Roger Hall attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School from 1966 to 1974, but when he’s called a survivor, it doesn’t ring true.
“I’ve not survived it because the storm isn’t over yet,” Hall said.
“It’s still here and it’s every day where you’re, pretty much, treading water. I hope it ends soon because I am getting tired; tired of treading water, tired of watching my people falter when we could be prosperous.”
Just ahead of Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, that seems especially worth noting. Just as Hall doesn’t yet see himself as a survivor, he hasn’t yet experienced reconciliation.
For that, he said those responsible still need to own up to the harms inflicted on Indigenous people, he said.
“Own up to the wrong that when you raped people like myself when you held your hand over my mouth and didn’t allow me to scream out and yell. (You) let me live in fear and pain for so many years,” he said.
Kamloops Indian Residential School was run by the Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969, with peak enrollment of 500 in the 1950s. The federal government then took over the administration and operated it as a day school until its closure in 1978.
The system was designed to remove Indigenous children from their families and assimilate them into Euro Canadian culture. Hall had just finished Grade 1 when he was taken from his family and sent there alongside six brothers and a sister.
He didn’t understand what was going on and his first memory is of being terrified.
He’d made a friend, and they were on the floor playing with a toy car when an adult intervened.
“I was picked up off the floor and my pants were pulled down and I was beaten with a strap,” he said.
That memory is one of many that casts a shadow over his formative years.
“I never did graduate,” he said. “When you go through some of your life being told you’re stupid, ugly, lazy or dumb or … you don’t even get a gold star or even get recognized, I think that really affects you somehow.”
It’s, at the very least, disheartening. More, though, the experience has made Hall and others who have walked in his shoes ask why they should be part of this system that took advantage of them for so long.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, implemented earlier this year as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action, will see federally regulated workplaces such as banks and the public sector pause work to give Canadians a chance to reflect on the legacies of the residential school system, colonial policies and the cultural genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
The day also coincides with Orange Shirt Day, which began in 2013 to mark the story of Phyllis Webstad’s new orange shirt being stripped from her on the first day she attended a B.C. residential school.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.