OPINION: What we didn’t learn in school

Truth Telling: A writer who has worked with Coastal First Nations for 15 years offers a glimpse into residential school life

Mark Kiemele

Special to the News

Think about your earliest memories of elementary school, the deliciousness of new friends, naptime or falling in something like love with a kindergarten teacher.

Think about your parents praising your crayon art or the shape of your letters that printed your name.

Now imagine this: five- and six-year-old brothers walking home hand-in-hand from a day playing in the forest. They hear strange moaning noises coming from their neighbours’ houses.

They find out later the sound comes from parents crying because priests and police had taken their children to residential school. The next day, the brothers are taken, too.

Or imagine this: students lined up, those with curly hair in one line, the straight-haired ones in another. Jokes are made of the straight-haired ones, the beginning of divide-and-conquer techniques that would continue over the school years.

Modern schoolyard bullying looks tame in comparison.

Or perhaps you can imagine a priest throwing jelly-covered pieces of bread on the ground and laughing as children run and struggle for the only sweetened thing they would taste that day or week.

Maybe, in your darkest moments, you can imagine a child having a hatpin driven through her tongue for having the audacity to speak the only language she knows. That language is not English.

Or, even worse, perhaps you can imagine adults sexually abusing children in their care, night after night, picking victims as they lay in their beds thinking about their parents and the place that was once home.

Those parents, living some sort of half-life in their childless villages, felt deep sadness and heavy guilt, blaming themselves for allowing their children to be taken away.

This is not some ancient history or a story from some far-off third world country.

This is modern Canadian history and the people telling it are the peers of us baby boomers.

Most of us are comfortable in our own childhood memories.

The residential school near my town of Chemainus was closed in 1976 on what was then called Kuper Island. The Penelakut people made sure that hulking physical burden on their memories was destroyed. But they, and other First Nations people from throughout B.C. who had attended the school, which opened in 1890, could not destroy a lifetime of negative thoughts and emotions.

Some will make a start at Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Victoria.

The ‘reconciliation’ part of the event is up to the rest of us. That journey begins as we bear witness to the legacy of the residential school system and begin to learn all those things we did not learn in school.

For the past 15 years, Mark Kiemele has used his journalistic skills exclusively for First Nations around the Salish Sea. The Chemainus resident is currently editor of the on-line news site www.klahowya.ca.

RELATED STORIES:

Part 1 of the series: Victoria artist explores shared pain of residential schools, through art

Series introduction: Residential school survivors tell their truths in Victoria

Just Posted

Co-creatorsAdrianna Hatton and Malcolm McKenzie stand next to the little free library revealed Sunday at 9710 First St. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Literary crowd helps opens little free library in Sidney

Located at 9710 First St., the book sharing box features original art and reclaimed wood

Deep Cove Elementary School principal Shelley Hardcastle (right) and vice-principal Mary Kaercher help to restock Reay Creek with fish – in this case, coho fry – after a recent bleach spill killed hundreds of fish. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary School helps to restock Sidney’s Reay Creek

Restocking followed bleach spill that killed hundreds of fish in creek

A new report pegs the annual cost of hiring a third party to monitor use of pickleball courts in North Saanich at $12,000. (Black Press Media file photo).
North Saanich could end up hiring third party to monitor pickleball courts

Other options up for consideration include use of cameras and timed locks

The barred owl is the most likely to be spotted in the south Island. (Ann Nightingale photo)
Barred owls dominate Greater Victoria owl-scape

Western screech owl population decimated, partly due to barred owls

Between June 1 and 7, 168 net unconditional sales were made for properties in the VREB region. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria home sales slightly behind last June’s pace

Benchmark value of single-family home in Greater Victoria tops $1 million

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read