Several members of the local Indigenous community gathered last weekend to share emotional stories of their experiences at residential schools and growing up on the reservation.
The event took place Saturday at the property of Rita Giesbrecht and Chris Harris, and featured several Tsq’escen and Esk’et nation speakers.
Among those who spoke was Guy Archie, who shared harrowing stories of his childhood on the Canim Lake reserve, where he said violence, abuse and alcoholism was part of everyday life.
He recalled spending all day at the creek with his brother and other local kids, as an escape from the horrors that would be taking place in his home.
“We didn’t want to go home,” he said. “That’s where the booze was, that’s where the trouble was.”
Archie told the gathering of around 20 attendees that he started drinking at the age of 12, spiralling throughout his teen years as a way of dealing with the pain of being abused and the grief of losing family members and friends to alcoholism and other illnesses.
“It got so bad, I just got lost,” he said. “I didn’t know how to break the cycle. I kept on drinking and kept on hurting.”
After a stay in the hospital during which Archie said he nearly died of alcoholism, he realized he had enough.
“I haven’t touched a drink in over 10 years,” he said. “In the end, I’m able to smile and say I made it. It’s hard to climb back up when you’re down, but it can be done.”
Bre7e Johnson, of the Esk’etemc First Nation (Alkali Lake) shared stories from his years attending St. Joseph’s Mission residential school in Williams Lake, where he and other students suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse.
“I have a hard time with the word survivor because I never survived what happened there,” Johnson recalled.
He said what followed his time at the mission in the late 1950s was years of shame, anger, fear and low self-esteem which led the way to alcoholism. Johnson finally was able to start therapy in the ‘90s, which he said helped him to validate the years of trauma he experienced.
“It was a form of genocide, they take away our language, take away our culture and take away our pride,” he said.
The day-long event – which was also streamed live on Facebook – included presentations by Roy Christopher and Johnson Archie, and an opening and closing prayer and drum song. Giesbrecht said she offered to host the event at her 105 Mile property after Canim members suggested the idea of holding public talks on the matter.
“It’s so important that we take the opportunity to listen,” she said. “It’s past time.”