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Student, Cowessess Indian

Residential School, Sask.,



Associate English professor,

First Nations University of Canada

My story is connected to a bigger circle of people. My parents were following in the tradition of their parents. I don't think my parents realized they had a choice. Where else would we have gone to school?

I was seeing the school through a five-year-old's eyes. My first reaction to it was, of course, fear.

Even though I had three older sisters and an older brother that were already there, that didn't mean I had the support of family. We were divided into small-girls dorms and big-girls dorms.

One of the first things they do is they try to institutionalize you by taking away your name. I was given a number and that's [how]I was identified. All my personal belongings were taken away from me. I remember the smells mostly. That kind of smell of disinfectant everywhere in the school. That smell of fear, too, if you know what fear smells like.

I don't wear the badge of victimization. I want to move ahead in my life in ways that I don't carry that stuff any more. Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

Jamie Komarnicki




Student, Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia, 1960-1967


Front-line youth worker in Indian Brook, a native community just north of Halifax

"Three generations of my family went to the school, including 10 in my grandmother's family. ..."

Ms. Bernard was 4 when she and her two sisters and brother went to the school, shortly after her parents separated.

Ms. Bernard said one of her most traumatic memories during her years at the school involves her brother, Robert.

"The boys and girls were separated so they could not talk to each other. One day, I passed him in a corridor and a [staff member]grabbed Robert and threw him against a radiator for saying 'hi' to me. ..."

Her brother died in a car accident in 1977. He was 23. "...That was the hardest part of my life. It took me a year of drinking and trying to come to grips with his death. I was lost without him. ..."

Ms. Bernard left the residential school when she was 15. She eventually got a bachelor's degree in social work and spent 20 years working in child welfare. But she said she knows she is not completely healed from her years at Shubenacadie. Karen Howlett




Supervisor, Stringer Hall hostel for Sir Alexander Mackenzie School and Samuel Hearne Secondary School, Inuvik, NWT, 1970-1974


Bishop, Diocese of Keewatin, Ont.

I arrived at noon, the administrator gave me the keys ... gave me some instructions and said, the first students will be arriving at 8 o'clock tonight. I just felt absolutely, quite frankly, overwhelmed. I'd have left immediately if I had the money to pay for my airfare out.

After that I developed a real affection for the place.

This may sound strange now but I thought one of the ways I could contribute was helping people get their own voice, was to go North and work with aboriginal youth to try and promote this sense of self-determination.

Perhaps I was a bit naive. I was certainly enthusiastic.

The negative part of it is that the residential schools were part of an assimilation process and that's where I think in many ways we need to focus on what was wrong. Twenty years ago, I would have said it was a good system with some bad people. Now I realize it was a bad system with a lot of good people in it. Jamie Komarnicki




Student, Gordon Indian Residential School, Sask., 1954-1963


Family support worker, Gordon Wellness and Therapy Centre, George Gordon First Nation, Sask.

I spent nine years in a residential school. I was six years old when I went. My parents had no choice.

... My first experience was getting in a line-up of several children my age and being doused with louse oil. They believed every first nation person who came to school was filled with lice and diseases.

Many children like myself suffered physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. There was nothing ever mentioned at that time in regards to abuse. It was kind of accepted as the norm.

... [We were strapped]for anything. Anywhere they could hit you. It didn't matter if you had a shirt on or not, those straps left marks. I've got scars on my body that I'll die with.

Most of the [sexual abuse]happened at night in the dark in the big, crowded room or when you went to the bathroom. When you're six ... you'd go to the bathroom several times a night.

I'm very lucky though. I've been sober and straight for almost 25 years of my life.

Jamie Komarnicki




Student, St. Paul's Indian Residential School, Alta., 1943-1953



I just got picked up on the reserve, they'd haul us like cattle on the back of the truck, throw us on the back.

I tried to communicate in my native language but they only spoke English. The first day was a lost day. No idea what hit me.

It was an authority haven. The authorities had all control on all our lives night and day. They had the whip and the power.

... I never got used to it. I just survived one day at a time.

They instilled fear into you. That thing hung around me for a long, long time in my life. Fear of everything - fear of people, of places and things, institutions, and fear of authority. It took me many years to dissipate that ...

What happened when I was about 12 years old, there was a Parisian priest that took over the school. He had a different vision of how to run that place. I guess he was told I was good at art. He saw I was leaning towards that sort of thing and he said, 'I will do something about that.'

That was the beginning of a slow turn for me. ... The art kind of held me in there. It replaced my cultural loss.

