My journey began as a child when I was taken away at age seven from my family and placed in the Lower Post Residential School, along with my sister and brother. I was a second generation residential school survivor. My Mother was sent to Lejac Residential School in the 1940s along with her brother and sister from Telegraph Creek, B.C. My late husband attended Kuper Island Residential School and St. Mary’s in Mission, B.C. The news that 215 childrens’ bodies were found in Kamloops sent those of us who survived residential school into a tailspin.
How could this not affect the survivors like myself? My Mother’s younger brother died as a child at Lejac Residential School. He and two other boys were sent into the boiler room to clean a diesel boiler out. They had no masks or protective gear. My Mother’s brother and another boy died. He was buried on the residential school grounds with no notification sent to my Grandfather that his son had died. The nuns told my Mother that he died of meningitis. Many of the survivors at Lejac Residential School knew the truth.
My family and I had to face the grim truth that residential school had devastated our family for two generations, and our children suffered the effects of the devastation. My Uncles and Aunties would ask me in our Native tongue if I was a white woman yet whenever I came home during the summers from residential school. Over the years, I have experienced a lot of inner healing as I have searched for ways to heal from the trauma. I wanted to break patterns for my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren; I wanted a better life for them.
I began my healing journey in the 1970s when I realized I had to break my silence about the ways I was treated in the residential school. I realized emotionally I was stuck because we were taught to be silent about what we went through as children. The nuns did a good job of enforcing silence in the children. I was abused and made a scapegoat by the nuns and blamed for minor infractions. I learned to shut down and harden my heart to survive. I searched for therapy to help me get “unstuck” from the unhealthy ways I had learned to cope.
I became a Christian by choice in 1979. I saw a difference in my Brother and my Sister, and I wanted the inner happiness I saw in them too. I still wanted to remain a Roman Catholic in spite of my experience at Lower Post Residential School, so I went to the Catholic rectory in Lower Post to talk to a Catholic nun who lived there. She sat with me, and we talked about my past and how I felt about the Catholic Church that had committed so many hurts against those of us who went to the Catholic residential schools. She encouraged me to read the Gospels. Why go back to a Catholic nun for spiritual help? The Catholic nuns inflicted so much persecution and pain for so many of us who attended residential school. I learned she was not at the residential school, and she was learning about it through my story. That was a realization for me, that not every Catholic person was to blame for what had happened to me and my family. Certain nuns and priests were responsible. The Catholic Institution and the Canadian Government perpetrated systemic racism and genocide against Indigenous children and families. It was a gradual realization.
I did not want to carry hate in my heart and unforgiveness. After this, I met a Catholic bishop at my nephew’s baptism in the Catholic log church in Lower Post. He invited us to the rectory for cake and coffee after the ceremony. The bishop and I talked. He was such an open and kind person. A simple ceremony—a child’s baptism—brought us all together to experience healing.
I went through anger, rage, and all the emotions I buried as a child. Over the years, I joined a church in Victoria, B.C., and the pastor and his wife became my family. They ministered to and prayed for me, my husband, and our children. Currently, I attend the Vancouver Eastside Vineyard here in Vancouver. I met the pastor’s wife at UBC when I graduated from the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) in 1993. We remain steadfast friends. I invited them to Lower Post to meet my family and relatives in 1995. It has been an amazing journey of healing, friendship, and reconciliation. They stood with many of us that were residential school survivors and prayed and encouraged us. For that I am truly grateful!
Survivor of Residential School
My name is Frances Carlick. I was born in Lower Post, BC. I was born into the large family of my Great Grandmother and my Grandfather, many Uncles and Aunties and cousins. In September 1957, at age seven, I went into the Lower Post Residential School. I became number 155 in that system. I attended Lower Post from 1957 to 1964. Then we were shipped to Coudert Residence to attend Catholic high school. I survived while countless others who attended residential school died before their time.
Check out our Indigenous History Month post for a series of recommended resources.
Cover Photo by Matt Duncan on Unsplash