A shared residential school experience

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David Keith Merasty shares his residential school story, Thursday.

Tyler Clarke

Daily Herald

"I'm not going to tell my story because I've heard my story a lot today," former residential school student Marlene Bear said, Thursday.

Bear was one of many former students and family members of former students to speak up during three days of sharing panels at the Prince Albert Indian Métis Friendship Centre this week. They gathered as part of the Canada-wide effort to uncover the truth of the residential school system, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Bear's comment around a collective story rang true throughout the three days, with the same basic frame of a story told time and time again - a framework with distinctly unique experiences within.

"It's always the same story told in a different way," former student Leland McCallam explained.

The following are a series of quotes from this week's sharing panels, in an attempt to share the collective residential school story using the words of those affected by the system.

Residential school experience

"At the age of eight or nine, an Indian Agent person came to our reserve and they took me and my brother and put us on an airplane. I didn't know where we were going." - Modest Bigeye

"We didn't even have any time to change our clothes. They said that if you didn't let these kids on you're going to jail... My grandfather that wasn't able to talk was yelling, grabbing at me." - Fred Sasakamoose

"I was so excited - I am going south! I didn't even know what south was... All this little girl's happiness faded away as I saw my community getting smaller and smaller." - Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth

"The first thing they did when we got there was separate us." - Wendy LaFond, who was told she was going to residential school to keep her sister company

"You come from a background of a lot of love and family values instilled in you... All of a sudden you get ripped away from your parents into a big brick building - very strange people dressed in black... and an entirely different value system... When I woke up in the morning I wondered what the hell form of an experience am I going to experience today." - Emil Bell

"They chopped all our hair off... We all looked identical. I remember crying... ‘Where is my mom and dad?'" - Terri McIntyre Roberts

"Here's us, poor little kids. A lot of times we ate porridge with maggots floating around." - Azarie Bird

"I was an employee - a slave. We used to milk about 60 cows in the evening... That's why my arms are strong, my wrists are strong." - Fred Sasakamoose

"As a young child I never learned anything in the residential school system. You can't learn anything in fear, shame... You're in fear every day and night when you go to school... I've done hard times in the residential school." - Andrew Quewezance

"I was strapped, I was sexually abused, and I had to go through a healing process to deal with feelings of inadequacy... shame." - Emile Highway

"We were dragged into something unknown to us... Everything was prayer, prayer, prayer, but at five-years-old I didn't know who I was praying to... As the years went by I was sexually abused." - Paul Sylvester

"I remember getting whipped by the evangelical mission... A whip in the hand a bible in the other hand, so I never really understood religion." - Morley Norton

"They took my childhood from the age of seven... but it was a sin to tattle in the convent." - Terri McIntyre Roberts

"I'll never forget the - in every case - the sad faces of children. And these were young children of seven ore eight." - Prince Albert mayor Jim Scarrow on visiting the city's residential school

Kill the Indian in the child

"The Indian residential schools were set up to destroy a people... You better believe it they were set up to destroy the Indian." - Emil Bell

"From the first day we walked in, we were given names. We were called savages, or dogs, because we knew nothing of that world. We knew our world. We knew peace, love, happiness." - Paul Sylvester

"I was punished for what I was, not what I did... Tell me please what I done wrong! They called me a savage when I entered that school." - Andrew Quewezance

"What they stole from me was my culture and language, and that little girl that played with her brothers and sisters and didn't treat them like strangers." - Wendy LaFond

"I was told to kneel in a corner, stick my tongue out, and lick the wall... To this day I have sore knees." - Dale Nippi on the punishment for speaking his own language at the school

"My name was ‘72.' Everything was marked with 72... It's amazing they didn't tattoo us." - Terri McIntyre Roberts

"Going to school, there was always this fear, because you were punished for everything. You weren't allowed to speak Cree. You weren't told anything about Indians... Kill the Indian in the child and there'll be no more Indian Problem... That policy failed, though it did cause a lot of misery." - Richard Pelletier

Rebelling within the system

"I took it upon myself to break every rule that was in the residential school system." -

Prince Albert Grand Council vice-chief Don Deranger

"All hell broke loose. So, I got branded a radical and I got booted out." - Paul Sylvester on inciting a riot at the residential school.

"They whipped him in front of us so we wouldn't run away, so we'd be scared." - Morley Norton on his brother who attempted to run away

Unprepared for the world

"Being an Indian, it was tough to make it in the outside world in 1948 and 1949... There were struggles, scars... The world was never made for me, because of the residential school scars." - Fred Sasakamoose

"Every second step in life came from the residential school system." - Lloyd Courtoreille

"What happened to me, Canada? You killed my spirit. In its place you put hatred. You put bitterness, revenge - that's what you put there... When I left residential school, I didn't know who I was. I lost my identity... I wanted to die. I didn't have the guts to do it myself." - Art Fourstar

You come from a background of a lot of love and family values instilled in you... All of a sudden you get ripped away from your parents into a big brick building - very strange people dressed in black... and an entirely different value system... When I woke up in the morning I wondered what the hell form of an experience am I going to experience today. Emil Bell

"I don't really know the effect it had on me over the years. When I got married, I abused her. We drank a lot." - Leland McCallam

"I started drinking when I was 16, and I drank for 20 years of my life trying to forget what happened to me at residential school... It took me a while to get back to the person I really was - A Dené." - Modest Bigeye

"So many of my friends have been incarcerated or passed on because they couldn't deal with the shame and embarrassment that they felt." - Dale Nippi

"The graveyard is full of people I went to school with, who were killed because of their anger." - Andrew Quewezance

