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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“I was happy. I lived. And I’m still alive.”

Qaciam, meanwhile, didn’t wait to get sick – twice he attempted to run away.

One day, he and a friend snuck out of the school at lunchtime and made their way to a ferry terminal. Without any money to pay the fare, they snuck on by hiding themselves among members of a baseball team.

The two of them made it to Vancouver before being spotted by police. They were brought to a lodge and then taken to the ferry the next morning, where someone from the school picked them up and brought them back to Sechelt.

Once back at school, the two of them were made to lie down on beds with no clothes on and were whipped repeatedly. They were then stood before fellow students in a dining room so that the children could see what happens to runaways. But it wouldn’t be the last time Qaciam tried to escape.

1969, his 10th year at the school rolled around and he decided he’d had enough. He told a friend to go to the school’s office and see if she could get him two dollars – he added that he planned to run away.

She got him the money, just enough to get him on the ferry and keep him from having to sneak on again.

Qaciam carried his lunch with him and got on the ferry to Horseshoe Bay. From there he had no way to get home except walking. His feet took him halfway to Squamish in the dark, walking in the middle of the road so that passing cars could see him.

He walked for hours before a car stopped to pick him up halfway. A member of the Squamish band drove him the rest of the way. When he got to Squamish, he met a cousin there who paid for him to get back to Mount Currie.

Once home, it took some time to sink in that he was free of residential school.

“There was a lot of fear, kind of sneaking around here and there,” he said. “I was worried that they were going to come and pick me up again. It took about three or four months before I realized they’re not going to come get me.”

Qaciam carried anger with him for a long time before he started to heal. For 18 years he was addicted to tranquilizers and was an alcoholic. Today, however, he is 18 years sober and has forgiven the Catholic Church for what happened to him.

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