future. Those are things we don’t want our children to go through. And yet that’s all we knew, basically.

I know we still have a lot of work to do. The journey hasn’t ended. It continues. I can’t see us abandoning the work in a year and a half or two years, after having done all of this without blueprints for the future. Like I said, we can’t say “They shall be healed in 2010”. It’s just not the way things work.

It’s not that I want people to continue to suffer. That’s not the point. What we’re saying is the need will continue to exist because some people will have just started their journey. They will need to go through for a long period of time and some people want to wait until they see how we turn out once we started the journey, and as leaders we play that role.

I’m back home now, after being away for so long I’m finally home, and I do not mean only geographically, I’m back to where I was born and raised after being away for about thirty years. I guess everywhere I went I felt at home in some way no matter where I was because I could live with myself to a certain extent. But back home I feel completely whole. There’s family; my brothers and sisters are there. My nieces and my friends are there, and people who understand me and people I understand are there.

We weren’t home in Residential School. We were far away from home, very far away, emotionally, geographically and spiritually. We were so far away. Sometimes we thought we were never going home again.

Also the inter­generational impact issue is going to have to be addressed in a very meaningful way. There needs to be involvement of our children and their children to make sure, number one, this type of thing never happens again. And I’m not just talking about Residential Schools because it’s something that’s probably never going to happen again. But the concept, the situation where we allow others to take control of our lives and where others force their belief systems on us and made us feel inferior and made us feel what we were not and try to change us into something we were not, that is what we mean by not allowing this type of thing to happen again.

Secondly, we need to ensure that they understand the full impact of what happened to us, the consequences of disclosure, the consequences of having to deal with all of this and the consequences of dealing with life’s difficulties in a very dysfunctional manner. They have to grasp all of those and move forward and be involved. Once that’s done then they can take over. They can do the work. We can help them along. We can guide them along. But that work has to be done. That’s all I can say.

This is a testimony of a survivor of the Canadian residential schools for Inuits.

“Language and Culture” from The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Chapter from The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), @

“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).

Chapter, “Language and Culture” from The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Survivors_Speak_2015_05_30_web_o.pdf

Language and culture
“How am I going to express myself?”

Many of the students came to the school fluent in an Aboriginal language, with little or no understanding of French or English. At school, they encountered English- or French- speaking teachers and supervisors, who typically had no understanding of the children’s languages, and were actively, and often aggressively, involved in trying to deny their use. For children who could neither understand these new authorities nor speak English or French, the first few months in the school were disorienting and frightening. Arthur Ron McKay arrived at the Sandy Bay, Manitoba, school in the early 1940s with no knowledge of English.
I didn’t know where to go, not even to the washroom sometimes. I just wet myself because I didn’t know where to go and I couldn’t speak to the teacher, and I know that the nuns was the teacher and I couldn’t speak English. They told me not to speak my language and everything, so I always pretended to be asleep at my desk so they wouldn’t ask me anything. The nun, first time she was nice but later on as she began to know me when I done that to lay my head on the desk pretending that I was sleeping not to be asked anything. She come and grab my hair, my ears and told me to listen and to sit up straight.122
When she first went to the Amos, Québec, school, Margo Wylde could not speak any French. “I said to myself, ‘How am I going to express myself? How will I make people understand what I’m saying?’ And I wanted to find my sisters to ask them to come and get me. You know it’s sad to say, but I felt I was a captive.”123
William Antoine grew up speaking Ojibway on the Sheshewaning Reserve in Ontario.
When he was seven, he was taken to the Spanish, Ontario, boys’ school.
I was in Grade One, the work that was given to me I didn’t know anything about and, and the teacher was speaking English to me and I didn’t under-
stand what he was saying. That’s why it was so hard; I didn’t understand English very much. I under- stand a little bit, at that time, but I did not under- stand what he told me. And he would get mad at me and angry at me because I couldn’t do my work.

William Antoine.

I could not, I couldn’t do it because I didn’t understand what he was telling me, what to do. So it was hard.124
When he first went to the Fort Albany, Ontario, school, Peter Nakogee could speak no English.
That’s where I had the most difficulty in school because I didn’t understand English. My hand was hit because I wrote on my scribblers, the scribblers that were given on starting school, pencils, eras- ers, rulers and that, scribblers, and textbooks that were given. “Write your names,” she said, so they don’t get lost. But I wrote on my scribblers in Cree syllabics. And so I got the nun really mad that I was writing in Cree. And then I only knew my name was Ministik from the first time I heard my name, my name was Ministik. So I was whipped again be- cause I didn’t know my name was Peter Nakogee.125

For Marcel Guiboche at the Pine Creek school, the experience was frightening.
A sister, a nun started talking to me in English and French, and yelling at me. I did not speak English, and didn’t understand what she, what she was asking. She got very upset, and started hitting me all over my body, hands, legs and back. I began to cry, yell, and became very scared, and this infu- riated her more. She got a black strap and hit me some more. My brother, Eddie, Edward, heard me screaming, and came to get me.126
Calvin Myerion recalled not being allowed to speak his language at the Brandon school.
And the time went on, and I was told not to speak my Native language, and I didn’t know any other

Peter Nakogee.

