Survivor shares story of Marieval Indian Residential School’s intergenerational impact

Sekwun Ahenakew is a fourth or possibly even fifth generation survivor of the institution

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

Survivors are speaking out after the Cowessess First Nation announced the finding of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan earlier this week.

One survivor from the last generation to attend the institution told APTN News how the recent discovery is affecting her.

“The emotions that I am feeling right now are just exhaustion. It’s so good to be a Nehiyawewin person, but it’s really difficult being an Indian in Canada right now,” said Sekwun Ahenakew, who briefly attended the residential school in 1990, while in grade nine, because of a fire.

“I didn’t go there by choice. Our house burnt down on my First Nation community,” she said. “It’s devastating and you have no place to go to school, or you do have a place to go to school but you have no place to live, only option at that time was to attend the residential school.”

Ahenakew’s parents both grew up in Saskatchewan.

“My dad is from the Ahtahkakoop First Nation, and that’s in the Treaty 6 territory north of Prince Albert, and married my mother, who is from Piapot,” she said. “But her mother married into Cowessess, Treaty 4, so we had family in Cowessess at the time.”

Her father didn’t attend residential school and was able to speak his language that he passed on to his children. Sekwun’s first language is Nehiyawewin, or Cree.

“They just couldn’t get over the way I spoke, and they just wanted me to talk Cree to them, and these particular girls referred to themselves as lifers,” she said.

As a fourth or possibly fifth generation survivor, Ahenakew says she felt the effects of intergenerational trauma through the lack of a relationship with her maternal grandmother, who was a long-time student at the institution.

She says she didn’t know how to comprehend the indifference of her grandmother, who was a cook at the school while she attended.

“Your grandmother was your world, your mother was your world, and then I had the opportunity to see my grandmother in the south in Cowessess when I attended the residential school every day,” she said.

“She served us food every day and was indifferent as I passed by with my food tray, and you know I used to wonder where the bond was.”

Now that Ahenakew understands intergenerational trauma, and the conditioning that her grandmother went through, it makes sense.

“She told me that her experience was great that she didn’t encounter anything, and I took it as it was at the time. But now reflecting back, I think the lifestyle of a lifer has been so entrained, was so engrained in her that it became the norm. The trauma and everything became the norm.”

Ahenakew says the discovery of the 751 unmarked graves is upsetting — yet she thinks it’s only the beginning.

“The number is higher we just never know because there was also situations where students were sent to places like to hospitals and the ones put in incinerators.”

Reporter / Saskatoon

Priscilla is Cree and a member of Mistawasis Nehiyawak in Saskatchewan. She has worked with APTN National News in the past as a reporter in Winnipeg, host for an entertainment segment, and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Wolf is an alumni of the INCA –Indian Communications Arts Program at FNUC & has a BA of Indigenous Studies from the University of Regina. She brings over ten years of experience working in media across the prairie provinces.