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Warning: This story deals with disturbing topics that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.
A survivor of a residential school in Williams Lake, BC, says a visit from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t help him heal from the trauma he continues to suffer — even if he gets an apology.
Frank Robbins attended St. Joseph’s Mission residential school in the early 1960s. His father was also a survivor.
Now Robbins has returned to the site of the former school to witness Trudeau’s visit, which comes two months after the Williams Lake First Nation announced it had found 93 “reflections” indicating unmarked children’s graves on the beach. terrain. But he says the visit offers little comfort.
“An apology would mean nothing to me,” he told Global News on Wednesday. “The damage has been done and you can never make up for what happened, you know?
“He will never know the pain and pain we went through. Maybe (we can) let him know what happened to us… and (make sure) it never happens again.”
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Robbins attended St. Joseph’s Mission for over two years and attended residential school shortly before turning six.
He remembers his father picking him up to pick him up from school in 1962, when the younger Robbins was just turning eight.
“He didn’t want me there because he was one of the survivors,” he said. “He suffered a lot of trauma there. And he knew I shouldn’t be there.”
St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981 and has since been demolished. An additional property, the Onward Ranch, was added in 1964 to support the school’s operational needs. The sites were mainly run by Roman Catholic missionaries.
According to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, a student died of exposure after trying to escape from St. Joseph’s in 1902. Another died and eight others became ill after eating poisonous waterlock spruce, which parents believed was a reaction to school discipline.
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Robbins says he witnessed – and experienced – “all kinds” of physical and sexual abuse during his school years, where cruel punishments were provoked by even minor offenses.
“I remember one day we were late for class and Sister Andrew Mary—I’ll never forget that name because of the pain she caused us—she tied us up for nothing,” he recalled.
“The three of us were waiting to be tied up, and before (she) got to me, I was already crying. I knew it was coming. I grabbed hold of the belt and hung on. I am only small, five or six years old.
“(The nun) went and called the brothers, two brothers, two great men. They came and took me down the hall, pulled down my pants and beat me with a big, long stick. Twice. Things like that have happened.”
He says that in addition to physical abuse, his father also “went through hunger and pain.”
“He didn’t get much education when he was there,” he said. “He did a lot of work, taking care of this and that. But we had to… go to school.
“In my time there, I really learned nothing. I have learned pain. I’ve learned to hurt.”
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More than 150,000 Indigenous children attended Canada’s 139 residential schools, described by some as institutions of assimilation. Their goal, writes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was to “kill the Indian in the child.”
Trudeau was welcomed Wednesday by Williams Lake First Nation elders and residential school survivors. He plans to visit the place where the “reflections” were discovered.
Decades after his experience at St. Joseph’s, Robbins says he’s still not healed. Talking about it ahead of Trudeau’s welcoming ceremony, he says he only feels anger.
“I think the goal is to move on from the trauma and pain we’ve been through, and hopefully work our way through it,” he said.
“But I’ll never get over it. I will never forget it.”
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-800-721-0066) is available 24 hours a day to anyone experiencing pain or discomfort as a result of his or her residential school experience.
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