When two sisters from Burns Lake woke up on June 3, 2016, they were not expecting to be reunited with friends they hadn’t seen in almost 50 years.
Sisters Irene Stevens and Jean Sam went to residential school together in the 1960s at Lejac.
The hardships of residential school were made a little easier by the presence of two friends they had made – Lucille Duncan and Mystri Duncan, who are also sisters.
The four of them were close friends for almost 10 years during residential school.
Since the Burns Lake sisters were considerably older, they looked after the Duncan sisters.
“We looked after each other as if we were one big family,” said Stevens. “We stuck with each other all through residential school.”
When residential school was over, the four friends lost touch with each other.
Earlier this month, Lakes District Secondary School held a celebration for its roots of reconciliation project, which was meant to educate students about residential schools.
The four friends attended the ceremony, unaware of each other’s presence.
Lucille Duncan, who now lives in Fort St. James, said she recognized the Burns Lake sisters when they were dancing outside of the school.
“We were dancing to the bear clan song and I asked my sister, ‘is that who I think it is?’”
When they finally recognized each other, they couldn’t hold back their tears.
The first thing Stevens heard was, ‘We’ve been looking for you for a lifetime; you’ve had a big impact on us.”
“We hugged each other and we cried,” described Lucille. “It was like finding a family member; we were just so happy, in tears, it was like finding our sisters again.”
Like many children who went to residential schools, Stevens had been forcefully taken away from her parents.
“It’s not an easy thing to forget because we were taken away from our parents and it was hard for us,” she said. We didn’t know where we were going; I’ll never forget the crying.”
When residential school was over, the trauma wasn’t left behind. The friends lost touch with each other and the hardships of residential school had impacts throughout their lives.
“The damage that was done to me was passed on to my children and I feel really bad,” said Stevens. “I even see this anger and hurt in my grandchildren; I have great-grandchildrem coming and it’s hard for me to deal with that.”
When they finally reunited, Stevens asked her friends if they had been going through the same hardships that she had.
“We were finding it hard to cope with everyday life, and when we saw them we asked them if they were going through the same thing… they just burst into tears,” she said.
“They didn’t have to say a word.. we knew.”
Stevens said the four friends walked out of Lakes District Secondary School holding hands.