The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be in Port Alberni next week gathering testimony from residential school survivors and their families.
Commission officials will be listening to testimony at the Maht Mahs gym on the Tseshaht reserve on March 12–13.
Commission officials are gathering information about residential schools and documenting testimony from survivors and families about their experiences in the school in order to create a permanent public record about the schools’ legacy.
There were five such schools located on Vancouver Island at one time, including the Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) in Port Alberni.
Tseshaht tribe member Randy Fred, 61, first went to AIRS in 1955 and spent several years there.
He was also a plaintiff in the court case against former dorm supervisor Arthur Henry Plint, who was convicted of several counts of indecent assault and assault causing bodily harm against Fred and several others.
Fred said he looks forward to attending the TRC proceedings in Alberni but for different reasons. “I told my story over and over again in court from the witness stand for so many years,” Fred said.
“So do I want to do it again — no, I don’t.”
Fred said he wants to listen to stories to find out how people are dealing with the definition and practice of reconciliation.
The residential school legacy left many different kinds of victims in its wake including staff, former students, and students who also worked for the schools. “They knew what was going on and need to come to some kind of reconciliation too,” Fred said.
The federal government may have made an apology but a lot more healing needs to take place, Fred said. “Look at the poverty, addiction, and dysfunction on a reserve and it’s obvious there’s a lot of healing work to be done yet,” Fred said.
“I’ve watched so many people I went to school with die, and a majority of them from violent deaths.”
Ray Guno, a Nisga’a from New Aiyansh who lives in Vancouver, will try and make it to the proceedings, he said. He attended AIRS from 1961–1964.
“That impact of it is intergenerational and will take years before it works its way out of us,” Guno said.
“It was the most perverted thing a government could ever have done to its own people.”
A voice needs to be given to those who didn’t live to tell their stories. “A lot of people went to early graves because of that place,” Guno said.
A final report of the commission’s findings and efforts will be released in 2014.