Lejac residential school was on the shore of Fraser Lake, and that’s where former student and survivor Francis Holland Sr. started walking with his family on the weekend of Orange Shirt Day.
Francis, who turned 70 that Sunday, was there with his daughter Heather Holland, son Stacy Holland, and grandkids Tristen Holland and Alyias Naziel. They were spending three days walking to Burns Lake, where they were escorted by local RCMP Cst. Deb Gable with their thanks.
Federal agents of a different sort were much less welcome when Francis was taken away without his parents’ knowledge from Pendleton Bay on Babine Lake, and forcefully enrolled in a program intended to take away his language and culture.
He was six years old.
“Me and a couple of boys were playing around … and an Indian agent pulled up in a green suburban. The boys were asking him ‘who were you looking for.’ And they said right away — at that time they called me Frank — ‘we’re looking for Frank Holland,’ ” explained Francis.
“As soon as I heard my name I started to run away. All them boys, they caught up with me and they brought me back on all fours. The Indian agent got out of his suburban and opened the back door, and in I went.”
From there he was driven to Burns Lake and set up with clothes and put on a train.
“And the Indian agent said to the conductor that ‘Frank’s going to go to Lejac. Somebody’s going to meet him over there,’ ” described Francis.
When he arrived at Lejac, Francis saw a group of other First Nations kids already there.
“I didn’t think anything of it; I just thought what am I doing here? Later on I found out I was going to go to school here forever,” he said.
Francis would spend the next 10 years at Lejac, Prince George College, and Kamloops at another residential school. He described it as doing “10 years of hard labour.”
The treatment towards students was violent. Speaking his own language got Francis a mouth full of soap that he had to eat and a strapping.
“A thick strap. We’d get strapped 20 times on the bum and both hands,” he said.
To keep his language, Francis said he would speak to himself. One time, another young student who didn’t understand the language thought he was swearing and told the teacher, who proceeded to punish Francis.
Francis said he doesn’t hold anger from what happened to him.
“Just bring the whole issue up for who I was and why I went to the residential school without my parents’ knowledge,” said Francis, explaining why he tells his story.
He had two sisters who also went to residential school there: Madelene and Selena.
Lejac residential school closed in 1976, but the effects are lasting for Francis’s family.
Both of Heather’s parents went to residential school, with her mom Evelyn Williams being from Witset.
“This is why it’s such a meaningful walk, so that I can honour my parents and all residential school survivors, their descendents, which is his children, and all residential school survivors that are passed on,” said Heather.
“I’m an inter-generational survivor myself.”
She said recognition of this past was important for everyone.
“It’s an important issue for reconciliation and unity among not only Indigenous people but everyone as a nation and as a community,” said Heather.
The daughter of the residential school survivor said while things were getting better, there was much room for improvement.
She also wanted to send a special thank-you to Cst. Gable for the escort into Burns Lake, where the walkers were welcomed with honking horns, singing, drumming and — as Heather described it — “sound of joy.”