Poignant voices from Tuesday's report on residential schools

Comments from some of the thousand witnesses who shared their stories with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

OTTAWA – Over a span of six years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools heard from thousands of witnesses, many of whom told wrenching stories of abuse and mistreatment, of pain and fear and anguish. What follows is a selection of some of what they had to say:

“The time the first few nights we were in the residential school, when one person would start crying, all the, all the little girls would start crying; all of us. We were different ages. And we would cry like little puppies or dogs, right into the night, until we go to sleep; longing for our families. That’s the memory I have.” — Betsy Annahatak, who grew up in Kangirsuk, in northern Quebec, then known as Payne Bay.

“And we were on the train, gee, for about four days, I think, something like that. And the more people they picked up, the more squished we all became in, inside the train, and we were packed in like a bunch of sardines. There was kids laying around on the floor, all along in, in where the walkway was supposed to be. And I could hear really lots of crying all the time, crying, crying, crying. I could hear a baby crying about the second day, so I start looking, and I found this little one in the corner. There was a whole bunch of kids around. I don’t know if they were alive or whatever, you know. I picked him up, anyway, and I remember packing him around. I lost the space that I was sitting at. So, I was walking around. I was lucky I had a coat. I took my coat off, I remember holding him, sitting, holding him, looking at his face. Nothing to eat, nothing to drink. I couldn’t give him anything.” — Sphenia Jones on her trip to an Alberta residential school from Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia.

“And after I was taken there they took off my clothes and then they deloused me. I didn’t know what was happening but I learned about it later, that they were delousing me; ‘the dirty, no-good-for-nothing savages, lousy.’ And then they cut off my beautiful hair. You know and my hair, my hair represents such a spiritual significance of my life and my spirit. And they did not know, you know, what they were doing to me. You know and I cried and I see them throw my hair into a garbage can, my long, beautiful braids. And then after they deloused me then I was thrown into the shower, you know, to go wash all that kerosene off my body and off my head. And I was shaved, bald-headed.” — Campbell Papequash, who was taken to a residential school in 1946.

“I remember the one young fellow that hung himself in the gym, and they brought us in there, and showed, showed us, as kids, and they just left him hanging there, and like, what was that supposed to teach us? You know I’m fifty-five years old, and I still remember that, and that’s one thing out of that school that I remember.” — Antonette White, recounting a story from her school at Kuper Island, B.C.

“I saw violence for the first time. I would see kids getting hit. Sometimes in the classrooms, a yardstick was being used to hit. A nun would hit us. Even though our hair was short as it is, the nuns would grab us by the hair, and throw us on the floor of the classroom…. We never knew such fear before. It was very scary. I witness as other children were being mistreated.” — Rachel Chakasim, who was schooled in Fort Albany, Ont.

“The priest grabbed him, grabbed him by the hair, threw him down. Now, that was a cement floor where we played. And here he kicked him repeatedly. There was no stick. He had brand new boots, leather. I was sitting not too far away. I wasn’t very big. I still can’t forget to this day. It’s like I’m still watching him. It must have been ten minutes. These were brand new boots. On the thighs and the buttocks. He bounced his boots off him as he kicked him.” — Adam Highway recalls a beating at the Sturgeon Landing, Sask., school in the 1920s.

“They just gave me a number, which I’ll never forget, you know. This is your number. When we call this number, you know, that’s you, you know. And it was No. 16 and I’ll never forget that number.” — Lorna Morgan who attended a school in Kenora, Ont.

“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, erasers, 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 because I didn’t know my name was Peter Nakogee.” — When he first went to the school in Fort Albany, Ont., Nakogee could not speak English.


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