It is difficult to listen to the impact statements I heard at recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission events. To learn of such painful abuse endured by children at residential schools is disturbing – especially when those behaving abusively were representing the church.
One set of impact statements I heard in Toronto have deeply penetrated me. A sister and brother took the stand together to tell their story. The older sister detailed how life was good before they were taken to the residential schools. As most children they had no idea what was going on and that their childhood was being stolen from them. She described how she was routinely punished for waving to her younger brother. She was not allowed to even acknowledge her little brother. Despite the beatings she felt responsible for her little brother.
After multiple punishments she was awakened one night at 11:00 p.m. and told to quickly accompany the teacher because her little brother was ill and needed help. She responded immediately but was led into a room and blindfolded. Instead of being taken to her brother she was sexually assaulted by a male teacher. As the older sister told her story her haunting eyes gazed across the room. Her little brother sat beside her wearing dark sunglasses and a baseball cap.
“Eventually I started feeling something grow in my stomach,” she explained. “So once again one night at 11:00 p.m., they came and took me to the hospital and removed the baby.” She gazed the room, eyes filled with pain, “they told me the baby was dead, but I think she is alive. Sometimes I hear her cry.”
The younger brother told his story, with equally disturbing detail. He explained how another little boy had become sick with a high fever. However at lunch time, the sickly boy was still forced by a teacher to eat. The little boy vomited into his soup bowl and onto the floor. The teacher came over and repeatedly slapped him, making him wipe up the mess on the floor. Then as she left the room she grabbed the boy and said; “And you better finish eating everything in your bowl.”
The brother paused and said; “You know you grow close to the other children in the school. You knew they were not to blame. We were all suffering the same abuse.” Then from underneath his baseball cap and behind dark glasses, he explained how the boys silently passed the bowl among themselves and each took a spoonful until the bowl was emptied.
I choked on my emotions. What a contrast of brutal cruelty and gentle tenderness. I begged God for forgiveness. I felt ashamed of those who misrepresent God’s love.
In her closing summary, Commissioner Marie Wilson said; “We have heard some harsh truth. We have shared what we have shared. We have heard what we have heard. This day should mark us all. We can never back away from this honesty.”