Feature

Understanding the Legacy of Residential Schools

Darline Pomeroy

( 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

What is so important for today’s educator’s to know is that residential schools affected the whole community. It is Canadian history, everyone’s burden. Many people have long-lasting scars from being in those schools, and you see it when you’re around your own community or towns. There are those who are not well, who are consumed by alcohol and drugs. There is that whole ripple effect that happened. People did not know how to parent because they never got that in residential school; the basic needs of being nurtured and of nurturing weren’t there. There are many things that occurred in those schools that people are not aware of. Both students and families became suspicious and distrustful, and even today it takes a while for me to gain trust in people. Would

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