Marcel Guiboche.

language other than my Native language. I didn’t know a word of English, and my brother, who had been there before me, taught me in, said in my language not to talk the language. But the only way that I could communicate was through my lan- guage.127
The shock of her first night at the Alberni school left Lily Bruce in tears. Eventually, her auntie, who was a student at the school, was brought in to speak to her.
I was just getting dressed into pyjamas, and I never, I never spoke English. [crying] My auntie was told to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to speak Kwak’wala anymore. I

told her, “But Auntie, I don’t know how to speak English.” And she says, “Well you’re gonna have to learn pretty quick.” [crying] She said, “From now on, you have to speak English.” I don’t know how long it took me. I kept my mouth shut most of the time. I’d rather keep quiet than get in trouble.128
Andrew Bull Calf recalled that at the residential school in Cardston, Alberta, “I got strapped a lot of time because I didn’t know English, you know, and the only language we spoke was Blackfoot in our community and so I got strapped a lot for that.”129 Percy Thompson recalled being slapped in the face for speaking Cree shortly after his arrival at the Hobbema school in Alberta. “How was I to learn English within three or four days the first week I was there? Was I supposed to learn the English words, so the nun would be happy about it? It’s impossible.”130
When two sisters attended the Anglican school at Aklavik, they could not speak English. But, according to one sister, the staff would “spank us when we tried to talk our language. So, we just keep away from one another.”131 Alfred Nolie attended the Alert Bay school, where, he said, “they strapped me right away, as soon as they heard me talking our lan- guage. I didn’t know what they were saying to me.”132
Martin Nicholas said that at the school he attended in Manitoba, the prohibition on speaking one’s own language left him isolated. “I would be punished if I spoke my language, yet, that’s the only language I knew. So, what am I supposed to do? So, I kept quiet.” Because he did not speak English, he became alarmed if anyone spoke to him.133
Meeka Alivaktuk came to the Pangnirtung school in what is now Nunavut with no knowledge of English.
For example, I knew how to knit. I learned before

we came to school how to knit mittens but when we got to school and the teacher was speaking to us in

Alfred Nolie.

English and he was saying “knit, purl, knit, purl,” I had no idea what that meant so I put down my knitting and just sat there. The teacher came up to me and slapped my hands because they didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t understand what he was telling me. That’s how my education began.134
After growing up speaking only Cree in northern Manitoba, Emily Kematch found that “learning how to speak English was a struggle.” She said that “the only way I got by was my friend Sally taught me words, ‘this is how you say, say words.’ She taught me what to do so I wouldn’t get into trouble and we weren’t allowed to cry. If we cried, we got spanked.”135
At the Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, school in the mid-1960s, Greg Rainville said, he was punished for speaking his own language and for failing to carry out instructions given him in a language he did not understand. “The nuns would get frustrated with you when they

talked to you in French or English, and you’re not knowing what they’re talking about, and you’re pulled around by the ear.”136
When Robert Malcolm came to the Sandy Bay school, he did not speak a word of English.
I had to learn the hard way to communicate in school what the, the nuns or the teachers wanted. And if you didn’t, if you didn’t understand that, it was you were be- ing punished, sometimes physically, and then sometimes emotionally. Like you were made fun of sometimes by other people in your class, like if I said, or did something wrong everybody would laugh at you.137
Rules against the use of Aboriginal languages were intended to force students to learn English (or French) as quickly as possible. These rules and the anxiety they caused remain among the most commonly cited elements of residential school experiences. Jacqueline Barney said that one of her report cards from the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, school com- plained that “Jackie still insists on speaking Cree.”138 Dianne Bossum recalled being told not to speak her own language at the La Tuque, Québec, school she attended in the late 1960s and early 1970s.139 Geraldine Shingoose recalled being punished for not speaking English at the Lestock, Saskatchewan, school. “I just
remember, recalling the very first memories was just the beatings we’d get and the lickings, and just for speaking our language, and just for doing things that were against the rules.”140
Dorothy Nolie recalled that at the Alert Bay school, she was caught speaking in her own language at the dinner table. “They put me in the middle of the floor, in front of everybody, and that was my punishment for speaking our language. I was hungry. I never ate noth- ing. Looked around, looked around, everybody eating.

That’s how mean they were to me, to all of us kids in there.”141

Geraldine Shingoose.

At the Roman Catholic residence in Fort Smith in the 1960s, Leon Wyallon recalled, he was punished for speaking his own language.
We can’t even talk in our own language. The minute you talked your own language then you would get sent to the corner. The minute those Grey Nuns find out that you’re talking in your own language, whispering, you’d, if you don’t tell us now then you get strapped on the hand until you say, what did you say. They let you stand in the corner ’til suppertime.142
David Nevin recalled seeing a young girl “savagely” beaten by staff at the Shubenacadie school for refusing to stop speaking Mi’kmaq.
This went on for—seemed like an eternity, and no matter what they did to her she spoke Mi’kmaq. You know, and to this day I, you know, that has been indelible in my

