Residential-school survivors speak out about Catholic Church’s settlement shortfall
By Julien Gignac And Eric Andrew-Gee
Globe and Mail
April 19, 2016
A legal miscue that allowed the Catholic Church to walk away from part of its promise to compensate survivors of Indian residential schools has former victims angry and frustrated
Vivian Ketchum, 51
Attended Cecilia Jeffrey residential school in Kenora, Ont., in the early 1970s.
News of the Catholic entities’ unfulfilled financial obligations made Vivian Ketchum “extremely angry,” she said. The money, she believes, could be used for a 24-hour youth crisis centre in Kenora, where indigenous youth suicide is epidemic.
“Why walk away from the table? Our youth are dying,” she said. “That’s basically what I’ve got to say.”
Ms. Ketchum was 5 or 6 when she was taken – under circumstances she doesn’t remember – from her home in Northern Ontario to the nearby residential school in Kenora.
She said she was abused by a “house mother,” who hit her with a shoe when Ms. Ketchum hid from a dentist appointment she feared. The blow broke one of the girl’s pinkie fingers.
“There were too many strange things happening as it was,” she said on Tuesday. “It was a strange place.”
Ms. Ketchum also believes that she was sexually abused by a staff member who was ostensibly washing her in the showers.
Other episodes are “too much” to talk about. Ms. Ketchum now works at the Tribal Wi-Chi-Way-Win Capital Corporation in Winnipeg – it provides loans to aboriginal businesses – but the residential-school experience haunts her.
“I’m seeing a psychologist right now,” she said. “Some days I’m just hanging on by my toenails here.”
Michael Cheena, 64
Attended Bishop Horden residential school in Moose Factory, Ont., from 1958 to 1966.
Also went to Shingwauk Hall residential school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., from 1967 to 1968.
For Michael Cheena, the path to reconciliation is through traditional healing, which is why he feels the Catholic Church has an obligation to provide for spiritual healing for survivors, and that not doing so is disrespectful.
“It makes me feel the Catholic Church isn’t fully committed to the residential-school settlement agreement,” he said. “I’ve been institutionalized, I’ve been abused, traumatized and indoctrinated to be a Christian.”
Mr. Cheena was 6 when he first attended Bishop Horden.
The 10 years he was in the system were punctuated by occasional beatings – “If we stepped out of line we were subjected to the strap or other physical abuse,” he said – but more painful than that, he was stripped of his Cree culture and beliefs.
The church’s failure to raise the total amount for dedicated healing and reconciliation programs leaves survivors fewer options, the Toronto man added.
“If you go to a professional psychiatrist or psychologist,” he said, “that person doesn’t understand the residential-school experience – they give you medication. I still haven’t taken medication. I go to an elder and healing circles.”
Geronimo Henry, 79
Attended the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., from 1942 to 1952.
When talking about how he has tried to move forward, the Cayuga man’s usual amicability faded, and he said: “I don’t know if you can actually heal from the residential-school experience.”
Although Geronimo Henry received $40,000 from the settlement agreement in 2005, he said no amount of money can make up for the price he paid.
“The Residential Schools Settlement was kind of like a slap in the face, as far as I was concerned,” he said. “How do you put a monetary value on losing your beliefs and your language and your culture? How do you heal from loneliness and all the crying we did?”
Mr. Henry found himself in a residential school at five years old.
Years later, he had the number 48 and the word “survivor” tattooed on his right hand, a reminder of the time he was identified by that number.
He remembers being served mushy oatmeal every meal, and the emotional and physical abuse he endured over 10 years at the school.
“As soon as you were old enough to carry a pail of milk, or look after the chickens, probably about 7 or 8, you were put to work on the farm.”
He has turned to teaching for relief. Now he guides tours at the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., every week.
“People always ask me why I’m so happy,” he said. “So I say, ‘Every time I go and tell my story to people, I get healed a little bit.’ That’s how I’m healing, I guess you could say.”
Sherlene Bomberry, 60
Attended the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., from 1966 to 1970.
Sherlene Bomberry said Canada knows what the church did to indigenous people and yet it continues to shirk responsibility to compensate for past harms.
“It’s frustrating and angering to me,” she said. “It’s going to affect me because I planned on using that to further my healing modality.”
At 10 years old, Ms. Bomberry registered herself at the Mohawk Institute to seek salvation from a toxic home life.
She said she was hit with rulers and suffered constant verbal abuse from the staff.
As a grown woman, she said she couldn’t shed the shame attending a residential school caused her.
Though the Cayuga woman received $16,000 for her time within the walls of the residential school, she said it’s not enough.
“What about all my emotional stuff?” she said. “It was only 15 years ago when I took off this cloak of shame and blame that I wore all these years.”
Ms. Bomberry also guides tours at the Mohawk Institute as a testament to what happened within.