P.E.I. residential school survivor says historic recognition is part of healing

A residential school survivor from P.E.I. welcomes the news that the federal government has formally recognized the residential school system as an event of national significance.

'I think the big thing is the recognition of things that happened'

Charlotte Morris spent three years at the Shubenacadie Residential School. (Submitted )

A residential school survivor from P.E.I. welcomes the news that the federal government has formally recognized the residential school system as an event of national significance.

It also designated two former residential schools as national historic sites, one in Manitoba and the other is the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia.

An archive photo of Mi'kmaq girls in sewing class at the Shubenacadie Residential School in Shubenacadie, N.S. (Library and Archives Canada)

In the 1960s, Charlotte Morris, her sister and brother were taken from their home on Lennox Island.

Morris was seven years old when she arrived at Shubenacadie Residential School and would spend three years there.

She says it's important to recognize what happened at the residential schools.
Learning to play the recorder at Shubenacadie Residential School. (Submitted )

"What it means to me is what happened in the schools did happen and it's like a recognition for those two schools," Morris said. 

"It's known from a lot of people that attended the schools and tell their stories, but not everyone can do that." 

Raise awareness

Morris hopes the federal recognition will also raise awareness about the residential schools, including the one she attended.

"It will be an eye-opener for some people that are not aware of the Shubenacadie Residential School and probably there's some people out there who haven't heard of it," Morris said. 

"When they do hear, it's like, what, I didn't know about this and a lot of people like to know what happened, why they were sent there, who was in charge, why did they do it?"

An archive photo of the Shubenacadie Residential School, which is no longer standing. (Nova Scotia Museum)

Morris said not all residential school survivors will agree with making the schools historic sites. 

"They probably just want to forget about what happened in that school and that's normal, people are going to feel like that, some of the survivors," Morris said.

"That's just where they're at, it depends on where you're at when it comes to residential schools."

Reconnecting with her Mi'kmaq culture and language was part of the rebuilding Charlotte Morris had to do to heal as a residential school survivor. (Submitted )

Morris said she is curious to see what will placed at the spot where the Shubenacadie school used to stand, now that is a historic site.

"It's gone physically, but mentally, it's still there and I think it's because if you don't deal what happened there, it's always going to be there mentally," Morris said. 

"When I travel to Nova Scotia, if I'm going to Truro or Halifax, when I go by Shubenacadie, memories come back."

This is the other former residential school being designated as a national historic sites: the Portage La Prairie Residential School in Manitoba.

The federal government's announcement comes five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended national commemoration of residential school sites, something that Morris agrees is important.

"It's something that you can't really avoid for the rest of your life, and to me, it's part of healing," Morris said. 

"Forgetting all about it is not healing for me. You need to talk about it."

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.