Kamloops news raises memories of horrific abuse for Brokenhead elder

·4 min read

For Evelyn Everett, the image of the teacher who terrified and abused her for so many years of her childhood is never far from her thoughts.

“I see her face in my mind almost every day,” 66-year-old Everett said while sitting on the front step of her Brokenhead Ojibway Nation home and recounting her own story of abuse while attending a Federal Indian Day School as a child.

“Sometimes I see her when I sleep, and no matter how much time passes that face is always there and will always be a reminder.”

Everett doesn’t remember the name of the teacher who abused her, but she will always remember the physical and mental trauma she endured, and how humiliation and fear were used as tools to force her and others to conform.

Day schools were facilities where First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were sent during the day, but lived with their parents and remained in their communities, and like residential schools, they were places where students experienced physical, verbal, and sexual abuse.

“How she disciplined us was by making sure we had no voice, no voice at all,” Everett said. “She would say ‘you’re stupid, you’re useless.’ I did not have an identity and if I did anything to show my identity I was hit and beaten.”

One moment will always stick in Everett’s mind because of how traumatizing it was.

“She made me stand in front of the class and she hit me so hard I peed in my pants, and I just had to stand there because if I said anything I would get hit again,” Everett said while struggling to hold back tears.

“I didn’t say anything the whole day because I knew she would just beat me again.”

Because of her own fear and anger stemming from what she went through, Everett said she turned to drugs and alcohol in her teens and was an addict until the age of 27 when a suicide attempt forced her to get clean. She has now been clean and sober for almost 40 years.

And as the horrific news of 215 bodies of Indigenous children discovered in a graveyard near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops B.C., now comes to light, Everett said old wounds have now been reopened for her and others in her community.

“I got to come home, but those kids didn’t. I found my voice and I was able to find my identity, but those poor children never had that same chance, and they were just innocent children,” she said, as tears ran down her face.

Karen Prince works as the community health representative at the Brokenhead Medical Clinic, a full-service medical centre and pharmacy in the community located 60 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Prince said she knows the news of the 215 children has been a trigger for residential school and day school survivors in the community, and she worries it could lead to a mental health crisis in Brokenhead and in First Nations communities across Canada.

“I’m already hearing from community members, and they are telling me this is opening up old wounds and resurfacing those memories,” Prince said. “So, we have already seen and will continue to see those mental health issues.

“Elders have called me, and they are feeling overwhelmed and scared, so this is just another trigger for survivors to relive that pain.”

The medical clinic offers mental health services and has helped many community members deal with their trauma, but Prince said some survivors are willing to share their stories while others keep those stories deep inside, and will only talk when and if they are ready.

She said she now hopes anyone dealing with mental health issues as a result of the news of the 215 children will seek ways to deal with their trauma and pain.

“For some survivors, it takes a while, and for others, they never get there, but we have to listen when people are ready to tell their stories because that is the only way we can heal.”

An Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week in Canada for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience or the experience of someone they know. The crisis line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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