Survivors share stories, memories

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Finding whatever silver linings they could, many of those who came to Brandon for Wednesday’s residential school survivors’ gathering were quicker to pull up positive memories than negative ones.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/08/2017 (1815 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Finding whatever silver linings they could, many of those who came to Brandon for Wednesday’s residential school survivors’ gathering were quicker to pull up positive memories than negative ones.

Held at the former Brandon Indian Residential School property on Grand Valley Road, the daylong event served as a means of both healing and moving forward, with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation’s leadership sharing a broad plan to build a healing centre on the property, which the community owns.

Although Norbert Tanner attended the Birtle Indian Residential School, he carries a personal connection to the former Brandon school, where his brother and cousins were shipped at a young age from their native Waywayseecappo First Nation in the 1960s.

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun Robert Mentuck and Norbert Tanner of Waywayseecappo First Nation attended the Residential School Survivors Gathering at the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School just west of the city.

Tanner said that he was never given a clear answer as to why he was separated from his family members, but that between that and being apart from his parents for 10 months of the year, he spent much of his childhood from the age of seven feeling isolated.

His silver lining came in the form of sports, with hockey, track and field and baseball keeping him occupied.

Roger Mentuck attended the Brandon Indian Residential School for two years, during which he said that his main takeaway was loneliness.

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun Visitors to the Residential School Survivors Gathering at the site of the former residential school just west of Brandon off Grand Valley Road look over a display of historical photos from residential schools.

“There were no family members around; my parents weren’t around, my grandparents weren’t around,” he said. “That’s what I remember about it, just being so lonely.”

While his grandfather drove him into Brandon to begin his third year at the school, he told him that he didn’t want to go.

His grandfather turned the car around and drove him back home to Waywayseecappo, with the youngster spending his subsequent school year at a public school in Rossburn.

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun Sandra Warlie of California, Harold Myerion and his wife Lorraine Myerion of Long Plain First Nation look over photos from the Brandon Indian Residential School, which Harold attended as a child, during the Residential School Survivors Gathering at the site of the former residential school just west of Brandon.

This was followed by another stint in the residential system in Birtle, where he said he entered another lonely environment.

He had a couple of sisters who attended the same school at the time, but with the sexes segregated, he wasn’t allowed to play with them.

“The only time I’d see them is through the fence,” he said, adding that even then he wasn’t allowed to speak with them.

His silver lining was that the school set him up to find success at high school in Rossburn, after which he was able to join the workforce.

Stripped of their culture and placed on their own at a young age, residential school students often formed a box of armour around them, event co-ordinator Toni Pashe of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation told those who gathered for the day’s event.

It’s this aspect of the residential school experience that Danette Wasicuna of Waywayseecappo said resulted in various forms of emotional detachment among many of her family members who were part of the system.

“It was hard for my parents, grandparents, to show affection, and to have the skills to be able to teach,” she said, adding that although she never experienced the residential school system directly, she was nonetheless impacted through their experiences.

Although reflecting on the past is part of the process, Wednesday’s event offered a greater focus on the future.

This concept of forging a new path, beyond the residential school system, is one Tanner said he initiated the day after he returned to Waywayseecappo as a young adult after 12 years in the system.

Stripped of his culture during his school years, he had a lot of catching up to do.

“I took up all the culture; my Indian outfits, my Indian singing, sun dances and learning languages … and I carried on from there,” he said, adding that he’d go on to become a band councillor, teacher’s aide and home school co-ordinator, working various positions with Child and Family Services and his home community of Waywayseecappo to help improve things for future generations.

After offering the day’s opening prayer in his native Dakota language, Rev. Wayne Wasicuna of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation said that although one’s culture can be lost, it can also be found.

“It doesn’t die out when it’s in your heart, it continues,” he said.

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation has yet to secure funding for a healing centre at the property, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been investigating the possibilities.

On Wednesday, University of Manitoba associate dean of environmental design Karen Wilson Baptist presented conceptual designs that 19 students drafted for the 17.8-acre property.

The United Church of Canada Assiniboine Presbytery presented its Brandon Indian Residential School Mobile Learning Centre, which includes several images taken during the school’s heyday, with each including a writeup to put them into context.

Although the display is available via bookings, the long-term goal is to have it up as a permanent marker once the healing centre is finally constructed.

Expressing support for the construction of a healing centre in whatever form it might take, Mentuck said that events such as Wednesday’s survivors’ gathering are important in achieving the goals of reconciliation.

This year’s event was the third annual, with Mentuck having attended all three.

“It’s sort of good to see how many survivors that there are left, and it’s good to see that we’re not being forgotten,” he said. “I think that is the most important thing; that we remember that there are survivors and they’re still here to share our stories.”

Even though he’s able to reflect on silver linings, he said that the negatives have required that he go through a great deal of healing.

“It’s something that you never, ever forget,” he said, “It’s always with you, so I guess we heal every day.”

» tclarke@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB

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