mind and I think that’s one of the reasons why when I went to school there I always spoke English, that fear of being hit with that strap, that leather strap.143
Alan Knockwood recalled being strapped for speaking his own language at Shubenacadie.
Just for saying thank you to someone who gave me something in the school. I was caught by a brother or one of the workers, and I was strapped so severely that when we went to supper my cousin Ivan had to feed me because my hands were so swollen from the straps. And I remember sitting at the corner of the table and the guys got up and hid me, stood up and hid, so Ivan could feed me a few mouthfuls of food.144
Allen Kagak recalled being disciplined for speaking Inuktitut at the Coppermine tent hostel in the Northwest Territories (now Nunavut). “I couldn’t speak English, they tell me to speak English, but I couldn’t help it, I had to speak my Inuktitut language. When I speak my Inuktitut language, they, teachers, strapped, strapped, strapped me, pulled my ears, let me stand in a corner all morning.”145
Richard Kaiyogan also attended the Coppermine tent hostel.
But over the years, if you talk in your own language you get strapped, and later on, I had to learn the hard way but myself, I think over the years I earned that, we earn it, take this education. One time I got strapped and I didn’t want to get strapped any- more so I said to myself, I said, “What am I here for?” You know, education, I guess. Anyway, my culture is going to be—my language will be lost in the way. Okay, why not think like a white man? Talk like a white man? Eat like a white man, that’s what, so I don’t have to get strapped anymore. You know, I followed their own rules.146
On his first day of school in Pangnirtung, the teacher overheard Sam Kautainuk speak- ing to a friend in Inuktitut. “He took a ruler and grabbed my head like this and then smacked me in the mouth with the ruler four times. That was very painful, it hurts! It hurt so much. That happened just for speaking to my friend in my own language.”147
There are also reports of students being forced to eat soap if they were caught speaking an Aboriginal language. Pierrette Benjamin said this happened at the school at La Tuque.
They put a big chunk, and they put it in my mouth, and the principal, she put it in my mouth, and she said, “Eat it, eat it,” and she just showed me what to do. She told me to swallow it. And she put her hand in front of my mouth, so I was chewing and chew- ing, and I had to swallow it, so I swallowed it, and then I had to open my mouth to show that I had swallowed it. And at the end, I understood, and she told me, “That’s
a dirty language, that’s the devil that speaks in your mouth, so we had to wash it because it’s dirty.” So, every day I spent at the residential school, I was treated badly. I was almost slaughtered.148
Alphonsine McNeely attended the Roman Catholic school at Aklavik in the 1940s. On one occasion, she and a friend were overheard by a nun teaching each other their respec- tive languages.

She took me, I don’t know why they always target me. So anyway, she took me to the sink, and she took this, they had this Sunlight soap, it’s kind of a big bar, she took a brush, a floor brush, and she, she, I thought she was gonna tell me to scrub the floor or something. Instead of that she, she grabbed my hair, and she started rubbing my mouth with that.149
Ken A. Littledeer recalled seeing a fellow student at the Sioux Lookout school having his mouth washed out with soap for speaking an Aboriginal language. “I watched that inci- dent, and, and I didn’t like what I seen, bubbles coming out. It sounded like as if they were gonna kill him, or is he breathing, I would say, ’cause I see bubbles coming out of his nose and his mouth, and gagging.”150
At the Shubenacadie school, a staff member once caught William Herney speaking Mi’kmaq with his brother.
And she says, “What are you two boys doing?” “Nothing, Sister.” “Oh, yes, I heard you. You were talking that language, weren’t you?” “Yes, Sister.” “Come here,” she said. I went over. She took a stick. She leaned me over to the bathtub, the bathtub, grabbed me by the neck, and I don’t know how many whacks she gave me over my bum, and I was crying like I don’t know what. Then, she took a piece of soap, and she washed my mouth in it. I can still even taste that lye soap. All my life I tasted that taste. And she said, “You don’t talk that language here. That’s a no, no, no, you don’t, you under-

stand?” Looks at me straight in the eye. She said, “Do you understand that?” And I said, “Yes, Sister, I understand.”151

William Herney.

In Roman Catholic schools in the West and North, it was most common for many of the staff members to have come originally from Québec or Europe. The fact that these staff members were allowed to speak to one another in French (their first language) bothered many students. Mary Courchene once asked one of the
staff of the Fort Alexander, Manitoba, school,
“How come you get to talk your own language and we don’t?” It was just, you know wanting to know why they could speak French and we couldn’t speak Ojibway inside the, inside the school. We spoke it outside, but we couldn’t speak it inside, inside the house; inside the school. And she looked at me and she was very angry but she didn’t say anything.

Mary Courchene.

Later that evening, she was told to apologize to the nun in the dining room. At first she objected, only to be told that
“No one’s going to eat until you say you’re sorry.” Of course I had to say I was sorry; I didn’t want all the rest of the students to have to go without supper, and just because I wouldn’t say I was sorry.
So I said I was sorry and but it was, I was made to feel humiliated. And there were, there was always humiliations like that, that made you feel small. And of course it was meant for the other, all the other students to laugh at this person that was made to feel ashamed. So it was always you know, that kind of, that kind of thing. So we weren’t, we weren’t encouraged to be ourselves. We weren’t encouraged to, to do what was best for us. It was always what those … anyway.152
Students also objected to the fact that if they were taught an additional language, it was French. Lydia Ross attended the Cross Lake, Manitoba, school. “And in my Grade Eleven essay, I wrote out a French essay of 500 words, with all the verbs and adjectives, I had 90% in there. That’s how, that’s how much French that they taught me, and not my language. I couldn’t speak our language.”153
Despite the usual instruction to conduct school life in English (or in French in some of the Québec schools), many students continued to speak their own language when they could. Monique Papatie said that at the Amos, Québec, school, students “went to a corner to speak our language, even if we weren’t allowed to do that. We kept our language, the Anishinabemowin language, and I speak it very well today, and this is what I want to teach the children, my mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”154 Arthur Ron McKay said he was able to hang on to his language at the Sandy Bay school.
Or else you’d get your ears pulled, your hair or get hit with a ruler. Well anyway, I just kept going and I couldn’t speak my language but then I was speaking to boys in the, ’cause they came from the reserve and they speak my language. We use to speak lots, like behind, behind our supervisors or whatever you call it. That’s why I didn’t lose my language; we always sneak away when I was smaller.155
Ronalee Lavallee said that at the Grayson, Saskatchewan, school in the 1970s, there were a number of students from northern Saskatchewan who spoke fluent Cree. At night, they would teach the language to the other students. “We wanted to learn this language, and how we used to take turns watching for the nuns so that we wouldn’t get into trouble. And I think, just think, that was 1970 or ’71, that’s not so long ago, and they were still doing that to us?”156
From the student perspective, the overall message was to speak English (or French). There were some exceptions. Mary Stoney said that at the school she attended in Alberta, at least one priest made an effort to preserve Aboriginal languages. “We were lucky to have Father Mullen, who helped preserve our Cree language by translating the Bible and hymns. If not, the language would be in worse shape. In school we often spoke Cree to

