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Women acknowledged for all that they survived [TRC Event]
Walter Linklater choked up and wiped at his eyes as he thanked his wife Maria of 50 years for sticking with him “despite the harm I brought upon her when I was drinking.”
Linklater was taken away from his Fort Francis, Ont., home at the age of six to attend St. Margaret’s Residential School in that community. He was then carted across the county to finish his Grade 12 at Lebret Residential School in Saskatchewan.
When he graduated he attended teacher’s college and began his career, moving from one reserve to another. Without any support, and still haunted by the physical abuse and violence he faced on a daily basis at the residential schools he attended, Linklater turned to alcohol as a way to cope.
Now 73, he has been sober for almost 40 years, but those years of alcoholism were devastating for his wife and children.
Maria Linklater started attending residential school when she was seven.
“I had a lot of bad experiences,” she said. “Life was harsh.”
It improved little when she married Walter.
“The way Walter was raised had a great impact in our lives. The way he lived his lifestyle. He was violent, womanizing; that hurt the most,” said Maria. “Our lives are just torn apart.”
Elder Aazaine Bird, 70, cried as he talked about the way he treated his wife and how she cut wood while she was pregnant and he was drunk.
“I tried to beat up my wife a few times,” he said, wiping at his eyes.
Bird was an alcoholic, a survivor of Duck Lake and Lebret Indian Residential Schools, forced to leave his home at the age of six.
“When things happen to you when you are 10 years old it affects you later on in life,” he said, recalling that he couldn’t tell his parents. He did tell his grandmother, but his family couldn’t intervene because they didn’t speak English.
These, and so many more stories, were shared during the fourth national event hosted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Saskatoon June 21 to June 24. The stories have opened the eyes of the commissioners as to the price women, in particular, paid for the residential school system.
“I want to indicate to you that, as we move forward as a commission, we particularly recognize the growing evidence of the statements and information we have received of the significant impact residential schools have had upon the women in our communities,” said TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair on the last day of the event.
Before making his statement during the Call to Gather he asked all women survivors to stand. He included the intergenerational survivors as well; the daughters, granddaughters, and nieces.
Commissioners and witnesses heard story after story of how women survived physical and sexual abuse at residential schools only to return to their communities to be abused the same way.
If it wasn’t from their spouses then it was family members or neighbours. Yet facing this continued challenge, the women– whether mothers, grandmothers or aunties– raised the children, trying hard to impart what language, culture and spiritual beliefs they had retained into the lives of their children.
“It is the women who held the families together that have been able to survive this terrible ordeal,” said Sinclair.
“So on behalf of the commission we would like to acknowledge you. We would like to thank you for all that you have been able to survive, but more importantly, when we look at your children, and we look at these bright young people, many of whom are achieving high academic attainment and showing great leadership and potential in our communities, we would like to thank you for your efforts to ensure that our future appears to be going along quite fine,” said Sinclair. His remarks were greeted with applause.
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