Residential school survivors in Kitigan Zibi saddened but not surprised by news from B.C.

·3 min read
Orange ribbons flank a monument remembering the children from Kitigan Zibi who were forced to attend residential schools. The ribbons hang in remembrance of the 215 children whose remains were discovered in an unmarked burial site on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Orange ribbons flank a monument remembering the children from Kitigan Zibi who were forced to attend residential schools. The ribbons hang in remembrance of the 215 children whose remains were discovered in an unmarked burial site on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Members of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation who survived Canada's residential school system say they're saddened but not surprised by the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former school in Kamloops, B.C.

"I wasn't surprised. All the people who went to residential school always said there were kids who passed away and never made it home, and I think they're going to find more when they look at all the other residential schools that existed," said Frank Côté, a residential school survivor and member of the First Nation near Maniwaki, Que.

I consider myself lucky that I made it home. - Frank Côté, residential school survivor

"I consider myself lucky that I made it home. [There were] six of us [who] went and we all came back," said Côté, who was sent to a residential school in Kenora, Ont.

"It was like a jail, and when I went there I wasn't allowed to talk to my brother. I guess you could say they were trying to get rid of my language, my culture and everything."

'It pained me'

David Decontie was just three when he and his sister were sent to the same residential school as Côté in the late 1950s.

In French, Decontie said he felt anger and sadness when he learned of the discovery in Kamloops.

"It pained me. I was sad all day, because there were three-year-old kids [whose remains were discovered]. I was the same age when I was sent to Kenora the first time. With these kids who left and never came back, it's shocking," he said.

"It was very hard for us," added Celine Manithosky, who was forced to attend a residential school from 1962 to 1970. "I witnessed lots of physical abuse and sexual abuse of my friends. We've been there."

Orange ribbons flank a monument remembering the children from Kitigan Zibi who were forced to attend residential schools. The ribbons hang in remembrance of the 215 children whose remains were discovered in an unmarked burial site on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Orange ribbons flank a monument remembering the children from Kitigan Zibi who were forced to attend residential schools. The ribbons hang in remembrance of the 215 children whose remains were discovered in an unmarked burial site on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.(Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

Former chief calls for accountability

Former Kitigan Zibi chief Gilbert Whiteduck said he was deeply saddened by the news from B.C.

"I felt powerless. I felt upset. Their spirits were still in the ground," he said.

Whiteduck is calling for greater accountability, not just from the political class but from all Canadians.

"It's not only a political obligation, it's a moral and human rights obligation that goes beyond just the prime minister. It is the responsibility of all Canadians to make sure that there will be actions taken, like going to check and verify all of the residential schools where they were," he told Radio-Canada.

"It's time for the government to listen and then let us do what we want to do for the healing process and to make sure that all the kids [whose remains were found in Kamloops] are back home where they belong," Whiteduck said. "Canadians need to understand this legacy of pain and shame."

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 national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.