Survivors of provincially run schools in Quebec share their stories of abuse

Class action against Quebec institutions approved in December.

Adrienne Jérôme, a former chief from the Anishnabe Nation of Lac Simon, was a little girl when she attended a day school on the reserve.

The school, which still stands today, serves as a constant reminder of the abuse she and many other children in Lac Simon endured for years.

“When I was a little girl, I used to tremble. You had to be like in the army. If you weren’t standing up straight, you’d get beaten,” Jérôme said.

Jérôme, who currently works as the director of the natural resources department at the band council, is part of a class action lawsuit against day schools in Quebec.

She, along with a few other survivors, have decided to finally share their story.

“You had to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If you said ‘kawin’ (which means ‘no’ in Anicinabemowin), you’d get a beating. Just little words. Can you imagine? Nobody wanted to talk. Nobody wanted to say anything in Algonquin and that was our only language,” Jérôme explained.

In December, a Quebec Superior Court judge authorized the class action on behalf of day school survivors who attended provincially-run institutions.

According to the lawsuit, the victims allege they suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of teachers, administrators and employees.

The lawsuit is seeking $20,000 in damages for each class member who attended provincial, public or religious schools between 1951 and 2014 or in an Inuit village from 1963 to 1978.

Many survivors who spoke with APTN shared similar stories of physical abuse, including hair-pulling, ear-twisting, and being pinched with rubber bands. Others recounted being physically struck with wooden rulers. They said the abuse first started when they attended a school in Louvicourt, Que., located a few kilometres away from the community.

The day school was then relocated to Lac Simon. Today, it is called Amik-Wiche school.

“From the age of eight, they started doing things to us, like physical, verbal and psychological violence because they treated us like wild children. No brains,” said another survivor Jeffrey Papatie is another survivor. “I’m going to tell you today what she did to me. She touched my private parts.”

Papatie like the others said that the abuse got so bad that many of the children would purposely acted out to avoid going to school.

“The principal would put me in a corner to punish me for not listening. I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want to know anything about school because we were subjected to things,” he said. “She would put me in a corner and punish me by making me kneel with two rocks underneath my knees so that I’d understand in her way.”

According to some of the survivors, some of the children resorted to substance abuse. The trauma deeply affected their behaviour.

Jérôme said that she became violent.

“I had become dangerous,” she said. “I hit a girl in the face with a rock.”

Micheline Anicinapeo, who also attended the school, said she became a delinquent and started vandalizing the school.

The various survivors said that non-Indigenous children also attended the school and would bully and beat the Indigenous children.

According to Jérôme and Papatie, the school ended up shutting down for a while after it was completely ransacked by some of the children.

Unfortunately, following the incident, the survivors were transferred to the local church’s basement, where the abuse continued.

“The priest who made us suffer … All the caresses or rubbing … It stayed with us,” said Jerry Hunter, another survivor.

After leaving day school, some survivors ended up falling into drugs and alcohol. Some refused to go back to school altogether while others never completed high school.

Papatie said that the class action is a step in the right direction. But emphasized that it will never erase all of the suffering that went on in those schools.

Hunter agreed.

“The government thinks that we will forget about it because they give us money, but no, it doesn’t work like that,” Hunter said.

The Montreal law firm Dionne Schulze is representing the survivors. In a written statement, they told APTN News that “the class action has officially passed the first stage, with the possible exception of one of the school boards.”

“It is the James Bay School Board, which is attempting to remove itself as one of the defendants in the class action.”

The court of appeal will hear the application on Feb. 15. This appeal may slow down proceedings for the entire class action suit, but will not stop it completely.

“We were traumatized as kids. My son’s generation … It’s a generation that seems to be headed in the same direction. They are being traumatized and we have to put a stop to it,” said Jérôme.

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