Jamie Komarnicki




Student, Alert Bay Indian Residential School, B.C., 1959-1963, Alberni Indian Residential School, 1964-1968


Chief of Wuikinuxv First Nation, B.C.

I always remember my first day, I got in a fight with one of the boys. The supervisor locked me in a locker, six feet by two feet wide.

The schooling, it was rough for me. ... We were told our father would go to jail if we didn't go, so we went willingly.

Our father went to residential school [at Alert Bay]and he treated us the same way. When we got ... beatings, we never cried.

In Alert Bay, I witnessed young boys being molested by the older boys. It was no different in Port Alberni. They tried once, but I fought, I fought. They wouldn't touch me after that.

I thought it was a way of life, both my parents were alcoholics, they both went to residential schools. I quit [drinking]about 20 years ago. But I see the effect with my children.

I try to lead by example. I want to make sure that we know who we are. I'm still working on that. I'm giving to my grandchildren what I didn't give my own children, and I think that's so important. Jamie Komarnicki




Teacher and supervisor. All Saints residential school, Prince Albert, Sask., 1949-52 and Shingwauk Home, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 1952-55


Advocate for former teachers of residential schools, Tangier, N.S.

The Anglican Church was advertising for young people to come and give a few years of their life to help these Indian children to work in the Indian residential schools. It was appealing to me to go and work with Indian children.

... We loved it. We enjoyed working with the children. They were well-behaved kids to work with. They were very artistic.

There were different reasons why the children were there. Nobody went out and tore the children from their parents.

... When I heard all this negative reporting, I thought, there's no way I can let that go unchallenged. I know there were some staff accused of sexual assault, I know that's happened. That does not mean all the staff out there were dysfunctional and abused the children. They're calling it a trauma, the darkest chapter in Canadian history. ... This is not true.

... We were always proud of everything that we did.

[But now]we're the criminals.

Jamie Komarnicki




Family and friends attended Shingwauk residential school, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.


Head coach, New York Islanders

I think we're all affected by the residential schools, no question.

As a young boy, I just remember sitting around and listening to stories and watching my uncles and friends [that attended Shingwauk residential school]that came to our house sitting and crying. There were some real sad sob stories about how they were treated in residential schools. I just remember wondering why white people would treat people so cruelly and meanly.

It's a weird thing. I was more impressed with their power to overcome than feeling sorry. ... I vowed to myself, one thing I was going to fight for was respect. I made myself stronger for it.

I think it's affected our whole nation. We're all connected.

... It's so hard for some people to move on because of the hurt and the anguish. When people ask me, how did you make it to the NHL as a player, how did you make it as a coach, I used to answer it, 'Like everyone else, I loved hockey and played.' But it wasn't quite that way. They didn't have the burden of residential schools that really affected our people. ... Jamie Komarnicki




RCMP constable, file co-ordinator and lead investigator for the Native Indian Residential School Task Force created in 1994


RCMP E Division (B.C.) Inspector

I was asked to lead and co-ordinate ... allegations of physical and sexual abuse at residential schools [in B.C.]

... My experience in interviewing many, many dozens of victims is that the allegations were mainly against the lay people that worked at the schools: janitors, cooks, that sort of thing.

My own personal reaction, all of these statements I took - and I took dozens of statements - every single statement I took was, it was sad. It's a sad story. It's not pretty. Abusing a child, an aboriginal child or a child of another race, it's about one of the ugliest things you can imagine.

I think it's a pretty tough thing to tell your story to a complete stranger ... In some cases these people were telling very detailed... very painful stories for the first time. My heart just went out to some of them.

I don't think anyone has seen the end of the investigation, to be quite honest. Who's to say there isn't someone out there waiting to give their statement, still summoning the courage to come forward? Jamie Komarnicki




Student, Alert Bay Indian Residential School, B.C., 1936-1942


Retired provincial court judge, and first aboriginal person to graduate from law school and be called to the bar in B.C.

My father and mother wanted their children to have an education so my sister and I were enrolled in the residential school.

I was nine years old. I was in the school for six years.

We were enrolled in August of 1936 and we had a wonderful time. ... For the first part, we had picnics everyday. Then when September rolled around, the picnic was over, and the school began. We became exposed to the military-type lifestyle because the vice-principal was a First World War captain.

We didn't enjoy everything about the residential schools. ... If we were caught speaking our language, we were punished.

It wasn't until I was out of the system of residential schools that I realized that much of the objectives of the residential schools were to disregard our culture ...

It did not ruin my life. But, if anything, what I learned about the residential schools after I left there caused me to want to prove to the world that Indians were as intelligent as other people.

Jamie Komarnicki

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