Lessons

Canada's Residential Schools: Daniella Zalcman visit prep

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Mike Pinay, Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School, 1953 to 1963. “It was the worst ten years of my life,” he says. “I was away from my family from the age of six to sixteen. How do you learn about relationships, how do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then. I was a number.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Jaime Rockthunder, who went to the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School from 1990 to 1994. She was sexually assaulted during her time there, and her younger brother was raped by a classmate. Rockthunder says, “He finally told me about it, almost twenty years later, and he blamed me. All he could say is, ‘Why didn't you protect me?’” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Valerie Ewenin, Muskowekwan Indian Residential School, 1965 to 1971. “I was brought up believing in the nature ways, burning sweetgrass, speaking Cree,” she says. “And then I went to residential school and all that was taken away from me. And then later on I forgot it, too, and that was even worse.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Jimmy Kevin Sayer, Muskowekwan Indian Residential School, 1983 to 1984. He says, “I’ve spent half my life incarcerated, and I blame residential school for that. But I also know I have to give up my hate because I’m responsible for myself. I have three adult daughters, and I was in jail for the duration of their childhoods. I have a two-year-old son now and I need to be there for him. I have to be different.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Grant Severight, St. Phillips Indian Residential School, 1955 to1964. He has spent decades working as a counsellor, helping other residential-school survivors cope with their experiences. “We as a people have normalized every conceivable dysfunction that we experienced in residential school,” he says. “Negativity is transmitted, and if we don’t deal with it we pass it on. Even in school, kids who themselves were terrorized grew up to be abusers. We need to figure out how to heal.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Rick Pelletier, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School, 1965 to 1966. Pelletier says that he was being beaten so badly—both by nuns and by older students who themselves had been subjected to physical violence—that when his parents tried to take him back for his second year he ran away. Later, he attended a local public school, where he was one of the only First Nations students and was the target of bullying and racism. “I still don’t know which was worse,” he says. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Angela Rose, Gordon Indian Residential School, 1980 to 1986. She says, “I used to be able to speak my language when I was little. But now, because of residential school, I only know how to say ‘hello’ and count to ten. I turn on the native radio station, and I just like to sit and listen. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but every once in a while a word will pop out at me and it’ll jog some small memory.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Janet Dufour, Marieval Indian Residential School, 1952 to 1960. She says, “A priest molested me because I was ugly and shy and I think he picked the most vulnerable of us. I couldn’t tell my parents because I was so ashamed. . . . To this day, I don’t like fall because it brings back that ugly feeling, that terror of having to go back.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Stuart Bitternose, Gordon Indian Residential School, 1946 to 1954. “After I’d had enough of that place, one day I jumped the eight-foot-high fence and I took off down the highway,” he says. “I found a farm, and I asked if I could work, and I stayed there for two and a half years on a salary of a dollar a day. I learned how to look after cattle, cut firewood, mend fences, thresh. I did it all. I told the farmer I’d run away, and he said he didn’t care—and if anyone came looking for me he’d chase them off for trespassing. I still keep in touch with his sons. He saved me.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Elwood Friday. St. Phillips Indian Residential School, 1951 to 1953. “I’ve never told anyone what went on there,” he says. “It’s shameful. I am ashamed. I’ll never tell anyone, and I’ve done everything to try to forget.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Rosalie Sewap, Guy Hill Indian Residential School, 1959 to 1969. “We had to pray every day and ask for forgiveness,” she says. “But forgiveness for what? When I was seven, I started being abused by a priest and a nun. They’d come around after dark with a flashlight and would take away one of the little girls almost every night. You never really heal from that. I turned into an alcoholic, and it’s taken me a long time to escape that. I can’t forgive them. Never.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Joseph Gordon Edechanchyonce, Beauval Indian Residential School, 1959 to 1969. As a student, Edechanchyonce was sexually abused by a school supervisor who has since been convicted on ten counts of molestation. He still bears scars from regular beatings. Two of his brothers, who also went to Beauval, hanged themselves as adults. “It’s hard for me to really love my children,” he says. “I grapple with the word love.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

"For 120 years, the Canadian government operated a network of Indian Residential Schools that were meant to assimilate young indigenous students into western Canadian culture. Indian agents would take children from their homes as young as two or three and send them to church-run boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their native languages or observing any indigenous traditions, routinely sexually and physically assaulted, and in some extreme instances subjected to medical experimentation and sterilization.

"The last residential school closed in 1996. The Canadian government issued its first formal apology in 2008."

-Daniella Zalcman's project page, "Signs of Your Identity," on Pulitzer Center website

Mike Pinay, Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School, 1953 to 1963. “It was the worst ten years of my life,” he says. “I was away from my family from the age of six to sixteen. How do you learn about relationships, how do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then. I was a number.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

Educator Notes: 

In this lesson we'll examine the work of Daniella Zalcman and introduce her project about the legacy of Canada's residential schooling system. 

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