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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“I could hear moaning all night, the boys went to see him, see what was the matter,” he said. “In the morning I woke up, they were packing him out in his mattress. He had died in his bed. He should have been in hospital, no one was looking after him.”

The boy, a member of the Samahquam Nation, was buried outside the school, according to Qaciam.

The government did away with the half-day focused on trades around the WWII period, so Qaciam’s day was more a matter of going to classes – with, of course, prayers in between them. As he recalls it, classes consisted of very basic instruction in mathematics, social studies and science.

“They taught you just enough to get by,” he said, adding that his education had only reached a fourth-grade level when he was supposed to be in grade eight.

It was likewise carried out in a very strict manner.

“While you’re sitting in class you couldn’t talk, you couldn’t whisper, you couldn’t do anything,” Qaciam said. “If you were caught talking they would whip you on the back of your hands with a ruler.”

Laura, meanwhile, remembers punishments being meted out on her brother Frank during a math lesson at the Sechelt school.

“He would count up to 10, but he kept missing eight,” she said. “The nun kept hitting him on the hand and kept saying, eight! Eight! Eight! That’s not a way to teach somebody, hitting somebody with those long things.”

Some of the punishments went a little further. Qaciam remembers that girls caught talking in class would sometimes be brought before the class. The teachers, usually nuns, would lift up their dresses, pull down their underwear and whip their bare bottoms with straps normally used to tie lumber together.

Marjorie spent five years at the St. Paul’s Indian Residential School in North Vancouver and only sent her children to Sechelt when she heard it was a good school. She describes her own school as a decrepit place that served rotten, sickly food to its students. Of all the things that stick out for her, the food seems to figure most prominently.

“We’d go down for breakfast… it was just porridge. You know, I don’t know who cooked it… it was just awful, I wouldn’t eat it,” she said. “There was a basin… where you can dump your porridge, so I brought mine down there, you know… The nun caught me, she said, you put that back in your dish, and there was lots of others’ in there too, I had to eat all that.

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