each other, but some Sisters were strict with the rules and some were not.”157 Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries had a long history of learning and encouraging the use of Aboriginal languages in religious settings. At the Beauval, Saskatchewan, school, Albert Fiddler recalled, Aboriginal languages were restricted to use in religious classes.
But that’s the only thing they allow is learning how to pray in Cree. They won’t allow us to talk to each other, and they make sure that we don’t, we don’t talk to each other in Cree either. We only, they only teach us how to pray in Cree in catechisms in the classroom, but not to talk to each other because it’s un-polite for somebody that doesn’t understand Cree.158
Alex Alikashuak said that at the school at Churchill, Manitoba, which operated in the 1960s, there were no restrictions on the use of Aboriginal languages.
We, we almost never spoke English. The only time we spoke English was when we ran across, like, see the thing is in our school, some of our dormitory staff were Inuit people too, so we, we couldn’t speak to them in English, anyway. The only time, real time we spoke English was when we were in the classroom, or we’re talking to one of the administration staff, and or somebody from town that’s not Inuit, but otherwise we, everybody spoke our language.159
The rule in the Aklavik residence, according to Ellen Smith, was “English please, English please.” But, she said, “when we went on the playground in Aklavik we spoke our language; run around. There they even took us out on the land; in the springtime. We went muskrat trapping.”160
Despite the encouragement that was offered in some schools, and the students’ efforts to keep their language alive, the overall impact was language loss. Russell Bone felt he lost the ability to speak his language at the Pine Creek school.
I realized that nobody was, never used to talk their language. Some would, some would speak their language as long as the nuns weren’t around, eh. And then, I started losing it. Forgetting how, what to say, about the words; what they meant; and when somebody, let’s say, there’d be two people talking, eh, two young guys talking their language, and I wouldn’t understand. I’d lost it.161
Of her experiences at the Baptist school in Whitehorse and the Anglican school in Carcross, Rose Dorothy Charlie said,
They took my language. They took it right out of my mouth. I never spoke it again. My mother asked me why, why you could hear me, she’s, like, “I could teach you.” I said, “No.” And she said, “Why?” I said, “I’m tired of getting hit in the mouth, tired of it. I’m just tired of it, that’s all.” Then I tried it, I went to Yukon College, I tried it, and then
my own auntie laugh at me because I didn’t say the, the words right, she laughed at me, so I quit. “No more,” I said. Then people bothered me, and say, “How come you don’t speak your language?” And I said, “You wouldn’t want to know why.” So, I never speak, speak it again.162

Robert Joseph went to residential school at the age of six as a fluent speaker of Kwak’wala. “By the time I left that school, eleven years later, of course nobody in the school spoke that language. There are only 100 of us now in the entire Kwakiutl Nation who speak the language.”163
Prior to the expansion of the residential school system in Québec in the 1960s, some Aboriginal students from that province were sent to schools in Ontario. Paul Dixon was one of these students. His younger brother, however, was educated at a residential school in Québec. “So, I couldn’t talk to my brother in French ’cause I didn’t know French, and he couldn’t talk to me in English.” His mother had insisted that they learn their Aboriginal language, which meant that they did have a language in common.164
When John Kistabish left the Amos school, he could no longer speak Algonquin, while his parents could not speak French, the language that he had been taught in the school. As a result, he found it almost impossible to communicate with them about the abuse he experienced at the school. “I had tried to talk with my parents, and, no, it didn’t work. It’s that we lived with them like if it was… We were well anyway because I knew that they were my parents, when I left the residential school, but the communication wasn’t there.”165
In some cases, the residential school experience led parents to decide not to teach their children anything but English. Both of Joline Huskey’s parents attended residential school in the Northwest Territories. As a result of their experience in the schools, they raised their daughter to speak English.166 When Bruce R. Dumont was sent to residential school in Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, his mother warned him
not to speak Cree. She told him that “you got to learn the English language and, you know, so we, you know, we were instructed at home, and spoke freely, spoke Cree at home, but at school we, we weren’t allowed to speak, speak our language.”167
Andrew Bull Calf recalled that at the residential school in Cardston, students were not only punished for speaking their own languages, but they also were discouraged from participating in traditional cultural activities.168

Evelyn Kelman attended the Brocket, Alberta, school. She recalled that the principal warned the stu-

Bruce R. Dumont.

dents that if they attended a Sun Dance that was to be held during the summer, they would be strapped on their return to school. “Today I still know one or two people who didn’t go because they were afraid of that.”169
Marilyn Buffalo recalled being told by Hobbema school staff that the Sun Dance was devil worship. “We were told by untrained, unprofessional teachers who took great joy in beating the heck out of the boys and the girls, that we were never going to amount to any- thing. And called savage.”170

