'All I can say is pray': A Q&A with residential school survivor Toby Obed

·4 min read
Toby Obed opens up about the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Marc Robichaud/CBC - image credit)
Toby Obed opens up about the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Marc Robichaud/CBC - image credit)
Toby Obed opens up about the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Toby Obed opens up about the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.(Marc Robichaud/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Toby Obed is a survivor in more ways than one, and has spoken many times about the way residential schools have upended his life.

He has given a great deal of himself to ensure he and other survivors have been heard and acknowledged, acting as the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the federal government and testifying under oath about the trauma he suffered at the Yale School in North West River, a small community in central Labrador.

The discovery of 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia last week has stirred a lot of emotion throughout the country in survivors and their families and friends.

Obed spoke to CBC Radio's Labrador Morning host Janice Goudie about the discovery, which he said made him wonder about how many other places in Canada have burial sites.

"It made me think of the families who are lost and who are mourning. It made me think of the last generation of children that were taken and who went through and experienced all the physical, the mental, the sexual, the emotional abuse," he said.

"I still have a pain in the right side of my lower head from then, and I just really don't know how to feel. It's numbing."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What do you think the government should do in this situation?

A: I don't believe in our government. For the atrocities and for the pain that everybody as a residential school survivor has gone through and have experienced, right now I have very little trust and very little faith in our government.

Obed says he hopes the children found can be returned home to rest properly.
Obed says he hopes the children found can be returned home to rest properly. (CBC)

Q: What are you doing right now besides reflecting and having to relive some of the trauma that your experienced?

A: I'm staying quiet. I'm staying to myself. I went for a walk yesterday afternoon and I just, more or less, reflected on myself, what I've experienced, what I've went through. And it made me think of these poor children and what they had to go through. They're saying that the youngest child that they found was three years old.… I was three years old when I was taken away from my parents here in Hopedale. For those children, not being able to return home and being buried on idle ground, ground that is not theirs, grounds where they were punished and where they had their last breath. They are not resting. These 215 children are not resting and they won't rest until they are home and they are on their home ground.

Q: Are you hearing from other residential school survivors?

A: Not directly. Here in Hopedale, at the assembly building, the Nunatsiavut government office has their flags at half-mast for the 215 children and they're going to have their flags at half-mast for the next 215 hours. This morning I went over there. I got a picture of myself in front of the flags and it's the only way that I know that I can show my support and show my comfort to the families and to the residential school survivors across Canada right now who are mourning and who are at a loss. It's devastating for this to have happened.

I never had the chance to grow up with my parents, as I should have. I never got to learn my culture, my traditions, my language. I came back to Hopedale when I was 16 years old. I had the drive, I had the courage and the strength that what I lost, I can gain it back. I am not fluent in my Inuktitut, either reading, writing or speaking. But I do my best. Without my culture, without my tradition, without my language, I'm just an empty shell.

Q: What words do you have of comfort for other people who are trying to make sense or trying to deal with the emotions of what we've discovered in the last few days?

A: One thing I have a hard time with is religion, but I say to everyone, pray. Pray for yourself for what you went through. Pray for your strength. Pray to know that we are not alone and these young children who have passed and who were found, they will be now recognized and maybe now they can go home and rest properly. I just say pray right now, for the families, for the generations, for the hurt, for the pain, for the struggle. This is real and all I can say is pray.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School crisis line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour line: 1-866-925-4419.

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