‘I was crying out there’: Residential School survivor during Orange Shirt Day

By Aaron Schulze
October 1, 2018 - 5:00pm

In 2013, survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad shared her experience of when she had her new orange shirt taken away during her first day of residential school. Since then, Orange Shirt Day is a day to educate people about the residential school system and the impact it still has on Indigenous communities in Canada.

Yet one local survivor from the former school system sees it as a day for healing.

Evelyn Burns, a 73-year-old Indigenous woman, spent nine years in a northeast Saskatchewan residential school. Burns took part in Orange Shirt Day along with her grandchildren and great grandchildren on Sept. 28 at Cumberland College in Melfort, and said it felt good in her heart to see so many different people out for it.

“I was crying out there seeing little people all around,” Burns said. “It made me feel so good, I’m so proud. That’s what we need and what truth and reconciliation is about.”

Hundreds gathered at Cumberland College to participate in an Indigenous dancing circle, which acts as a circle of life, a circle of love, a circle of forgiveness, and more of the seven teachings Burns said her people has.

The healing journey from residential school has been long and difficult for Burns. Multiple hits to the head resulted in needing hearing aides and bad knees from trying to escape the school are some of the permanent physical damages Burns still lives with, but it’s the psychological damage that still trickles down from generations to generations of Indigenous people.

“There’s a lot of good people but handfuls that are not like that,” Burns said. “A lot of these young people are hitting, drugging, stealing, and doing all that stuff. Parents from the residential schools didn’t know how to love or hug their kids. I wish I knew how to love my own children.”

Burns said she tried to commit suicide after she was tired of being treated with no love. However, many years later it would be the love Burns was able to feel for her grandchildren and great grandchildren, along with her own children thanking her for being a good mother to help tell her story.

The conversation about recovery from residential school doesn’t just take place on Orange Shirt Day. Burns said there’s a support group she’s a part of where once a month she and fellow residential school survivors get together to keep moving forward.

“For people to understand where we come from is to be able to listen to our story and maybe help us out on our healing journeys,” Burns said. “Our people have to start changing and tell their story.”

 

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