Out in the Open

'I stood alone in pain': A residential school survivor on breaking silence about his abuse almost 30 years ago

Ted Quewezance faced backlash when he broke his silence about residential school abuse almost three decades ago, when the issue wasn’t a national conversation like it is now.
It took years for Ted Quewezance to break his silence to his family and to himself. (Submitted by Ted Quewezance)

"I stood alone in pain. I stood alone in shame. I was in fear. I was hurt. And, I continued speaking about it. And then eventually, other people started coming forward."

It was back in the 1980s — when residential school abuse wasn't a national conversation like it is now — that Ted Quewezance spoke about the sexual abuse he suffered in residential school as a young boy.

It took years for the former chief of the Keeseekoose First Nation to break his silence to his family, his community, the country, but namely to himself.

It started when he took a local therapist for a drive and asked him what sexual abuse was.

"Breaking the silence to me is a lot of fear within you as an individual. It's very hurtful. There's a lot of pain, guilt, and then shame sets in. But the most powerful thing about it...it's about empowerment, empowering yourself," he says.

Sharing stories of abuse

As a leader, Quewezance felt it was his responsibility to start talking across the country about his abuse.

"I [did] it at Chief's Meetings ... at our Regional Assemblies, at our National Assemblies. And when I discussed it in our community, I was shunned by my elders because it was something the elders said you're not suppose to talk about sexual abuse."

There were also people supporting him at the time, including others in leadership roles and those close to him. "Brothers, cousins, aunties and everyone said, 'Me too. I was abused,'" says Quewezance. 

There's a lot of #metoo people out there. A lot of women. A lot of men.- Ted Quewezance 

When referring to today's #metoo movement, Ted Quewezance says #metoo has been happening in Indigenous communities across Canada for decades.

"And people never believed it was going on. Never believed it happened. Still today, people say we exaggerate what happened to us.

"There's a lot of #metoo people out there. A lot of woman. A lot of men."

For Quewezance, true reconciliation means dealing with the hurt and the pain of Indigenous people as individuals, within communities, and in dealing with that pain as a country.

This story originally aired on February 25, 2018. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Breaking Silence".


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