Liz Logan knows one day she won’t be around to tell her story.
It’s a happy one; a sad one; it’s a resilient one too, and one she hopes will continue to be told to inspire generations long after she’s gone.
It starts when she was little, her earliest memories taking her back to the old fort at Fort Nelson, tied to her family, her friends, her culture, on the trapline and at tea dances. These were the happiest times of her life, she says.
“The old fort was a memory of good times for me. Kids were allowed to run free, families were happy,” she says.
“We used to go to tea dances where tea was actually served, it wasn’t a drinking party. I used to go to jam sessions where my grandpa played fiddle and my uncle played the guitar and we’d dance. You were gone from home sometimes from the time the sun came up until the sun went down.”
It lasted until she was in Grade 5, when she remembers the big yellow bus at the bottom of the old reserve road at Mile 295 by the church, a bus filled with crying children, frightened by an unknown destination and fraught with motion sickness. It was the first time most of them had been in a vehicle, Logan says.
“It was a very bad experience, that first ride to residential school,” Logan says.
Logan was taken to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, her siblings sent to Lower Post. In Kamloops, children were split by age and gender, ordered to strip, given a uniform and a number, Logan says. Then they were given a cot bed in a dorm with hundreds of other indigenous kids who’d been brought there from across B.C. to be assimilated and homogenized in Canadian and Christian culture.
After three years, Logan was sent to residential school in Whitehorse. After Grade 10, she was sent to a boarding school in Victoria.
She returned home to Fort Nelson a different girl than when she left, severed from her spirit, sense of self, and sense of community. It’s here where her story becomes a resilient one; though, in a sense, she was resilient to begin with.
“I didn’t take any crap because my mother was a strong woman in our community,” Logan says.
“When they used to call me a dirty little indian, I used to say, ‘No, I’m not.’ ‘Yes, you are.’ ‘No, I’m not.’ I’d fight back. And then I’d get punished for speaking back at them.”
Logan comes from a long line of chiefs, including her great grandfather, who signed a treaty with Canada in 1910 after years of fighting against the Indian Act. In many ways, her upbringing saved her; other children who returned to Fort Nelson weren’t so lucky, broken kids turned into adults into addicts and repeating cycles of abuse: physical, emotional, substance. Not every child has the same upbringing.
Logan believes reconciliation starts in the home, and she admits she holds back much of her experiences in residential school.
“A lot of my family still don’t know what happened to me in residential school because it was something that happened to me, something I’m trying to reconcile and heal from, and I don’t want to burden my children with all of these things,” she says.
“I always speak in just general terms. These are the things that happened physically, emotionally, culturally, sexually to a lot of people I went to residential school with. We have to start reconciling those things in our own families. If you’re not doing that, seven generations from now, are they still going to be feeling the impacts of this genocide that happened to our people through the residential system?
“I hope not. I’m hoping these young people following us on their walk and joining us are going to be more broadly creating awareness so that we can reconcile within ourselves, therefore our community, and others.”
Logan was the only residential school survivor present at the Walk for Reconciliation in Fort St. John on Sept. 30. Most of the other two dozen people who took part, however, had relatives grow up through the system.
Logan knows one day she won’t be around to tell her story.
“I’m finding that over the years, at more and more of these functions, that there are maybe one or two survivors of residential school,” Logan says.
“Soon, when my generation is gone, there’s just going to be the survivors of survivors. We must not forget. We have to keep remembering.”
That remembrance is passed down through story, as well as blood memory, as Helen Knott puts it, and the lingering effects of intergenerational trauma.
Knott’s kohkum (grandma) went to residential school, and due to effects stemming from this, her father was raised by his grandmother. Knott’s father has always talked about changing the cycles of parenting or absence of it, relative to raising his children, one Dr. Seuss book at a time, she says.
“My dad made changes for his children such as reading books to us, which was hard for him. That was normal for me and I can do that for my son,” Knott says.
“But there’s also things I can change and continue to change for my son. And my son, when he has children, it’s my hope he will do a better job, he will go further than me. We have that legacy trickling down from residential schools, but then we also have that healing aspect that we’re also moving forward at the same time.”
More First Nations studies can be included in school curriculum, but reconciliation isn’t something that can be achieved by government policy, Knott says.
“That’s how we had problems in the first place, right? Through federal policies that then impacted and trickled down,” Knott says.
“I’m a firm believer that the answer is always in the people. Then it’s going to have to come from us and move upward.”
Breaking down prejudice and stereotypes starts with individual responsibility, and how the world is engaged and children raised, Knott says. That means reconciliation will be a long-term act that will happen and be handed down person to person.
“If we are looking at the responsibility of non-indigenous people, it would be to be cognizant of the fact that we have to build a future together. This means mindfully parenting and addressing racism and inequalities within their own spheres,” she says.
“I was taught that it takes three generations to heal from dysfunction. I believe prejudice and oppressive beliefs can be healed and shifted from through the generations. We just have to be willing to see each other as human and develop heart and understanding.
“As long as you work on your own personal journey, you work on your own healing, that healing has no choice but to ripple out to your family and then to your community and then to your nation.”
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.