Sarah McLeod attended the Kamloops school. When she went home for the summer, her grandmother would teach her about traditional ways of healing.
My grandmother would saddle a horse for me, telling me, “Go get this medicine for me up on the hill.” She’d name the medicine, and I was, like, eight years old, I’d get on a horse, and I’d go all by myself, and I’d get the medicines. I know which medicines she’s talking about. I’d get off my horse, and I’d put some in the sack, and I’d have to go look around for a big rock, so I can get back on my horse again.
One year, she returned to school with a miniature totem pole that a family member had given her for her birthday. When she proudly showed it to one of the nuns, it was taken from her and thrown out.
I looked at her. I said, “But that’s my birthday present.” “No, that’s no good. That’s all devil you see in that totem pole. It’s all devil, can’t you see all the devil in there? You throw it away right now.” And she made me throw it in the garbage, and it was, I didn’t know, I said to myself, “Oh, my gosh. All this time I was, I was hugging this devil?” You know I didn’t know that.171
At Akaitcho Hall, the residence in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Mary Olibuk Tatty roomed with students from a variety of backgrounds.
Three years of my life, I lost my Inuit values, even though I, I’m very strong. My mom was very strong at throat singing, and drum dancing, or whatever. But being a female Inuk, very proud Inuk I am, doesn’t matter if my grandpa’s a Newfie, what hit me was I couldn’t say the Lord’s Prayer in my room unless I whispered it, because I grew up so Anglican, because my roommate was Dogrib [Dene], or Kabluunak [a white per- son], ’cause they would ask me why are you, why are you saying this?
The common language of the residence and school was English. “The thing is I notice I spoke a lot of English to them, because back in my head, we had no choice but to speak English, ’cause our supervisors were all Kabluunak, nothing against Kabluunak, my grand- pa’s white, but I wish we had more support at residential schools with our Inuit values.”172 Even when it did not directly disparage Aboriginal culture, the curriculum undermined Aboriginal identity. Thaddee Andre, who attended the Sept-Îles, Québec, school in the 1950s, recalled how as a student he wanted “to resemble the white man, then in the mean- time, they are trying by all means to strip you of who you are as an Innu. When you are
young, you are not aware of what you are losing as a human being.”173
One former student said that her time at the Catholic school in The Pas, Manitoba, left her feeling ashamed to be Aboriginal.
Even our own language was considered ugly; we weren’t allowed to speak Cree lan- guage. I wasn’t allowed to be myself as a Cree woman. Everything was filthy, even our monthlies and that’s how I learned it at home and what I learned from the residential school, everything was ugly. And that’s where I learned a lot of ugliness also, I be- came a compulsive liar, learned to live in the world of denial. When I was younger, I

learned how to hate, I hated my own mother, I blamed her for allowing us to be taken away even though at that time I didn’t realize she didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t until 1990 that she told us that “I didn’t have a choice. It was either that, or me going to jail. I had to let you kids go to school,” ’cause that’s when I disclosed to them both my mom and dad what I went through in residential school in 1990, August of 1990.174
Gordon James Pemmican recalled how at the Sioux Lookout school, the students used to watch western movies. “The ones they made us watch, Indians never won. I don’t recall any show where Indians ever won. When we went out
to play cowboys and Indians, none of us wanted to be the Indian.”175
On occasion, some of the staff at the Blue Quills school had the students put on what one former stu- dent called “little powwows.”
“Okay, everyone, want to see you guys dance like Indians,” like, you know, like you pagans, or you people, you know, to go in the circle, and then she says, “Here’s your drum, and here is your stick,” and of course he sang though. I remember he’s still a

good singer, but they would laugh when he would bang that dust, that tin, steel dustpan, eh.

Gordon James Pemmican.

But they had laughed at some of this, you know, make us do some of the things that was culturally done, eh, but to turn it around and make it look like it was more of a joke than anything else. It was pretty quiet when we would do those little dances. There was no pride. It’s just like we were all ashamed, and we were to dance like little puppets.176
It was during a confirmation class at the Sept-Îles, Québec, school that Jeanette Basile Laloche rebelled against the suppression of Aboriginal language and culture.
They gave us a lesson on the Pentecost, and then the principal Father came with the inspector. You had to be good in you person, and you had to have good posture. Then, they explained to us the Pentecost. Then he said: “The Apostles had tongues of fire on the top of the head, then they started speaking all languages.” Then there I said: “No, no, they didn’t speak my language.” Then there, he insisted, he said: “Yes,
Jeanette, they spoke your language.” I said: “No, it is impossible that they could have spoken my language.” Because, I began to be a rebel then: the God that my grand- mother taught me about, my grandparents taught me, he was nothing like theirs.
Then there, I said: “No, they didn’t speak my language.” I shouldn’t have, we didn’t have a word to say, and I remember what he said: “Put your hand on the desk.” You couldn’t contradict them, I placed my hand on the desk, and with the ruler, I had to repeat, repeat that the apostles spoke my language. Me, it took time before I said it, but you know that’s it, I was marked: I was hit with the ruler, with … there was a

blade on the end of the ruler. I wrote a poem about it, my writing, and it was: “I was a little flower that was uprooted and transplanted into another world.” My values were disrespected, my beliefs humiliated, I suffered infanticide. After all those horrors, my body, my mind had to adhere.177

The authors quoted in this chapter are survivors of the Canadian residential schools for members of the First Nations of Canada

the testimony of Adeline, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide

