For decades there were whispers.
Some survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School talked among themselves while other spoke freely about what they knew was on the site of the old “school.”
Then on May 27, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation announced that a preliminary report confirmed the existence of graves at the site.
The building, operated by the Roman Catholic church between 1890 and 1969, was the largest in the residential system with as many as 500 students at a time.
The announcement shocked a nation and sent survivors of the school seeking comfort from friends or family to help them cope with the news.
Here are a few of their stories.
If you need emotional support, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419
Louisa Celesta attended the St. George’s Indian Residential School in Lytton, B.C. In Part 1 of Stories of Survival, Celesta shares her painful memories as she recalls being beaten with a yard stick and forced to endure horrific conditions.
She says luckily she had her older sister Vera who was also a student there for support. She is now happily married with a big family but says the past has been difficult to forget.
Joanne Gottfriedson attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School as a Day Scholar. She says “that just because you got to go home every night didn’t mean you were safe.”
In Part 2 of Stories of Survival, Gottfriedson talks about being sexually abused by a priest who was also a family friend to her parents. When the priest came to her house to visit, she was expected to serve coffee to him all the while hiding her truth.
Barb McNab Larson was taken from her family at the age of five and sent to the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
In Part 3 of Stories of Survival, McNab–Larson remembers being loaded onto a cattle truck and taken from her idyllic life and brought to what she describes as a house of horror. She says the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves has triggered her and she now feels a deep sense of grief that she has never felt before.
Arnie Narcisse attended St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C., from 1959 to 1970 where he was forced to the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
In Part 5 of Stories of Survival, Narcisse talks about how he barely survived and that a feeling he always had was despair.