Residential schools ‘killed the child in the Indian’

Julien Gignac
APTN National News
OTTAWA – Marilyn Simon-Ingram was not forced into the school by the Catholic church, the circumstances found at home did.

She left home with three other siblings to allay fears of starvation experienced by the rest of her family who lived in extreme poverty. Fears would persist, however, after spending four years within the walls of the residential school system.

Simon-Ingram, now in her 80s, was standing outside of the Delta Hotel in Ottawa Monday posing for a photo and raising a “Stop Harper” sign towards the lens, the word “survivor” scrawled on the sleeve of her blouse.

Abuse she endured at the Shubenacadie residential school in Nova Scotia in the 1930s, along with the testimony she gave, echoed 7,000 additional stories collected  by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during a six-year probe into the school system.

Survivor testimonies are included in the final report of the commission released Tuesday.

“My first impression of the school was terror,” said Simon-Ingram. “We went up the steps, opened the door and at the top was a great big picture. There was this man sitting there with children leaning on him. I remember the words, ‘All little children come onto me.’”

Marilyn Simon-Ingram
Marilyn Simon-Ingram

On the first day, boys and girls were separated regardless if they were bound by blood. Braids were cut, heads shaved. Then came the showers.

“Our skins were burning,” said Simon-Ingram. “We found after it was what we know now as DDT.”

Out of the four years she spent at the school, she has trouble remembering a year and half of it. Simon-Ingram endured constant threats, vehement racism, bereavement, rape at the hands of a priest and was force fed her own vomit after eating potato hash — at the very least, the subsistence to keep her alive but far from well.

Her best memory was the one and only time her mother came to visit to attend a musical performance.

“I sang the best Latin you could hear,” she said.

At the end of her stay, Simon-Ingram lost a brother and sister, suffered trauma and loss that continues to the day.

“Am I totally healed? No. Do I have nightmares? Yes. Do I sleep much? No. But I keep going,” she said. “Kill the Indian in the child worked the opposite. It killed the child in the Indian.”

Twenty years ago Simon-Ingram started to gather survivors, much like the TRC has. She has written a book and made a film on the subject.

“Survivors know each other even if they’re not from the same province by one look in each other’s eyes,” she said. “I want them [the federal government] to stop ripping the Band-Aids off our wounds, getting us to tell stories and then slapping another Band-Aid on and sending us on our way.”

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