This is the testimony of Adeline, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide:
I am the only survivor of my family. I was only 19 years old when the genocide took place. My parents, three sisters and two brothers were killed in Gitarama on the 14 th April. When the killing began, my family escaped in many different directions. My two brothers and younger sister, then aged 14, escaped to Butare. Along the way my other sister and I separated from my brothers, managing to hide in a trench.
On 16 th April we were discovered by some local villagers, who had joined with the interahamwe. We pleaded with them to leave us alone. We were extremely lucky, because they did just that. At around 2.00pm, still on the 16 th , we naively believed that
the situation must have improved. We came out of the trenches.
The killers mocked us saying: “Aha, it is the girls. Let’s go and ‘liberate’ them. We must give them something to celebrate.” They took us and another girl who was carrying a baby, to a nearby hill. We passed a roadblock where we saw that people were being
killed. Right in front of us people were forced to squat on the floor and were then macheted or killed with a masu. A big truck was on standby where the bodies were piled on and taken away.
When they were tired of killing, the men came to us and ordered us to take off our clothes. They each in turn raped us. One man pleaded with the others to leave my 14 years old sister alone, saying she was only a kid. The other men laughed and said, that
we were all going to be killed anyway. That we would have to chose between rape or a cruel death. They raped my 14yearold
sister. I stopped feeling my pain. I wanted to protect her, but I couldn’t. After raping us they gave us food to eat by the roadside.
Many people were being captured by villagers and brought to the roadblock. Soon there were so many women kept aside for rape. This went on two weeks. My sister and I met many women, some were raped and killed, others were macheted and lay in agony for
days before eventually dying. Others were piled on lorries with the dead, even though they were still breathing.
A man called Marcel, who was our neighbour and had a reputation as a killer, came to the roadblock and recognised me. I begged him to save my sister and I. He told the interahamwe who were keeping us that I was his spoil and they let him take me. But I
had to leave my sister behind. I was distraught.
Marcel accused me of forcing myself on him. Saying that I was a whore that deserved what I got. He took me to his home and raped me every day. His mother was left to guard me whenever he went out so that I would not escape. She was a nice woman. I
asked whether she had any daughters of her own. She felt sorry for me. She would clean me up, and treat my injuries. She said that if I become a good wife to her son, she would make sure he never hurts me again. I told her I was sad because I had left my younger sister at a roadblock, and feared I had betrayed her.
When my captor finally returned home after two weeks away, he told that he had a surprise for me. I thought he was going to kill me. Instead he had brought my sister with him. His mother had pleaded with him to save my sister. I couldn’t believe he could be
that kind. I was eternally grateful to him for saving my sister. But Marcel had a plan. He got one of his relatives to take my sister as his wife.
By midJun, there were few Tutsis left to massacre, and the killers got more and more agitated. They went from village to village to hunt any surviving snakes. Word got around that Marcel was keeping Tutsi spoils. The local leader ordered a search. I managed to sneak out of the house in time with the help of my motherinlaw,
but my sister wasn’t so lucky. She was killed. I was so distraught by the news of my sister’s death, that I handed myself over to interahamwe to be killed.
Instead of killing me, another interahamwe took me to a disused house and raped me. He showed me his grenades and bullets and asked me to choose which death I would prefer. I picked up a grenade and threw it on the ground hoping it would blow me up,
but it didn’t explode. He then called in his friends to punish me. They gang raped me.
This went on for five days. I was left torn and bleeding. I don’t know how I sustained the
abuse. After a time I finally passed out. When I awoke, the place was silent. I ventured out of the house, hoping someone would kill me, or even rape me until I would die. I was filth, covered in blood, smelling. I looked like a walking dead. I kept walking calling for the killers to come and get me. By that time, I didn’t realise the Rwandan Patriotic Army had liberated the area. Soldiers dressed in uniform came towards me. I was throwing insults at then, demanding that they kill me. Instead they calmed me down and took me to a make shift clinic for treatment.
I have since found out that I am HIV positive. But I don’t want to talk about it.

–Today’s Reading of the Testimonies marks the 15 th Anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, in support of survivors like Adeline

Adeline is a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, mostly of Tutsis.

“I don’t know if my family…” and “68 Children among the dead”

Victim: ‘I don’t know if my family is dead or alive’
Mazin Yusif, a 13-year-old-boy, broke down in tears at the Reyhanli Hospital in southern Turkey near the Syrian border. About 25 survivors of Tuesday’s attack are being treated there, and several said they saw a plane drop chemical bombs.
Mazin Yusif, 13, tells a harrowing story of being caught up in the apparent chemical attack.
“At 6:30 in the morning, the plane struck. I ran up on our roof and saw that the strike was in front of my grandfather’s house,” Mazin told CNN.
He said he ran toward his house and found his grandfather slumped over. He ran outside to call for help. “I got dizzy and then fainted in front of my grandfather’s garage. I next found myself here in this hospital, naked in a bed.” . . .
The boy’s grandmother, Aisha al-Tilawi, 55, said she saw blue and yellow after the plane dropped a chemical-laden bomb.
“We started choking, felt dizzy, then fainted. Mazin was trying to wake up his grandfather. Three of my family died,” she said, lying in bed with an oxygen mask on her face.
‘Sixty-eight children among dead’ of suicide bombing attack in Syria — Blast targeted convoy transporting evacuees from Fua and Kefraya under deal between Assad regime and rebels
Maysa al-Aswad, a 30-year-old evacuee from Kefraya, said she was sitting on one of the buses with her six-month-old son Hadi and 10-year-old daughter Narjis when the blast shook the parked convoy.
“Hadi was on my lap and Narjis on a chair next to me. When the explosion happened I hugged them both and we fell to the floor,” she told AFP by telephone from near Aleppo. “I didn’t know what was happening, all I could hear was people crying and shouting,” she said.
“All I can think about is how we survived all the death during the last few years and then could have died just after we finally escaped.”
More than 5,000 people left Fua and Kefraya and about 2,200 left Madaya and Zabadani on Friday, the latest in a series of evacuations from the four towns under the agreement.
The evacuation process resumed after the bombing, the Observatory said, with the residents of Fua and Kefraya eventually arriving in Aleppo, Syria’s second city that the government took full control of last year.
Wounded survivors, including many children, were taken for treatment at an Aleppo hospital.

