Carol Lavallee spent Thursday afternoon at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan listening to Cowessess First Nation members sing, dance and pray.
More than 60 years ago, he would have been inside the now demolished school, staring out a window and dreaming of freedom.
Lavallee was forced to attend school when she was six years old and remained there from 1957 to 1967.
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Speaking at a ceremony to mark Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day, she said she had to agree to go back to where the school once stood.
“The land is sacred to indigenous peoples. I couldn’t say this land was sacred because I suffered here, ”Lavallee said. “Horrible things happened to me here.”
She said the Catholic Church instilled the Ten Commandments in students.
“You will not steal, and here they stole everything from us. Our spirits, our parents. Everything that was precious to us was stolen from us, ”Lavallee said.
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In June, the First Nation announced that it had used ground penetrating radar to discover up to 751 graves near the school site.
Chief Cadmus Delorme said the First Nation has since identified around 300 unnamed graves.
It was believed that not all of them belonged to children. Parishioners of the Catholic Church, as well as members of neighboring communities, are believed to have been buried there.
The First Nation worked with historical records from the Roman Catholic Church, the RCMP, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to name the unmarked graves.
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They also relied on people’s oral histories.
“It is progress. It’s a relief. It’s validating, ”Delorme said.
But the healing journey doesn’t stop there, he added.
“Knowing that there were once windows behind us where our family members looked out and shouldn’t be able to sing, dance or pray, we are.”
Lavallee said she is happy that the residential school is gone and spends her time helping other survivors.
He said that he follows the seven indigenous teachings of respect, humility, love, truth, honesty, wisdom and courage.
She is not a survivor, Lavallee said, but a victor.
“Because they didn’t kill enough on me. I still love. It still helps. I still share it. “
© 2021 The Canadian Press