Native residential schools report a welcome first step but overcoming racism still a big hurdle, say Alberta survivors

By Bill Kaufmann
Calgary Sun
June 02, 2015

Residential school survivor Gustave Many Bears at his office in SE Calgary, Alta. on Tuesday June 2, 2015.

Alberta survivors of Native residential schools say a report on healing that system’s damage is a welcome first step.

But while awareness of the often abusive schools promoted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report should help, Rita Nedved, who attended St. Mary’s Residential School near Cardston, said overcoming racism remains a big hurdle.

“It’s going to take both communities working together for that racism to go away, to be accepted for who we are — it’s going to be a long journey,” said Nedved, 72.

She added she knows the report has sparked a backlash against Aboriginals.

“But we’re the ones who carry the pain, we’re the ones who suffered.”

The woman said she was taken from her adoptive family on the Blood Reserve and attended the school operated by the Catholic church for 10 years, where she suffered sexual abuse.

“I was abused by the priest,” she said.

It took years of the anger, nightmares and suicidal tendencies haunting her, she said, leading her to take her abuser to court.

As for the commission’s 94 recommendations on areas from justice to education, Nedved said many are good, but she didn’t express confidence the current Tory government would act on them.

Gustave Many Bears also welcomed the report, 45 years after he fled the abuse of St. Mary’s school.

“Even though I’d be punished for doing it, I had to get away from that place,” said Many Bears, 63, who recalled the grief of being separated from his family.

“We grew up waking up to beatings ... we weren’t able to speak our language.”

He ended up as a street youth in Calgary and eventually rediscovered his Native Blackfoot tongue.

The commission’s work, he said, could break down non-Native denial of the residential schools’ impact and daily racism against Natives.

“If people are made aware of what happened, maybe then things would change,” said Many Bears, who works as an elder support worker at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary.

“But I know Natives who can’t stand white people, so it goes both ways.”

Many Bears particularly applauded recommendations to strengthen Aboriginal language and culture.


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