Residential School Survivor Speaks to Mohawk Students leading into Orange Shirt Day

On Sept. 28, Mohawk College hosted an information session featuring residential school survivor Karen Hill.

The visit was in commemoration of the upcoming Orange Shirt Day, held annually on Sept.30, and recognizes the kind of problems people experienced in forced residential schooling at the hands of the Canadian government and its enforcement of so-called “Canadian culture.”

Hill spent seven years in her residential school and explained that during that time she was provided and referred to only as number 18.

“About six months ago, I was on this street in Hagersville and I saw house number 18,” she said. “I thought to myself ‘Hey, there I am.’”

For Hill, her experiences in the school were nothing short of atrocious.

“I got strapped just because I was happily skipping in the schoolyard,” she said. “They served us old oatmeal and we had to eat it, even though it was filled with maggots.”

Orange Shirt Day spokesperson Phyllis Webstad describes the history behind the day from orangeshirtday.org

Hill found strength later in life by taking psychology courses and working with crisis hotlines and victim services. She also worked as a co-host at a radio station for over 10 years, taking many callers discussing their time as children in residential schools.

“People weren’t afraid to talk [over the radio] because nobody could see their faces,” she said. “To just listen to their problems and have a voice was quite healing for me and for them.”

The opportunity to hear a first-hand account of the life of a First Nations child thrown into the unknown circumstances of residential schools was an eye-opening experience to some in the audience.

“I’m figuring out my culture behind my background, I’m a quarter Native and I’m getting some new information about my history,” said attendee Jordan Handley-Passalacqua. “My family never experienced residential schools, so I’m just kind of getting a different aspect of what happened.”

Aboriginal Education and Student Services will continue to run events like the one involving Hill. Some prior activities have included trips to the Woodlawn Cultural Centre Museum in Brantford.

Amanda Collina, the manager of indigenous student services, invited mpeople to check out A114 in Mohawk College’s Fennell campus for more information about upcoming cultural events and activities.

“We can’t let the conversations stop, the last one [residential school] closed in the late 1990s,” she said. “We need to really understand how people are still dealing with it because it’s really not that long ago.”

As for Hill and others like her, memories of the schools have an impact.

“It does matter, it’s generation after generation,” said Hill. “We need to keep that in mind.”

For more information on Orange Shirt Day, visit http://www.orangeshirtday.org/

About the author  ⁄ Dylan Veenhof

I'm a third-year journalism student at Mohawk College with a three-year background in media communications from Brock University. I aim for dedicated, quality journalism that applies across a multitude of this vast media world. My particular journalistic passion falls under anything involving on-air/on-camera action.

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