Most people are familiar with the fact that the ministry took our family apart in the early 1960s. It was horrifying to everyone how they came for the children without notice. Some of the younger children were brought to court without a chance to bath. The three of us sisters, in Lejac, were given a day’s notice that we were going to Burns Lake. They didn’t tell us why we were going to Burns Lake. To this day I resent the brother who drove us in silence until we stopped at the court house. I saw my mother standing alone in tears. I asked what was wrong. She said “They’re taking all of you away from me, you’re all going into foster care.”
I watched in horror when court was over and how my sisters were dragged across the street into vehicles with strangers. One foster parent had a hard time getting one of my sisters in the car because she was dragging her feet trying to stop them. That image and picture remains in our memories like it happened yesterday. Three of us sisters spent 10 years each at the residential school so we lost our family twice, once through residential school and another through foster homes. In the early 70s we lost two brothers who both died very young. We lost our parents and three other sisters all within a six year period. Last September my sisters and nieces put up a five headstone feast in honour of the five deceased. It was a wonderful feeling to complete their graves and to say our final goodbyes. I thank the hereditary chiefs who were hired and were involved. That part of our loss is now behind us.
We often hear other people constantly bringing up our past and how we were taken away. As a residential school survivor, I would like to leave that part of my life in the past. I want to live for the present and the future. It’s very rude of others to keep us verbally informed of “what happened then.” They bring the topic up without our permission and talk about it at every event.
My sisters are all working, have good jobs and some even continue with their education. We have learned to survive and have moved on. People who openly discuss it are not resolving anything. What was done was done. It’s not going to change anything. What you can change is how you approach the problem and at an appropriate time. Yes, we lost our parents too. There is a difference between pity and empathy. What others are expressing is pity. We don’t need pity.
When others bring up the past though, they reinforce those traumatic memories. In our healing journey these are not using good ethical morals. Bringing up past traumas is a form of lateral violence when done without consent. We’re all approachable, we can talk about it in private. At the same we can bond with those who felt they were blamed. The biggest residential syndrome is the lack of bonding with relatives. We can all heal if we approach each other in the right manner.
Irene (Augusta) Stevens