October 9, 2016 12:41 am
Updated: October 9, 2016 1:49 am

Residential school survivors’ Thanksgiving reunion

WATCH ABOVE: A West Kelowna woman is opening the doors to her house to people who were there for some of the darkest times in her life and some of the darkest days in Canadian history. Neetu Garcha reports.

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This Thanksgiving long weekend, a West Kelowna woman is opening up the doors of her home to people who were there for some of the darkest times in her life and some of the darkest days in Canadian history.

A sign outside June Shackley’s home in West Kelowna. She invited about 50 of her classmates from a Lytton residential school to a reunion this weekend.

Neetu Garcha/Global News

It’s a reunion of residential school survivors and many opened up to Global News about their stories.

“It’s really something to look back on the pictures,” June Shackley, who organized the reunion, said as she flipped through an album of historic photos from St. Georges Indian Residential School in Lytton.

Through word of mouth and many phone calls, Shackley tracked down many of her fellow residential school survivors.

About 15 people, having travelled from various communities throughout B.C., attended the reunion on Saturday.

Some of the guests Shackley had seen in recent years, others she hadn’t seen a long time.

Shackley said it is an opportunity to reminisce on their time in the Lytton residential school, which for many of them, was more than 50 years ago.

The gathering, Shackley said, is also a chance to work on healing because amidst the hugs and laughter during the reunion is pain from the years of torment they endured.

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“I was physically abused, sexually abused, mentally abused, religiously abused,” said Francis Bent.

Bent said for many, memories from the days of being abused and stripped of their culture and identity are still very fresh in their minds.

“We got slapped around on the face and it was more than just the strap, we were belittled,” said Jean York.

Theirs are just a few of the thousands of stories to emerge from the system which saw about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children forced to attend the church-run residential schools.

“We need to be proud of who we are but we were taught not to be,” Shackley said.

But as the group banded together to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday afternoon, they made sure to focus on the happier memories.

“You never forget it, but you need to get beyond it and move on,” York said.

She added that they’re grateful to be together on this long weekend because no one else can quite understand what they’ve been through, like each other.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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