Indigenous·UNRESERVED

Some residential school survivors still waiting to tell their stories

Unreserved's host Rosanna Deerchild was approached and asked to tell one survivor's story. "And so I held her hand, the feather between us and told her, 'Yes, I will listen. I will tell your story," she said.

Not all survivors had the chance to share experiences with Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Two women hold hands at the closing ceremony of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

It left scars on bodies, deeply wounded spirits of our mothers, fathers and grandparents. 

Residential school was an open secret that no one talked about in our communities for decades, a silence that cut deep into families — including mine.

It was only four years ago that I first heard my mother's residential school story. 

She was five years old when she was taken and held in Catholic-run schools until she was a young woman. Never to see her parents again, she was stripped of everything that made her Cree. 

My mother suffered abuse, neglect, and faced starvation before being discarded in a world she was ill-equipped for. 

Still, she survived. She told her story. 

A stranger to me before, I now understand why, as a child, my mother could not hug me and say "I love you"; why she drank so much and why she would often cry. 

TRC final report

We have walked a healing journey together. We are two of many on this path. But some are still silently carrying their burden.

On Monday, I sat with my family as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented to Canada its final report. Events were held across the country.  

Emotions raged close to the surface. People openly wept and then cheered as Justice Murray Sinclair, Marie Wilson and Wilton Littlechild each delivered their recommendations

I worried about how it would affect my family. Would my mother cry? Would I? Should I shield my girls from this horrible truth? 

As always, though, my mother was strong, resolute. This report confirmed what she already knew.

And now my girls know all of their story and have an opportunity to make a better future.

She asked me: "Will you listen? Will you tell my story?"- Rosanna Deerchild, host of Unreserved

Afterwards, as we were leaving the public event, a woman tugged on my arm. Her barely audible whisper, her strained face and teary eyes stopped me in my tracks.

"As soon as I saw you, I knew," she said, before breaking down into sobs. I held her as my mother lingered, my daughters watched.

Then she told me that she had come to the event looking for someone. Looking for someone to help carry her burden.

She explained how she never shared her story with the TRC or with anyone; how her kids are all gone and she has no one to pass this story on to.

Then she offered me tobacco — a sacred offering for our nations. Then some red cloth — a prayer. And then she gave me an eagle feather — a gift of truth.

She asked me: "Will you listen? Will you tell my story?"

When you are gifted with these medicines, you must pick them up. They choose you. And so I held her hand, the feather between us, and told her "yes, I will listen. I will tell your story."

Because like those medicines, these stories must be picked up. They must be carried, voiced and passed on, so that none of our children are burdened with the silence.


Listen to CBC Radio One after the 5 p.m. news in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, and after the 4 p.m. news in Yukon and the N.W.T. for these stories and more on Unreserved. 

You can also listen on demand.​

About the Author

Rosanna Deerchild is the host of Unreserved on CBC Radio One. She's an award-winning Cree author and has been a broadcaster for almost 20 years — including stints with APTN, CBC Radio, Global and a variety of indigenous newspapers. She hails from O-Pipon-Na-Piwan Cree Nation, Man.