CTV Television Network [Toronto, Canada]
May 31, 2021
By Brooklyn Neustaeter
After spending seven years being abused at a residential school in Saskatchewan, Fred Gordon says he is not surprised that the remains of 215 children were found buried near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
The residential school survivor told CTV News Channel on Monday that he attended Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School from 1944 to 1951. Gordon says he was kidnapped when he was nine years old and taken to the school.
“One day [my parents] were out picking berries, and I was playing with two other kids in the front yard of the house… when an RCMP, a priest and two nuns came and just grabbed me out of the yard and threw me in a wagon,” Gordon said in an interview from Duck Lake, Sask.
“That’s kidnapping. We had no say in those days,” he added.
He explained that his aunt, Evelyn, was killed by the nuns at Lebret in 1936 when she was just 11 years old. Gordon said the priest came to take him to “replace the little girl that they lost.”
During his experience at the school, Gordon said he spent his time “living in fear.”
Gordon says he was sexually abused by a nun while at Lebret, and was left deaf in one ear and blind in his left eye because of the abuse he endured.
“I used to have to run away during the night to get away from that nun,” he said.
Gordon said he saw “terrible things” while at the school.
“There was a father, Father Roberto, you looked in that priest’s eyes and you saw nothing, there was no emotion, no nothing there,” Gordon said. “And he used to come into the dormitories… and I’d see him take a kid out to go and abuse him somewhere in the school.”
He added that the school was across the lake from a seminary and that it was “common practice” for the priests to come over and abuse the children.
“During the day, we had normal classes, we had good playground, everything looked normal, but at night, these animals came out and abused us all the time,” Gordon said.
Based on his experience at a residential school, Gordon said he “wasn’t surprised” to hear that the remains of 215 children were found on Thursday buried near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
“The amount of bodies that were found, that was surprising, but dead children was no surprise,” Gordon said.
“We’ve been talking about this for years and years. Ever since I left Lebret school, we were talking about the abuse and stuff we suffered there,” he added.
Since the remains were found, Canada has made small steps to acknowledge the enormity of the horrific discovery, including the federal government announcing it would be lowering the flags to half-mast.
Amid calls for accountability and to go beyond lowering flags at federal buildings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that he will be speaking with his cabinet about the “next and further” actions the federal government should take in response.
Gordon said current government policies don’t go far enough to address the systemic racism Indigenous people across Canada have faced for centuries.
“Right from the get go when they signed treaties in Fort Qu’Appelle in 1874, as soon as they put us on reserves and caged us on little pieces of land, that was a racist policy. It started as soon as they got here, they started their racism and it hasn’t stopped and it’s not going to stop,” Gordon said.
Despite happening years ago, Gordon said his experience at the residential school still impacts aspects of his life today.
He said he once joked with a former girlfriend that their relationship didn’t work out “because she wouldn’t dress like a nun.”
“We made a joke of it,” Gordon said. “It’s so sad to make jokes of such a sad situation.”
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.