Feature

Understanding the Legacy of Residential Schools

Darline Pomeroy

Education was something to avoid. It was destructive and harmful and I look back to a bleak, dark past. I didn’t want anything to do with education! Just when I think that I am past residential schools and their impact, I break up ( quietly sobbing).

Overcoming the past

As a young girl, I got involved in some church groups in my community over the summers, and I came to admire some supervisors and some of my teachers. There were some people who were accepting and didn’t judge. I believe that this played a part in my career choice as I remember a few times wondering what it would be like to be standing in front of a classroom.

I’ve been fortunate to have many relatives, aunts and uncles, who played important roles in my upbringing. They have maintained and retained the traditional teachings, and so I’ve learned to change my attitude and how I perceived things. I feel very honoured to have had the opportunity to listen to their teachings and the words from our Elders. They share so much knowledge of our ways of knowing and how we fit in this circle of life. This has helped me to overcome the negative effects of the residential school system and has influenced me to become the teacher that I am today.

When I got my teaching qualifications, I taught for several years on my own reserve and then decided to teach off-reserve. I remember my first day of teaching at a high school. As I was walking up those stairs and down the hallway, I reverted back to my high school days and began thinking, “What are they going to say about me?” and I felt so insecure and fearful at that moment. I had to really pull myself together and remind myself that it was another time and another place and that now I was where I needed to be, “teaching”! It was such an awakening for me and to realize that the non-Native students were just as unsure of me because they had never had a Native teacher before. Over several days there was a shift and we accepted and respected each other.

Lasting scars

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