Warning: This story contains details that may cause distress or trauma for some readers.
Homalco’s boss, Darren Blaney, has the tragic distinction of being a survivor of a third-generation residential school.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Blaney was forced to abandon his home, family, and culture in the small community of Church House in Bute Inlet, along BC’s remote central coastline.
“My great-grandfather was the first in Homalco to go to residential school in 1875,” said Blaney.
Blaney’s ancestor returned home 12 years later, a victim of the cycle of violence, disconnection, and trauma associated with residential schools that would also ensnare his family members and others from the Homalco Nation (called the “whitewater people” by the turbulent tides of its inlet).
“There has been a lot of destruction of residential schools,” Blaney said. “My dad went, my brother went and I went.”
When viewing archival photos of indigenous children in bed-filled bedrooms, Blaney recalls the isolation he felt as a teenager during his first year at Sechelt Residential School, and the next five years he spent even further away from home in St. Mary Residential School in Mission, BC
“At Sechelt, my bed ended up by the windows. I remember looking out the window at night and could see the lights of Nanaimo across the water, ”said Blaney.
But escaping to Vancouver Island city and possibly home was nearly impossible because the only way out of Sechelt was by ferry, he said.
“You are really homesick in residential school. Count the days before you go home, ”said Blaney. “And when he comes back, he counts the days since he’s been home.
“It was just a lonely place.”
“There’s a whole generation of Homalco people (who) didn’t come home from that residential school,” said Homalco boss Darren Blaney. They are buried somewhere in Sechelt.
The Sechelt facility, also known as St. Augustine, was established in 1904, run by the Catholic Church and funded by the federal government. Parents took their children out of school in 1923 to protest rudeness, harsh discipline, and improper diet. Although funding for the school increased, the facility did not finally close until 1975.
“There’s a whole generation of Homalco people (who) didn’t come home from that residential school,” Blaney said. They are buried somewhere in Sechelt.
Blaney believes that today’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day is a good opportunity to educate Canadians about the damage and pain that residential schools have caused to indigenous children and communities.
But it was the confirmation of 215 children buried in a grave at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC, in May that sparked broader awareness among Canadians on the issue, Blaney said.
There is a better understanding of what happened, he said, adding that residential schools not only expose children to violence, sexual abuse, malnutrition and disease, but they set out to destroy indigenous culture and identity.
“Before (Kamloops) … no one took genocide seriously,” Blaney said.
But the new national day of commemoration and the findings of the band Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, followed by subsequent burial sites confirmed by other First Nations, are only an initial step towards reconciliation, he added.
“I take a look at all these investments with orange flags. Those are fine and bring educational attention to residential schools, but it is action that is needed. No one in the government is dealing with the trauma. ”
First Nations governments do not have and are denied the resources they need to establish long-term treatment and healing for members of their communities, he said.
Indigenous groups are always fighting to generate income, not just for the sake of economic development, but to help their communities overcome the legacy of schools, Blaney said.
“Our economic development will only go as far as our cure,” he said.
“As much as we would like to move forward, the instruments of residential schools are still tying us down.”
First Nations leadership must fight to rebuild governance and capacity with little support from governments that have long monopolized the wealth of indigenous peoples, he said.
“The resources in our territory have been stripped away,” said Blaney, citing forestry as an example, an industry in which even now, the province only offers a slightly larger slice of a very small and dwindling pie.
“All of our income opportunities are gone and poverty is a weapon for the government,” he said.
“First Nations who try to defend their rights in court are easier to defeat if they don’t have money.”
Regardless, indigenous peoples are overcoming obstacles to provide a better life for their communities, he said.
The Homalcos have invested in a number of tourism businesses and a radio station to create capacity and employment.
Funds from the nonprofit station will go towards cultural programming and community healing, especially to ensure that young people do not become intergenerational victims, Blaney said.
“The shadow of residential schools grows ever longer, and the potential of our people is lost to alcohol and drugs through trauma,” he said.
“But we are working to protect people and give them a better chance,” added Blaney.
“Everybody wants to be useful, happy and complete.”
The National Indigenous Residential Schools Crisis Line provides 24-hour support to former students and individuals affected by trauma at 1-866-925-4419.
Indigenous survivors in British Columbia can also call the KUU-US Crisis Line at 1-800-588-8717.
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer