Nova Scotia

Residential school survivors to teach students in Cape Breton

Residential school survivors in Waycobah First Nation have developed a curriculum and workshop to educate students about what happened at residential schools in Canada.

Curriculum developed by residential school survivors in Cape Breton

Boys in a classroom c. 1945 at St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ontario. Survivors in Nova Scotia will be teaching students about their stories. (Edmund Metatawabin collection/Algoma University)

Phyllis Googoo is taking her experience living in a residential school into the classrooms of Waycobah First Nation.

She's part of a survivors group in Cape Breton that has prepared a curriculum and workshop to teach students about what happened.

Googoo went to the residential school in Shubenacadie when she was four.

"When I first went into the building I didn't understand a word of English and it was hard," remembers Googoo.

"I found that going to bed at night, hearing the train at night was really sad because you're longing for home, you're longing for your parents and each night you'd be hearing a lot of five and four year olds crying."

I think it's important for part of the healing for our children.- Phyllis Googoo

Googoo said she and others were beaten if they spoke their language and the children were terrified.

"Little things you do wrong, you get strapped, you're always on guard. I saw a lot of abuse and a lot of the kids had a hard time in the classrooms because all the hollering, straps, sometimes they would wet themselves," she said.

Andrea Currie, a clinical therapist at the Theresa Cremo Memorial Health Centre in Waycobah, facilitates the survivors group and helped develop the curriculum and workshop.

"After a number of years of really focusing on their own healing they felt that they'd gotten to a point where they really wanted to help the children coming up in our community and the rest of the community heal," she said.

Hoping to grow program

The curriculum also includes information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as questions and classroom activities for the students.

Currie said the hour-long workshop, which was recently inserviced at the school in Waycobah, has four components and includes presentations from residential schools survivors talking about their own experiences and resilience.

"They felt very strongly that they need to leave the students feeling hopeful and understanding all the healing work that is going on, and actually the very last statement in the class is, 'What is your role going to be, how are you going to help with the healing process?'"

Googoo said she hopes the students will gain a better understanding of the effect residential schools had on generations of aboriginal people in Canada.

"It's important that the students understand themselves, they have to learn how the residential school affected us and how it rippled down to the generations and how we became the way we were. We had a lot of anger, we had mistrust," said Googoo.

"I think it's important for part of the healing for our children."

The curriculum and workshop will be taught in the Waycobah school next fall, and the Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey is interested in delivering it in other First Nations schools.

Currie said there has also been interest from other local schools and the hope is to have it made available at all schools in the province.

"Really because we believe and really in the spirit of reconciliation is to try to have all Nova Scotian students learn about residential schools."

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