We will always remember
Interview with Kelvin Bee about the residential school survivor claims process
By Herb Varley
I was born July 16 1962. My residential school tag number is 2616. If you reverse the numbers it gives you a year and a date. I attended Alert Bay Residential from the winter of 1966 to the summer of 1976.
The Department of Indian Affairs and RCMP came and pushed my parents door open. My mom told me in our language to hide and I went behind the wood stove. All the 4 and a half year olds had to go. I was the only one. I remember everything that happened like it was yesterday; the weather, the road to the Alert Bay school.
When the apology and claims process started years ago, I didn’t want anything to do with the people from the churches. I decided to go through with it in order to help provide my children grandchildren with a better future.
DT EAST: Did the apology open old wounds?
This Independent Assessment Process (IAP) for residential school survivors is the third process I have gone through. They have dealt with all the main players of the residential school and this time they want to know about the abuse of the students themselves. They are asking: Who beat you up? Who had sex with you? That’s what they’re doing with the IAP. Those were things I had left in the farthest parts of my memory, it’s the darkest part of my history. I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to reveal the names of the ones that abused me. I didn’t want to revisit that.
There were three levels in the schools; Juniors, Intermediate, and Seniors. I never made it past Junior. Those were the longest 10 years of my life. I was abused by the older, huskier boys in the school. I ended up being an angry man from that abuse. When IAP came and asked me questions about that abuse I reacted with the old hurt.
DT EAST: What’s next in this process of healing and justice against residential schools?
As a young man, I dreamt of peering out of the window of the school. I think about making a return to the school as a man. I would go inside wearing my street cloths and come out in my traditional regalia and walk to my canoe at Alert Bay; the canoe is being pulled not by an Indian Affairs boat, but by the Kwakwaka’wakw people. My dad, my mom, my adad – my grandmother – are all standing there. It is good to have my mom on the beach in her wheelchair and her regalia. We are going home the traditional way in the canoe and are leaving the Indian Agents behind and I feel good. We are returning home as family as Kwak’waka’wakw people.
We can bring closure by returning to the old ways. The word I would use is splicing; splicing our histories with today. I need my brothers and sisters to rest along with my dad and my adad. In the end I’ll return home.
DT EAST: How can residential school survivors in the DTES access the residential school process?
There’s a lot of emotion involved. Anyone who wants to support the people going through the process had better have thick skins. You’ll hear stories that will peel the paint off the walls.
As a community member I need to see that the past is not forgotten, that the people that went to the schools are not forgotten. We need to see that the people that suffered are not forgotten in order to bring closure. That’s why we organize in the community centres to work towards closure and welcome the survivors home.
To access the residential school survivor claims process you can go to the Aboriginal Front Door office (AFD) and talk to me, the elder there. We can get you going. If your process is already underway we help get you get a counsellor. We’ll help you get in touch with the main IAP here in Vancouver. They can help get you a lawyer that will help fill out the claims documents, it has to be done by a IAP certified ‘filler’. Once they put pen to paper it becomes a file. IAP will not close before all the files are finished. So as long as you start a file before September 19 your file will stay open and get processed.
We will always remember the schools we survived. No process and no apology will make that go away. We will honour and remember our survivors and keep the oral history going through our family members. We will always remember. The people must hear.