Survivor remembers excitement of going to residential school – until he arrived

Norman Kistabish says he remembers when he was seven years old, he wanted to follow his brother to the Saint-Marc-de-Figuery Indian Residential School.

The excitement of joining his sibling quickly vanished when he saw and experienced abuse in the school.

“The day I arrived I was hungry. I was so hungry. At supper time I ate like crazy,” he said in French at a gathering for unmarked graves.

Then he got sick. He said he was in so much pain he passed out.

“I was unconscious and the brother picked me up by the neck and lifted me up,” he said. “I was unconscious. He threw me to the ground and  told me to get up and follow him.”

He said the abuse started after that.

“It’s all lies they told us there. The abuse, the physical abuse, the sexual abuse, I’ve already spoken about it, I don’t want to go back to that because it hurts,” he said.

The school operated between 1955 and 1973.

Kistabish was there for seven of those years.

In 1966, Edmond Brouillard, a priest who worked at the school, was convicted of sexually abusing six children.

When he was nine, he was sent to Quebec City to play hockey. He said it was a reprieve for him.

After the season was over, he was sent back to the school. He said that’s when he started planning his escape.

“I jumped into a field and ran home,” he said.

His parent, unaware of the abuse, scolded him for running away.

“It was perhaps the worst moment of my entire residential school experience. In front of my parents with my parents. I wanted affection. And I didn’t get it,” he said.

That same night, his parents took him back.

Later in life, he struggled with drugs and alcohol.

“The abuse I endured at residential school followed me around all the time and I didn’t realize that’s what it was,” he said.

Eventually, he started the healing process.

“I had to relearn who I was. To know myself better. To relearn how to hunt, how to fish. I started all over again,” he said.

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