Former student, teacher recall dark times at Shubenacadie residential school
Two women with a shared connection to a Nova Scotia residential school say that what’s needed after a sweeping report into the dark chapter of Canada’s history is more education.
On Tuesday in Ottawa, the Truth in Reconciliation Commission released a long-awaited report into Canada’s residential schools, saying the practice amounted to a “cultural genocide.”
That stirred memories and emotions for two women who experienced life at the residential school in Shubenacadie, N.S.: Linda Maloney, a former student, and Rose Salmons, a former teacher.
The two women agree on a number of issues raised by the commission, especially the goal of the schools — to eradicate native culture.
“They were trying to assimilate us. They wanted to just get rid of the Indians,” said Maloney in Millbrook, N.S.
Salmons, a former nun who back then was known as Sister Joseph Celeste, says “assimilation was the big thing,” but she had reason to think it was wrong.
“I don't think that's right. As an Acadian myself, we were denied,” said Salmons in Truro, N.S.
Maloney, who was five years old when she started out at the Shubenacadie school, recalls how children were “strapped” for speaking Mi’kmaq.
But the hardest part, she recalls, were the long, lonely nights, when the young girl felt isolated and her sisters at the school were forbidden from coming to comfort her.
Maloney, who spent 10 years at the school, recalls “waiting for daylight to come and not be afraid.”
Salmons, who was 22 years old when she became one of the 12 nuns teaching at the residential school for 160 students, says she remembers feeling ill-prepared for what she encountered at Shubenacadie.
“We certainly didn't have any training for dealing with children who were taken from their homes, and who really needed love,” Salmons said.
In fact, she was expressly forbidden from reaching out.
“It was written down: we were not to show affection for the children,” Salmons said.
Both women agree that what’s most needed now is education — both about what took place at the residential schools and about Mi’kmaq history.
“We need to let them know what happened so it never happens again,” said Maloney.
“The young people should be taught.”
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Rick Grant