Collection: When Caregivers Don’t Care: The Impact of Residential School

When you are taken away from your family and community and the people who are now in charge of your life don’t care, you live a very stressful separation. The people who are left behind, your parents and relatives and the Elders, try desperately to hold on to what it feels like and sounds like to be part of a life with children, but it’s hard. They are are grieving the deep separation. 

When the caregivers, now in charge, make you feel inferior and terrorize you with that inferiority, whatever you believe is incorrect. They use fear tactics to control your mind and body and day in day out, there is no release. There comes to be hierarchy and dominance in the life you live with other children. You lose the capacity to feel sympathy for others.

But inspite of everything, the human spirit still believes. And the children hold out for things to be better. They find many ways to try to escape. But the underlying abuses: physical, sexual, mental, and cultural are unrelenting.  You need eyes in the back of your head to keep yourself safe.

And suddenly, in the midst of all of this unpredictability and the wondering when you will ever see your family again, it is time to go home. But what and where is home any longer? Are you taking with you what you need? And not everyone goes home. Disease and violence took some of your sisters and brothers, cousins and aunts and uncles. And for some who did go home, there was no home to go to anymore. Only confusion.

For some, it is too much to bear. You doubt your ability to make sense of anything. To matter. You want to take control over your own life but you don’t know where to start.

But to be human is to desire connection and you never quite lose that. You knew it once. There’s always a spark, however small, and there are still people who live strong relationships. They can bring the healing medicine of hope and help to teach how to live a clean and healthy life, participate in culture and raise a family.

And where there’s hope, the possibility for reconnecting is born.

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Thank you

I gratefully acknowledge the people who have shared stories and hope and healing with me and the Canada Council for the Arts for supporting this project.

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Photography by Angela Gzowski Photography and website support by Brad Poulter - Barctic Technology. Both based out of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

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