Day school survivor hopes to inspire young people to continue their education

Marie Martha Andrew, a day school survivor in Sheshatshiu, shared her personal experience with day schools with high school students on Wednesday. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
Marie Martha Andrew, a day school survivor in Sheshatshiu, shared her personal experience with day schools with high school students on Wednesday. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

Marie Martha Andrew emotions overwhelmed her as she recounted her past abuse to Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation School students  on Wednesday — but it was important, she said.

While it's traumatizing to relive the abuse the Indian day school survivor suffered, she said, she shares it with students in the hope they will learn from her experience.

"I would like them to continue on with their education and be the next leaders in our community," Andrew said after her talk.

Andrew shared her experience with the high school group during an outing to the school's culture cabin in preparation for Friday's National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Andrew is one of many Innu in Labrador who survived the schools, run mainly by religious groups, which were set up before Newfoundland and Labrador joined Confederation in 1949.

Like residential schools, day schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children while eradicating Indigenous languages and cultures, and often had religious affiliations. There was also widespread abuse, and Andrew said there needs to be more talk and education for young people about the abuse that happened in the day schools.

One 17-year-old student said she thought it was moving to hear Andrew speak.

"It's inspirational that she had to go through that and I know it's hard for people to talk about," said student Nateisha Nuna.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Helen Nuna, 16, agreed, saying people used to not talk about abuse and it's good that they do now. On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Helen said she hopes other teenagers remember to listen to elders and learn their culture before it's lost.

"When I was younger, I didn't spend a lot of time with my great-grandmother. Her name was Annie and she passed away some years ago," Helen said.

"I think it's important that you learn their language from their elders because they're the ones that know it the most. But like when I was younger I didn't learn any of it because I didn't spend time with her, and, like, when she passed away, I regretted not learning it from her."

Survivor hopeful for future of young leaders

Andrew said she wants to see an apology for the abuses at the day schools.

"They should apologize to the people, what they have done to the people, because these are the people you trusted and these are the people that hurt you."

Andrew said she has a lot of hope that the young people she speaks to will finish their education, have the freedom to choose what to pursue, and never forget about their culture and language.

"I'm glad I was able to talk to the students," Andrew said. "I'll be very happy and I know a lot of people in the community would be very happy if they could come and work in our community."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Nateisha said she hopes to be a best-selling author and TV series director, so she can donate her profits back to Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation. Helen said she's unsure what she wants to do, but knows she wants to return to Sheshatshiu.

"I want to go to university, but then I want to come back here. I want to help my community somehow," Helen said. "I'm sure of it."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador