On his 16th birthday, Ron Ignace’s residential school allowed him to go into town unsupervised. He did not return, but hid in the house of his aunt and uncle. “That was the best damn decision I ever made.”
I was born in a rural community. We would be riding horses, picking berries, gardening. We had about three generations living together. I was taken and placed in a residential school at the age of eight or nine. When I walked through the front doors, I freaked out and let out a primitive scream like no other, knowing my old life would never see again. And that’s what happened. Life in the residential school was horrible: priestly ties, all the excuses they had. I ended up in the hospital with rickets due to diet.
On your 16th birthday, the school allowed you to go into town unsupervised. I went and met my aunt and my uncle. I spent the day with them and was very happy. At the end of the day, they said, “We will take you back.” When we started driving back, I said to my uncle, “Go on, don’t stop.” So I went to his house and hid. Anyone who came, no matter who it was, would run and hide. I stayed for two months, until the school year ended in June. That was the best damn decision I ever made.
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Later I returned to my village. The family he had left behind, many of them had died. Many had left the community. Our house was in ruins. The once thriving agricultural economy was no more. The residential school led to the destruction of our community, not just the person, but the community, the family, and our nation.
This story was told to Michael Fraiman by Ron Ignace, who is a former head of the Skeetchestn Indian Band and was recently appointed federal commissioner for indigenous languages.