School settlement an acknowledgement, not closure

  • Oct. 17, 2007 4:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay-The cheque may be in the mail, but for Marlene Ankerman, of Old Massett, the coming residential school settlement payments do not provide closure.”It’s an acknowledgement that we did go, but that is all,” she says.She says the money, $10,000 for the first year and $3,000 for every following year she was enrolled, does not make up for any of the suffering she and many others faced during their years at residential school.Seventy-eight people in Masset and Old Massett, ranging in age from late 30s to late 80s applied for the Common Experience payments offered by the federal government to all former residential school students.The 58-year-old Ms Ankerman, who volunteers to organize residential school survivor meetings and dinners, went to Alert Bay for three years and Port Alberni for one year and she did not have a good experience there.She was first sent away from home when she was 10 years-old. She says her mother was forced to sign consent forms to send four of her eight children to one of several Anglican and United Church run schools in BC and Alberta. If she hadn’t signed, her mother was told she’d go to jail or all of her children would be taken away.Ms Ankerman says it was the Indian Agents who decided who should be sent away and not everyone in the community was sent.Physical, mental and sexual abuses while at school were not the only experiences that have had an impact on Ms Ankerman’s life. She says going to residential school changed the experiences she had back in her home community too.”You felt like you didn’t belong anymore,” she said. Not only could she not speak the language, nor feel connected to the culture, but she didn’t even know her brothers and sisters or other community members anymore. “It changes everyone’s life .not just the survivor,” she says.Some of the impacts include an entire generation who never learned how to parent normally, after spending most of the year in a boarding school, away from their parents or other loving community members.She says a lot of residential school survivors don’t like to be touched – something she is trying to remedy in herself by hugging and cuddling her grandson as much as she can.The average time Old Massett residents went to residential school was for around four years, she said, but her grandmother, who was from a different reserve altogether went from age 5 to 18.Some of the older generation had good experiences at residential school, she says. They learned trades, like bricklaying, and other important skills.But even talk of truth and reconciliation does not mollify, Ms Ankerman. “Not even an apology would do it,” she says of the federal governments efforts to address the longstanding issue.She has her own methods of dealing with the experience, everything from keeping a journal to talking openly about her experience.”There is no one right way,” she says. Along with the Common Experience Payments says the federal government’s Indian Residential Schools Resolution Agreement also provides money for healing workshops, commemoration activities and counseling. Those who have suffered sexual and physical abuse can also apply for more money through another process.Applications were sent in September from both Old Massett and Skidegate. In Skidegate 40 applications were sent in, says Isabel Brillon, a support worker with the Ngystle Society, who also spent a year at residential school.The money is expected in the mail within 60 days of the Sept. 19 implementation date. So far no one in either community has received a cheque. Ms Brillon says there have been a lot of concerns in other areas about how the influx of large sums of money will affect elders and others, but she doesn’t foresee any problems in Skidegate. Residential school survivors have been meeting regularly in both communities.Ms Brillion also says having money on the way does not mean the residential school experience all over. She’s planning at the very least to have some kind of closure event.”But I really believe that the healing has to go on.”

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