Anadolu Agency [Ankara, Turkey]
August 8, 2022
By Seyit Aydogan
Many children in residential school run by Catholic Church were ‘physically, sexually, mentally abused,’ says Evelyn Korkmaz
Many children in a Canadian residential school were “physically, sexually, and mentally abused,” according to a victim who attended one of these Catholic-run educational institutions.
Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency, Evelyn Korkmaz recalled her four-year stay at St. Anne’s residential school on Fort Albany in Ottawa as “the worst years of my life.”
Unlike other local children who were forcibly taken from their families, Korkmaz, an indigenous Canadian, said that after completing primary school in the area where she lived with her family, she willingly enrolled in a residential school to complete secondary school and then proceed to high school.
“They didn’t consider us as humans and treated us like animals. They slapped us on the back of the head. They told us we were dirt,” said Korkmaz.
Later on, while attending the school there, many children were “physically, sexually, and mentally abused,” she said.
Canada’s three Indigenous peoples – Metis, First Nations, and Inuit – had about 150,000 of their children taken away beginning in the 1820s and forced into notorious Indian residential schools.
About 60% of the schools were run by Catholic orders. The state-funded schools subjected children at times to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, and together with a rampant disease an estimated 6,000 died.
Korkmaz said that at the school, instead of calling the students by their names, they cut their hair, gave them a uniform, and placed number cards on their clothes.
“When they taught us Canadian history, they never taught us that our people were being humiliated and disrespected. We didn’t really learn about the true history of Canada,” she added.
“Even though we were indigenous people, we didn’t realize at the time that we were living and making history,” Korkmaz said, adding that she could not have imagined one day she would be sitting and talking about what she went through in the residential school.
“I thought it was normal. I thought everybody’s school was like this. Because when you have nothing to compare, you think it’s normal,” she said.
“And you’re taught to obey your elders, to obey these priests, to obey these nuns because they’re higher up than you are, you are a child,” she added.
Children were taken at night
Korkmaz recalled that many of the things that happened in the residential school came back to haunt her as an adult, although she was then young and not particularly aware.
“In the middle of the night, somebody, a girl or a boy, would have been taken from their beds and taken down the hallway somewhere in the school. And you had no idea what had happened. Because you don’t think that way as a child,” she said.
“And in the morning, you would see a little candy on their night table. And that was the nun or priest saying thank you. (…) Because they take them and abuse them somewhere else,” she added.
Priests, nuns, and brothers were protecting each other and nothing was reported to the police, she said, adding that there was also no police in their area and it was an isolated community.
When the police came in every three months to inspect, the children were instructed to remain silent, she said.
She recalled a traumatic day at the boarding school when priests and teachers threatened children with their parents’ safety to keep them silent about the abuse they endured.
“Of course, when someone tells you something, you don’t say anything. As a little kid, you just listen.
“As an adult, you know better. But as a child, you’re scared. Someone tells you: ‘You better not say anything or I’m going to hurt your mom and dad.’ The most sacred thing in your heart when you’re a child is your mom and dad. So, of course, you’re not going to say anything because you don’t want your mom and dad to get hurt,” she explained.
May teens were induced into pregnancy at school by clergy and forced to abort, Korkmaz continued to recount her time at the school.
“You’re a priest, (and) you’re representing God. And that’s the worst thing you can do to another human being.”
“You don’t know what’s going on, and then when you’re an adult you realize, oh my goodness, but you didn’t know that as a kid,” she added.
“There were (awful) things that happened at that school. It was just horrific. No human being should have to go through that,” she said, adding that it ruined the life of a child.
Rewriting Canada’s history
On Pope Francis’ recent visit to Canada, Korkmaz said the Pope apologized on behalf of the Christian people but not on behalf of the Catholic Church or the Vatican, adding that “there is a big difference” between the two.
Christian people were not responsible for the wrongdoings of Catholic school staff at the residential schools, she believed.
“I want the Pope to say I am responsible. I apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church. He didn’t say that when he was in Canada,” she said, adding that it will not be necessary to spend money in order for them to heal.
“Money is not the solution to the problem. What we need is to have healing centers to help us (both) mentally and physically. Some of us still carry this burden,” she said.
“We need to see psychologists and psychiatrists, and we need to see indigenous healers and we need the education to teach us what our traditions and cultures are because we have lost them,” she said.
“I don’t know what my traditions and cultures are. I know more about Turkish culture than I do about my own,” she explained.
She vowed that the people will rewrite Canada’s true history.
“We’re going to rewrite Canada’s history and tell the true history of Canada. Because when you say Canada around the world, everybody thinks, oh, they’re friendly and nice. No, they got dirt under their carpet too,” she said.
* Writing by Busra Nur Cakmak in Ankara