Pope Francisco apologized to a delegation of indigenous communities including the Mettis, Inuit, First, Mulatto and others in early April 2022, acknowledging the damage to boarding schools in Canada, after more than a thousand graves were found in August 2021 near boarding schools.
Canadian bishops acknowledged the "suffering of boarding school students" and the "grave abuses" committed by some members of the Catholic community, while Canadian historians say that between 1883 and 1996 some 150,139 indigenous children, specifically American Indians, mulatto and Inuit, were forced to "integrate" into Canada's white society, forcibly separated from their families, language and culture, and placed in <> such boarding schools across the country in order to forcibly imbue them with the dominant culture.
Many were mistreated or sexually assaulted, and between 4,6 and <>,<> people died in those schools, according to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which concluded that it was a real "cultural genocide."
The story of Barry Kennedy
In this report, which won the "Best Story Story" award at the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) Awards, Al Jazeera English's Brandi Morin recounts some of the stories of these victims, whose survivors are still suffering psychological harm until now.
Barry Kennedy, 62, of Saskatchewan, Canada, stares weeping in a bone-filled field containing unmarked graves of Amerindian children who died at the former Marival boarding school, which once stood just metres from the current cemetery.
Barry recounts how he attended the school, which is funded by the Canadian government and run by the Catholic Church from the age of five to 11.
One organization announced in June 2022 that 751 graves had been found at the site, without tombstones, believed to be graves of children and adults alike, which Barry called the "resounding scandal", and said, "No one ever believed us... Now, I think Canadian society is saddened that all these atrocities happened in his name."
These boarding schools numbered 139 schools attended by an estimated 150,1831 Indigenous children in Canada; the first school opened in 1996 and the last school closed in <>. These institutions were aimed at undermining the culture, language, family and community ties of indigenous peoples, and enjoyed a notoriety for neglect and abuse of children forced to join them.
Thousands of Aboriginal children have died in schools, and numerous reports have emerged of the remains of children found near former residential schools across Canada, while Aboriginal people continue to search for their missing children.
"The day they came"
Barry remembers the day they came to take him and his siblings, he was 5 years old at the time.
It was an autumn morning, and he was at home in the cabin where he lived with his parents and seven siblings when hell suddenly exploded.
The first he heard was his father's screams, and then he saw them in the doorway: a Canadian government representative in custody, a police officer, a priest, and others from boarding school.
"My mother gathered the children and took them to a bedroom, told them not to go out, left the room, and her screams exploded. I don't remember the words, but I heard her crying and screaming. My parents were fighting to protect us, but to no avail."
"My parents went to boarding school, there was a reason for this screaming because my mother knew what we were talking about, there was no choice at all. They had to do it, otherwise they would have gone to jail."
Barry shakes his head and blushes in anger; he doesn't even remember if he said goodbye to his parents.
They dragged him and three of his sisters into a waiting vehicle and threw him into the back seat. He says he felt it was the longest journey of his life, and he had no idea after that where he was going or why.
"We were all crying, and we came together trying to console each other and try to hide behind each other," he says.
When they finally stopped near a large brick building that looked like a cathedral, they took Barry's sisters out of the car, they were going to stay in the girls' dormitory at the school, he was taken to the boys' room, and a priest took him out of the car.
He says fear overcame him, and he tried to escape, so he was arrested and sent to line up with the other boys to complete the procedures. He stripped naked, shaved his head, and pale women forced him to shower coldly from head to toe, he says, "It's like someone grabs you and kicks you in the process."
Then he was given a mattress and some clothes, and sent to a large room with cots.
That night, while he was sleeping with 100 boys or so, he heard strange noises. He then understood that the "monsters" lurked in the dark, and soon discovered who these monsters were.
The staff, known as "night watchmen," were tasked with monitoring the children as they slept, "when this door opens and the light shines in the dormitory, you can hear the whimper," he says; they roamed the beds and molested the children.
"I'll never forget the smell," he said choking, explaining how the boys were polluting their underwear out of fear, and others were doing so intentionally to try to keep their abusers away that night.
For all the six years he spent there, Barry was regularly harassed. Tears in his eyes, anger in his voice as he said, "They were predators."
"When I Knew Death"
As he wandered through the gravefield filled with rows of sunlights, teddy bears and colorful plastic flowers brought in by mourners in the past few months, other painful memories have resurfaced.
He was 8 years old when he woke up early one morning and was asked to wear the robes he wore when he was working as an altar boy, to help the clergy with church services. A priest and some other altar boys took him to a place behind the church. There, they saw a small person wrapped in a white cloth next to a newly dug grave.
"We had to help with the last duties of the deceased." Barry stopped to point to a distant point, and said "there was somewhere... I don't know if it was a boy or a girl because it was just wrapped in a cloth. That was the first time I knew... Death," he says.
"I know that after today, I'll feel really tired. My body is in real pain, I just prefer to be alone, and stay at home for a few days. My wife noticed it, and she is helping me."
"How do you forgive?"
There was a time when he was overwhelmed by shock, and he resorted to alcohol to distance himself from chasing his past. He says his mother and father patiently prayed for him from afar.
Barry is now a father of nine and two-time president of a company, yet he says that "many people do not survive the trauma," he reflects, then explains, "I, walking a fine line."
This fine line is between healing the past and living in the present, "part of that involves forgiveness, but it's not easy."
"How do you forgive?" "If someone can tell me how, let them do! How can you live with that? He did this to us, the children!"
"This fact has to come to light," he said, adding that there are some Canadians who say, "Oh, why don't you stop crying?"
Barry hopes survivors will be given the opportunity to continue telling others about boarding schools and their repercussions, "to offer tips to ensure this doesn't happen again."
"Indians not allowed"
To the west across the wilderness landscape, on the threshold of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Alberta, 79-year-old Ursulin Redwood, another boarding school survivor, tells her story for the first time.
She remembers her broken soul when she cut her braids on her first day at school.
Ursulin Redaud was forced to attend boarding school as a child (social media)
"I was so scared," she said softly, trembling, adding, "I was shocked because I was like a zombie and doing whatever they asked me to do."
Although she did not understand why she was being abused, it was not her first experience with racism.
She recalls that when she was five years old, she joined her parents on a shopping trip to a town near Quissens. She needed the toilet, so her mother took her to a public outbuilding behind a shop, but she suddenly stopped to read a wooden plaque with black writing, and said straight away, "We can't go there."
"I couldn't forget it, I can see writing to this day even though I didn't know what it meant at the time," she says.
Eventually, her mother took her to use the toilet in a Chinese restaurant that "was always good towards the natives."
Fear and lack of trust
When she heard, in the summer, about the discovery of children's remains across Canada, she spent time grieving, she said she felt the weight of her soul and had to stop herself from collapsing.
She meditates, before being silent for a moment, takes a deep breath and cries, then says "harm will always be there."
Her son Kirby Redwood, 56, admires his mother's courage and dedication to work to stop the cycle of trauma, but said he felt her discomfort as she grew up; she suffered a lot of ugliness that affected his generation as well.
Following in his mother's footsteps, Kirby became a social worker and is now CEO of the Meskinawe Community Services Association, an Aboriginal social services agency in Calgary, which he says has been long, painful years and needed a long time to recover from intergenerational trauma "But you know, everyone always attributes trauma to boarding schools, but all colonial violence is like that."