North

Alberta residential school reunion brings together memories, pain

Former students of the Holy Angels residential school gathered over the weekend in northern Alberta for a reunion and shared tears and painful memories — and then heard something unexpected from the RCMP.

Former students of the Holy Angels residential school gathered over the weekendin northern Alberta for a reunion and shared tears and painful memories—and then heard something unexpected from the RCMP.

Alarge number of former students gathered for an outdoor mass, but they also heard an announcement from RCMP Sgt. Fred Kamins, who apologized for the police force's role in Canada's residential schools.

Historically, RCMP officers apprehended students who had run away and arrested parents who refused to send their children to the schools.

"As a proud Canadian, I am ashamed that our country's history — a proud history of meeting adversity and challenge — should be tainted by this tragic chapter," Kamins said.

He added that as early as 1894, officers went on the record protesting their involvement as enforcers in the residential school system.

More than 200 former students of the school, along with their family and friends, converged on Fort Chipewyan, Alta., from Friday to Tuesday for the reunion. Organizers told CBCNews.ca on Tuesday about 130 of the former students came from out of town, with some coming as far away as the United States.

The Holy Angels residential school was operated by the Grey Nuns and Oblates, from 1874 until the 1970s. During that time, many students reported efforts by teachers to assimilate them of their aboriginal culture and language. Some even cited physical abuse by staff.

Former student Mary Jane Hudson, 82, told CBC News that at the age of six, her face was seared on a red-hot stove by a supervising sister.

"We went around this big post and we happened to grab each other," Hudson recalled. "[The] sister came and [she] said, 'If you want to kiss something ...' [and] she took me by the hair and she burned us on the stove pipe."

Several performers provided entertainment throughout the weekend, including musicians Susan Aglugark and Stephen Kakfwi, as well as comedian Smokey Hontus.

Sixty-four-year-old George Martin, who said he cried himself to sleep every night as a student in the school, said it's time to forgive and let go of the pain.

"There's nobody that can give us that back, what we lost here," Martin said. "But we can always get it back among ourselves."