"Two Weeks in April" (2017) brings together two accounts of violent events in Syria.


Home, by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
i’ve become.

Theological Aesthetics and the Recovery of Silenced Voices

Created 09/02/2008 – 2:36pm
Theological Aesthetics and the Recovery of Silenced Voices
Cecilia González-Andrieu
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles CA
An Invitation
In March 2004 something unexpected appeared along a stretch of land the Tucson Weekly called “an ugly
wound cutting some three miles across Nogales”[1] [1]. In a moment of intense incongruity, several large
enigmatic figures materialized on the Mexican side of the fence separating the U.S. from México.
“The wall is military surplus,” explained the newspaper noting its war-like nature, “made of corrugated
helicopter landing pads that U.S. troops once laid out in Vietnam’s jungles and in Kuwait’s deserts. The
color of an ugly bruise, its sickly green merges with gun-metal gray. The perfect canvas, in other words, for
a giant piece of political art.”[2] [2] We, of course, know what these enigmatic figures are…they are
milagros. And we know they are profoundly complicated, much beyond “political art.” I begin with this work that the art world calls “public art” but we might more accurately call “popular religion as public art” to give specificity to my proposal.
A proposal advocating the recovery of silenced voices is nothing new to anyone working in the field of
Latino/a theology. We are all, in some way, actively involved in this work. We know that a commitment to
our quehacer teológico necessitates searches beyond volumes of overly verbose theology in dusty libraries. We have known this for a long time. What is new about this proposal then?
First, this is an invitation from us (and other so-called contextual theologians[3] [3]) to the wider academic
community to adopt a rigorous and productive methodology growing out of our experiences of doing
theology. Our ways of doing theology respect the variety of ways that our communities theologize. Second,
the invitation has depth and reach because it uses the language of theological aesthetics to connect a
variety of discourses and disciplines. Especially between the arts and theology, aesthetics is a recognized common discourse. Beyond this, its adoption inherently challenges and effectively dismantles overly rationalistic paradigms. These very same paradigms, set as they have been as the only normative type of theological discourse, have been used to keep “the other” as “other” silent. Third, the invitation comes with a “how-to manual.” While many of us have indeed been involved in doing this work for years, how to do
the work is often a struggle. This methodological proposal seeks to minimize the difficulties posed by such radical interdisciplinarity by first articulating and then carefully systematizing a method to make the work of theological aesthetics more accessible.
The final goal is evident as we again look at the border milagros. We will lift voices that are generally
ignored, classified as “folkloric” or “political”, or demoted to the category of “affective religiosity” without regard to their very real theological thickness.
So as we look at the milagros what do we notice?
If we are attentive, if we enter into the relationship, we see a powerful, painful, enigmatic, and quite
beautiful work. The work will help us fill in the definition of theological aesthetics.[14] [14] First, the work is powerful because it deals with human life; there is none of the aestheticism here
commonly found in art that exists only to gaze narcissistically at itself. Theological aesthetics deals with works that are “oriented to human ends.” [15] [15] Second, the images are indeed painful, if we dare be
present to the depth of suffering represented by la frontera and the way milagros function in the
community. Theological aesthetics looks with reverence at that which moves the human heart and to that toward which it moves it. [16] [16] In this work, there is supplication, there is lament, and there’s a communal gaze of hope lifted to God. Third, the work is enigmatic, and theological aesthetics acknowledges the radical polyvalence of creative expressions and experiences as well as their ambiguity. The univocity often claimed for normative written texts is perceptibly impossible with most creative works, and this radicalizes theological aesthetics toward a constantly receding horizon of appreciated otherness.
Fourth, the work is beautiful, its beauty captures us and fills us with longing; it also exposes the horror and
ugliness of the fence and those who put it there. In the beauty of the work we come to know the many
communities for whom and about whom it speaks and their beauty. Theological aesthetics fills in what just
“aesthetics” cannot, because as García-Rivera underscores “theology recognizes that Beauty shines
through the suffering in this world through its communal dimension.” [17] [17] It is our recognition of this communal dimension that shifts us to the next set of categories of this method and to the image for the “how to.”
Looking at the milagros, which effectively efface the categories of art, popular religion and folklore, we also
notice the inadequacy of the paradigm of intersecting lines. Where does the art end and the religion begin?
Is there a neat and localized point where we can see them meet? Or is there an intricate interweaving, an
interlacing, of artistic religiosity, religious art, myriad iconic traditions, political protest, Latin American
popular religion, European Medieval Catholicism, and Amerindian symbology?[25] ……..
Just one look at the milagros on the border fence tells us the artist as lone genius is a lie. Its very power lies in how broad its voice/appeal is. Interlacing replaces this predominance of the artist with a communal view. As we can see in this border
art, there are three major authorial or meaning-making influences on the work. They are equally important and must be kept in a creative and fruitfully interlaced relationship. [31] First, we have the work itself, and the understanding that a creative work has its own life; sometimes taking
a very different form from what the artist intended, and often surprising even the artist. Federico García
Lorca radically proposes that unless artists completely let go of their egoistical plans in favor of the work
the work of art will be unsuccessful, missing the quality of depth and power a community recognizes
calling it duende.[32] [32] In the case of this work, we can see how the milagros would have shifting meanings if placed on the Mexico side of the border, or on the U.S. side. The work has its own life.
Second, we have the artist. An understanding of the artist’s context is important, because creative works
happen in history and reflect the forces at work in that history. Yet caution must be exercised to not reduce
the work to the artist, and especially not require “sainthood” from artists in order to recognize that their works have theological significance. In the milagros we can see the role of the artist mainly as the artful translation and invocation of an old and beloved communal religious tradition. To emphasize his authorship as an individual’s accomplishment would lead us to minimize the tradition.
Finally, and just as importantly, we must focus on the communities involved in the work, behind the art and
in front of it. Rather than one discrete group, the category of communities seeks to recover all of those
whose traditions may lie behind the work, and whose interpretations, appropriations and critiques lie in
front of it. It is an extensive category which offers much richness, and which beautifully embodies the
Latino/a model of doing theology as teología en conjunto and of its pastoral implications as pastoral en
conjunto.[35] [35] To conclude, the Border Milagros artwork hanging in both desperation and hope on the U.S./Mexican
Border has helped us to articulate some of the initial parameters of theological aesthetics as practiced
through a methodology of interlacing. A methodology that effaces and decenters traditional categories of
engagement between art and religion, and which, owing to its debt to Latino/a ways of doing theology,
expresses itself in a joint, fluid and dynamic approach to a work of art, the artist and the many communities
involved in its beautiful life.
Postscript: About the Artwork
Parade of Humanity: Border Milagros was created by Alfred J. Quiroz, artist and professor at the University
of Arizona’s School of Art, in collaboration with Taller Yonke (Nogales Sonora, Mexico). Quiroz explains, “I
created 16 milagro images, some of which are actual milagro images, but altered for the purpose of
making individuals aware of the dangers of crossing the desert here in Arizona.” [36] [36] Quiroz received a
grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts to produce this collaborative work. The milagros have
traveled and also hung at Agua Prieta on the Mexican side of the border. Part of the work’s intention is that
it “hang” on as many spots of the border fence as possible. As of the date of publication the art
cooperative has not been allowed to set up the works on the U.S. side of the border.[37] [37] The work may
Theological Aesthetics and the Recovery of Silenced
be seen on the Mexico side of the border in Nogales where it was re-installed in 2006.
Voices–[1/21/2012 3:58:38 PM]