"I had no respect for nothing. I didn't have respect for myself, either. Residential school left a big scar, and I'm still healing." - Terri McIntyre Roberts

"I used to wonder why (those at the residential school) were so damned sick, so cruel... But over time I started doing the same damned thing." - Emil Bell

Unable to love

"I am without love because I do not know what love is... I believe that what happened to me in that school made me not have kids." - Dale Nippi

"Not once in my life did I tell (my daughters) that I loved them. I didn't know how. I was ashamed... These are just some of the things I have to live with." - Andrew Quewezance

"I don't know if I'm going to forgive and forget... I've been a loner ever since... There wasn't one word of love given... I never used the words ‘thank you' or ‘I love you' because I never got none." - Paul Sylvester

"I can't remember my parents voice. I didn't remember them saying the loved me... You need love. You need attention - anybody, anything." - Denise Choumont

"All my life I didn't have respect for women because of (the nuns) that were always spanking me... To me, that hurts." - David Keith Merasty

"I wish there were more people here so I can say ‘love your child.'" - Marlene Bear

Multigenerational effect

"It has a multigenerational effect. It passes on... to our children and grandchildren." - Emile Highway

"I can see the generations of damage it has caused.... Everything that's been done for the people of the residential schools hasn't been done for the kids." - Dale Nippi

"Even though I wasn't there, I lived that life. To this day I'm still working on that past... I was the oldest. I was the parent of my siblings... You were never given parent skills in residential schools. They just did what they were taught." - Lyle Willier, whose parents went to residential school system

"I didn't go to the residential school, but it sure affected my generation." - Denise Choumont

"I was a parent to my parents. I was a housekeeper, a babysitter.... I was not able to be a child... The impacts of the residential school survivors are real. When they say they didn't know how to love, it's true." - Chief Clarence Papequash

"I have a hard time raising my own children because I never learned to be a good father - a parent... I want my children to know how to be parents, learn how to be people." - Delbert Paintednose

"I'm a survivor of sexual abuse, and I wanted it to stop with me. And it did... It just seems like there's no respect for native women. I live in fear today - I'm scared. I know for a fact that there are bad people out there." - Cheryl Morin

"I was one of the children that was taken, and I'm still looking for that lost boy... I've lived a life I do not wish upon an enemy. I just pray that every child has a chance to be a child." - Dale Nippi

Resilient aboriginal spirit

"I was told I would be a stupid Indian all my life, so I said, ‘I'll show you.'" - Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth

"We're strong. We're survivors. This episode of history will be taken in a very strong position." - Prince Albert Grand Council chief Ron Michel

"I challenged the world that I could beat the residential schools...I'm going into the (Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame) as soon as I leave here." - Fred Sasakamoose, a former NHL player for the Chicago Blackhawks

"They cannot take my nationality away. When someone asks me who I am - I'm Dené. I'm not Canadian... I'm a true survivor, but there are lots of stories." - Prince Albert Grand Council vice-chief Don Deranger

"I can't heal the community, but I can heal myself." - Paul Sylvester

"Many people that I've met have been destroyed by the residential school system, but things change... Complete your education. You'll be an asset to yourself, your family, your community, and the world at large... We were put on earth for a purpose. Keep your heart in mind... and I guarantee it will be worth your while." - Harry Cook

"I'm always on the go, but every day there's something there, and I need to talk to somebody." - David Keith Merasty

"I think the most beautiful thing a man can hear is that one little word - Dad... This is my culture. I found me. I found my identity and my culture. I don't need booze... I will continue to pray. Prayer is something I have." - Art Fourstar

"You learn the land, you learn the wildlife and the patterns. You watch the stars and you watch the weather. That's where you learn." - Prince Albert Grand Council vice-chief Don Deranger

"The healing journey begins. Lets move on... It's not easy... Tell the world what happened there. Once you do that I guarantee you will feel better." - Tom Roberts

Read Saturday's print edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald for a story on the four public apologies for the residential school system offered during this week's goings on at the Prince Albert Indian Metis Friendship Centre

Organizations: Prince Albert, Daily Herald, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Prince Albert Grand Council Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame NHL Chicago Blackhawks

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Darryl Howells
    January 16, 2015 - 01:07

    I am currently working with a law firm in Calgary ...in regards to residential school law suit ..time to tell my story to complete stranger"s....

  • p
    March 30, 2014 - 21:16


  • Albert Bear
    June 26, 2012 - 17:46


  • smartin
    February 13, 2012 - 03:20

    Id like to thank the person who covered and wrote this article, very well presented, THANK YOU.

  • becky
    February 06, 2012 - 13:33

    I'm 25 years old and i as i read this article it hurts me to know what my elders have gone through in the earlier days. I can't believe how they got treated and i can't imagine ever going through that kind of stuff or having my daughter or myself go through those kind of things. What a hard time our elders must of went through. Now i understand why our people are always drunk. And it explains a lot of why when they get their big pay from the government why they just drink it up and do drugs. The reason most our people are always drunk is because they are trying to drink away that pain and hurt that they went through as babies, children, and teenagers. All i can do is imagine and even doing that brings tears to my eyes. It's very unfortunate that some of us are suffering from past times like that even us as young aboriginal people today we don't have our cree language. This is very heartbreaking just to read about and I'm sure it is a very touchy subject when it comes to our elders having to speak about it. I on the other hand feel blessed that i don't have to ever have to go to one of those residential schools or see my daughter go through that. God Bless.

  • nancy
    February 04, 2012 - 09:08

    from me