June 06, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

The Dreamcatcher Commission 

Canada’s attempt to make amends with its stolen children

click to enlarge Residential School Survivor Majorie Natrall at her house in Squamish
  • Residential School Survivor Majorie Natrall at her house in Squamish

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Laura Susan Toman, Marjorie’s daughter, saw this firsthand. A student at the Sechelt Indian Residential School between 1958 and 1959, she describes it as a place where students would be punished for things they didn’t know they were doing wrong.

“Basically, if we made a mistake in school we got punished,” she said. “We weren’t told ahead of time, ‘don’t do that,’ you just got punished right then and there if you did it wrong.”

Laura recalls one instance where she was punished simply for writing with the wrong hand.

“Me and my brother were left-handed, we wrote with both hands,” she said. “The nun said it was the devil if you were using your left hand, so they’d either hit you with a ruler or these long sticks that they use for pointing, they’d swat you on the head and say, use the other hand.”

Toman’s experience at Sechelt coincided with that of a Mount Currie resident who identifies himself by his Indian name, Qaciam (meaning “very wise old man.”)

He went to Sechelt for ten years and left of his own volition at age 16. Before starting at the school in 1959, he remembers having an agent from the ministry of Indian affairs visit his family’s home in Mount Currie when he was just six years old.

The agent, whose responsibilities include monitoring social welfare and housing conditions, saw that Qaciam’s father was a single parent and felt his kids, nine in total, could be better served by going to school.

“He felt that my dad couldn’t be looking after the kids and working at the same time,” Qaciam said.

He and his siblings were thereafter shipped to a number of different schools – some attended school in Williams Lake, while others went to St. Paul’s in North Vancouver, the same school that Marjorie attended.

Qaciam remembers a fairly routine day at school often punctuated by strict punishments for making mistakes.

A typical day would begin with prayers at the foot of one’s bed just after waking up. Students would then go to a recreation room and pray again before breakfast. Then they’d go to breakfast and say prayers once more.

In his first year at the school he remembers that a gravely sick boy died in his dormitory.

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