Ontario residential school survivors reflect on National Indigenous Peoples Day

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Diane Hill had simply celebrated her seventh birthday when she first arrived on the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., in November, 1963.

“The first night there I was crying,” stated Hill, a retired Mohawk languages trainer at Six Nations of the Grand River.

“I wanted my mom. I didn’t know where I was. I was crying. Every child will cry for their mom. And I was beaten to a bloody mess by the house mother. I was beaten to a bloody mess on the floor for crying for my mom.”

She describes the institute as “hell on earth.” When requested how lengthy she was there, she replies, “too long.”

“You can’t imagine that in the human world: what we witnessed, what we smelled, what we saw, what we felt, what was committed against the children,” stated Hill. “Yes, we had tuberculosis go through. We had medical epidemics such as smallpox, various scarlet fevers, go through.”

Hill sits on the board of administrators of the Survivors’ Secretariat, a corporation devoted to sharing the reality of what occurred on the Mohawk Institute. She stated she’s heard from many individuals who had by no means heard of residential faculties.

“Many, many people have said, ‘I didn’t know, it wasn’t in the history books.’ It’s very deep and dark, but the truth is coming out with the unmarked graves.”

Hill stated she usually does many interviews main as much as today, acknowledged Tuesday nationwide as National Indigenous Peoples Day, which falls on the identical day because the summer time solstice.

“I am devoting my day to just attending events,” she stated. “I just want to go out and feel the unity of the people.”

National Aboriginal Day, because it was identified on the time, was first acknowledged in 1996 by the governor normal on the time as a option to have a good time the tradition and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

The day is seen in a brand new gentle by some this yr as the primary since Ontario earmarked funding for residential school burial website investigations. The Progressive Conservatives promised final November to double a $10-million funding that they had designated for such searches.

“It’s a start,” stated Hill. “The Mohawk Residential School, the ‘mush hole’ it was commonly called — the overgrowth since 1970 … it needs to be environmentally, cautiously cleared.”

Ontario has stated it believes there are doubtless extra unmarked burial websites within the province than the 12 recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented abuse suffered by Indigenous youngsters at residential faculties and the deaths of greater than 4,000 youngsters.

Hill stated she believes National Indigenous Peoples Day is changing into extra broadly acknowledged, significantly after news about unmarked graves.

“National Indigenous Peoples Day is a call to reflect on the history of Canada, and to learn the dark, dark history of Canada, and to learn and to begin to heal,” she stated.

For Sherlene Bomberry, 66, of Six Nations, the day means coming along with family and friends.

“I’m going to be spending it in my community,” stated Bomberry. “We have free food, they have free rides, and they have music, and there’s (information) booths happening. It’s a gathering, a coming together.”

Bomberry, who can be a survivor of the Mohawk Residential School, stated the 215 unmarked graves present in May, 2021 at a former such facility in British Columbia actually jolted her.

“The last 21 years I’ve been talking about (hearing) cries in the night, and everything like that, but I said it without emotion, you know what I mean? I was emotionally numb, until the 215, and then my body just let it go,” stated Bomberry.

She stated attending the Brantford school made her excellent at burying what she was feeling.

“When you were laying in bed there (at the school), you were repressing stuff, right? And I had already got the strap, the ruler, on my hand, so I didn’t want to be saying anything,” she stated. “And not consoling my own sister, who was laying right underneath me in the bottom bunk.”

Bomberry, who’s an outreach employee on the Native Horizons Treatment Centre, stated she is pleased with herself for the way far she’s are available in coping with her trauma and rising as an individual.

“You’ve got to get to all the core issues, it’s just like peeling the onion off, the layers,” stated Bomberry.

“I’m kind of at peace where I am right now, but I know there’s still stuff there, and that’s OK. Because I passed this down to three generations already. I have children, I have 14 grandchildren, I have one great-grandson. So I passed it down, but I can also pass my healing down to those generations too.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed June 20, 2022.

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