Kay Adams (left) is comforted by an unidentified woman during testimony Tuesday at the The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. — Transcontinental Media photo
When Kay Adams paused to take a breath before continuing her story, you could have heard a pin drop in the room full of people.
All the Inuk woman remembers about arriving at the school dormitory in North West River years ago was that no one was there to meet her.
She said she felt the loneliness for years afterwards.
“I wasn’t taught how to love. I wasn’t taught how to be a family. I knew none of that,” she said.
Adams lived at the dormitory for six or seven years after she was made a ward of the state in 1969.
“I learned there was always bigger kids, someone was always going to hit you and no one will protect you. Instead, I was told what a dirty little ’skimo I was. Then they proceeded to beat me or give another type of abuse.”
Other Inuit told her she wasn’t a real Eskimo because she didn’t speak the language. After she was kicked out of the dormitory at age 16, she made her way to Toronto.
“I was looking for somewhere to belong. I haven’t found that place yet.”
Adams has post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Tuesday and some residential school survivors told their stories for the first time.
The commission was established in 2008 after the first group of Canadian school survivors to go to court won their case.
Commissioner Marie Wilson said the commission was formed at the request of those survivors. It aims to document their experiences, help them heal, foster better relationships between aboriginals and non-aboriginals and educate all Canadians about the residential school experience.
“So this is not something that remains hidden as it has been in the past,” she said.
Francis Penashue, an Innu, told of surviving abuse at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s.
In a steady voice, he recounted a day when he mistakenly went to lunch at the wrong time.
“After our 15-minute break, I was called by name with another six people down to the garbage room.”
The priest was waiting there with a strap.
Francis recalled watching the two boys ahead of him get 15 straps to each hand.
“After the first strap, he was on the floor crying. The priest said, ‘It doesn’t matter how much you cry, you are getting the 15 straps.’”
Penashue’s wife, Elizabeth, told her own story.
“I remember it as clear as if it was yesterday,” she said.
She said she was abused by a priest in her own community, and never told her parents.
Years later, she suffered even more when she learned a community priest had sexually abused three of her sons.
She went to see the bishop who was visiting the community.
“First when I talked to him, I looked him in the face, (it was) just like he don’t believe what I’m saying. … He smiled at me.”
She said she vowed she would never let the priest in her house again.
But two or three years later, a fourth of her sons told her he had been abused by a local priest, who was later moved out of the community and promoted.
“I don’t know how many years I kept it in,” Elizabeth said, her voice breaking.
“I’m ashamed. I’m scared. I’m worried about my children. I think all my life until I die it hurts me, and my husband and my children.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission continues its circuit in Hopedale Thursday and Friday.
The commission travels with trained counsellors to try to help survivors deal with some of their experiences.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission — www.trc.ca