Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, British Columbia, 78
Isosoaldmere,i I WAS FIVE and a half when I was taken from my grandparents’ home on Opitsaht Island, B.C., and sent to Christie Residential School. It was two miles from my home. I didn’t get back home until I was a teenager. My brother, who was four years older, and my sister, who was three years older, were at the same school. My brother knew that I was being raped by one of the men who worked there. There was nothing he could do. It broke his heart. The first time I was raped, I was so injured that I had to go to the infirmary. They didn’t even send me to the hospital. They just dealt with it there. I was always afraid. I would hear footsteps in the hall and I thought that pedophile was coming to get me. I was 75 when I finally conquered my fear of sleeping in the dark. I said: “OK. You’re safe. Nothing is going to happen.” I’m proud of the fact that I still speak my language [Tla-o-qui-aht] fluently. When I got to the school, they told us we couldn’t speak our own language. But we didn’t understand English. They had a wedge of wood. If we spoke our own language, they would shove it in our mouths and leave it there for seven or eight hours. No food. No water. That was our punishment. Things people would never think of. On November 14, I received an honorary doctorate from the University of Victoria. Who would have thought that little boy, ripped from the arms of his granny, raped and beaten, would be getting an honorary doctorate? This is my time.
I was 75 when I finally conquered my fear of sleeping in the dark.
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