Residential school survivors in Saskatchewan struggling with news out of Kamloops

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

Since May 27, 2021 there has been an increase in calls to the residential school crisis line. The number of calls between May 27, 2021 and May 31, 2021 jumped 265% from 123 calls to 449 calls, and reached a peak of 481 calls on June 1, 2021.

Residential School survivor Rex Lumberjack from the Kinistin Saulteaux Nation used to work at the Saskatoon Tribal Council as a residential school counsellor.

He says the work got to be too much and he now only works in his community counselling a lot fewer people.

Lumberjack says recent news coverage from Kamloops has triggered him.

“People say ‘aw get over it,’” he says. “People do say that to us but how do you get over grief? And loss I lost my childhood my innocence my youth here and even part of my adulthood I tried to drink myself to death.

“I did mention three weeks ago I tried to I attempt suicide, this was before the story broke right .”

He says it’s challenging being a survivor and dealing with clients stories.

Lumberjack attended the Muscowequan Indian Residential school  from the age of five until he was 14.

He says the recent news coverage is helping people realize the truth.

“I am not called a liar as much it didn’t happen that couldn’t have happened right and even that I went through the IEP process right and the day school process this is a recognized day school,” he says.

On May 27, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation in British Columbia announced that the graves of 215 students from the former Kamloops residential school had been discovered in a report presented to leadership.

News of the discovery shot around the world. First Nations across the country went into mourning, some started searches of their own.

Lumberjack says that when memories are brought up with survivors they may feel more comfortable talking to peer counsellors, people who are also survivors.

He says he finds comfort in residential school gatherings because he likes to meet up with fellow survivors.

George Mirasty from the Little Red River Reserve part of the LaRonge Indian band, is a resolution health support worker for the Prince Albert Grand Council.

Mirasty is also a survivor who attended the Prince Albert residential school in the 1960s. He says he does peer counselling for other survivors and that the news from Kamloops has been hard on him.

“Yes it’s been really hard you know I got triggered a few times things that I had forgotten came to light I had to have a good support system,” he says.

He believes survivors helping survivors is one of the best ways to help other survivors cope with triggers.

“One of the things most helpful is to have a survivor help another survivor of how they came through of what they did to begin their healing journey,” says Mirasty.

Lumberjack and Mirasty say they’re both on a lifelong healing journey as survivors. Lumberjack says even though he can no longer counsel his peers like he use to, they both find comfort in that Canadians now have proof of what happened.

“At least the evidence is there now they can’t deny what happened because theirs so much denial to them it didn’t happen and now it’s out in the open,” says Mirasty.

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