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Effects of residential schools to be recalled

Feb 26 2012

The memories will be hard to bear as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission starts its hearings on Vancouver Island Monday.

"Many of my friends and family have never talked about the schools and I hope that many people will attend to understand their effects," said Eric Joseph of Kingcome Inlet, a former Kingcome band council chairman.

"A lot of problems today can be attributed [to the schools], such as parenting, lateral violence, substance abuse," he said.

The commission, led by Justice Murray Sinclair, will hold community hearings in Port Hardy Monday and Tuesday, Campbell River Thursday and Friday, Port Alberni March 12 and 13 and Cowichan March 15 and 16. A regional event in Victoria April 13 and 14 is expected to draw survivors and supporters from all over the province.

The aim of the commission is to inform Canadians about what happened in the 150-year history of residential schools and look for ways to move to a new relationship.

For some aboriginal people, such as Joseph, it is a chance to hear the stories that their parents were reluctant to share.

Joseph's father, Patrick Joseph - known as Wolkine - was taken to residential school when he was seven or eight. Until then he had been being brought up by his grandmother, a medicine woman, as both his parents died of TB.

"He learned how to survive at this young age travelling with his grandmother and family by canoe on daily and seasonal excursions, harvesting year round," Joseph said. "When he was taken from this freedom, he vowed at his young age to never allow them to break or change who he was. He would resist," Joseph said.

But that meant punishment. "He was put in the monkey cage where there are no windows or light.

He was put on the fire escape overnight," Joseph said. "He often ran away . . . for weeks at a time."

Patrick Joseph died in 2009 at the age of 71, but his son plans to be at some of the hearings in an effort to understand the forces that shaped his family.

"Our will to survive and to sustain our culture and way of life comes from the strength and resistance of our survivors. What doesn't break you will only make you stronger," Joseph said.

Now it is up to survivors to speak out, he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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