New rules, same humans [February 2017]

SUN TIMES. OPINION 02/26/2017, 11:07pm
Opinion: New rules, same humans
Connie Schultz
On Tuesday morning of last week, less than an hour after U.S. officials deported Guadalupe Olivas Valencia to Mexico, he leapt to his death from a bridge that connects our two countries.
BBC News reported witnesses describing Olivas, who was 45, as distressed and saying he shouted that he did not want to return to Mexico before he jumped. He was from Sinaloa, one of the most violent states in the country.
If you’re inclined to point to Olivas’ three attempts to live here illegally as evidence of his unwillingness to follow the rules, consider recasting the indictment as a question: Why would this man have tried three times to escape Mexico?
We still know little about Guadalupe Olivas Valencia beyond the circumstances of his death. But anyone paying attention to the news and capable of even a whisper of empathy knows there is more to his story. It is not difficult to imagine his death as a harbinger of more tragedies to come.
Olivas died on the same day the Department of Homeland Security released sweeping new guidelines that will most likely target for deportation millions more undocumented immigrants living in the United States. No matter how much they pay in taxes and Social Security and regardless of what they contribute to their communities, they are now more vulnerable. Something as simple as failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign can lead to one person’s deportation and the devastation of an entire family.
When I read about Olivas’ suicide, I immediately thought of another family of immigrants I wrote about in December 2010. The parents — I called them Mary and Joe to protect their identities — and their two elder children were born in Mexico. They fled for their lives, crossing the border illegally and then paying strangers $6,000 to ride in windowless vans from Arizona to a small town in northeast Ohio. They found full-time work and brought three more children into the world.
They lived in constant fear of discovery, but they were willing to take the risk to improve the lives of their children — an American value, I was raised to believe.
As I wrote at the time, one foggy evening in 2010, Joe was driving home from work, when police pulled him over for using high-beam headlights. He was gone before his wife and children could even visit him at the police station.
His 11-year-old daughter, Emma, took his deportation the hardest. She was a bright student, but her light burned out in her father’s absence. The longer he was gone the more morose and combative she became. Mary shared her concern in phone calls with her husband, but she was trying to keep her family afloat. One afternoon, Mary left Emma to watch the younger children so that she and her eldest daughter could run errands.
By the time they returned, Emma was gone. She had coiled a cord around her neck and tied it to the banister and then slid down the stairs until she suffocated.
I learned about Emma only after she had died, in an interview with Veronica Isabel Dahlberg, who is a co-founder and the executive director of HOLA, an advocacy group for the large Latino community in northeast Ohio. After reading about Olivas’ suicide on that bridge, I called Dahlberg to see how Emma’s family is doing now.
After his daughter’s suicide, Joe made it back to his family, but only for a while. He was arrested in 2012 after he was pulled over for another traffic infraction. This time, the charge was more serious because he’d already been deported. For months, he languished in a detention cell in Youngstown, awaiting his fate. On the day of his court hearing, Feb. 28, 2013, his wife of 20 years called Dahlberg.
“I could barely understand her at first,” Dahlberg said. “She was so upset.”
Joe had hanged himself in his cell. He was 40 years old.
Days after he died, Joe’s family — including his parents — and friends and colleagues gathered at a local funeral home to say goodbye. His death notice described him as a man who read the Bible every day and who tried to live his life by its teachings.
“His greatest joy,” it read, “came from being with his family.”
He is buried next to his daughter Emma, in the small American town where he once dared to believe that his family would be safe.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.