Residential school survivor home to tell her story

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

A Couchiching residential school survivor comes back to the former school site and what she called the root of her pain, to share her life story through a video documentary.

Lila Bruyere, 68, is originally from Couchiching First Nation and resides in Sarnia. Bruyere attended Ste. Marguerite Residential school when she was six and left when she was 14.

“This film is mostly about my life,” Bruyere said. “I’ve seen a lot of sexual abuse. I wasn’t sexually abused, but I might as well have been because I was witness to that.”

Although she was born with scoliosis, Bruyere said it was never taken care of and the physical abuse she experienced at the school worsened it. Bruyere added that she did not walk until she was four years old and that she has seen a chiropractor her entire life.

“My abuse was mostly physical,” Bruyere said. “It did not take much for the nuns to get mad. They would find some reason. They knew I had a disability so they took advantage of that. I had a lot of beatings on my back and that led to the condition I’m in today. I have a hard time walking.”

Now a residential school educator, Bruyere goes to schools and universities and teaches students about the struggles she and others have gone through. Her goal is to see unity and accountability.

“I’m not waiting for the government to do anything because I know they won’t,” Bruyere said. “What I’m waiting for is for us to do something. And that’s what I’m pushing for. We have to use our own voice. We have to come together as a nation and make them responsible. I’m a residential school educator and a messenger. I have no faith in [Justin] Trudeau. I have no faith in the church.”

Bruyere was also joined by residential school survivor and longtime friend, Kelvin Morrison, to also share his story.

Morrison said the recent discovery of the children’s bodies pushed him into an episode of depression and he had to take time off work.

“We have to create a healthy nation,” Morrison said. “People that went through a trauma that will not feel better. It’s not even really about money because they stole my childhood. I never got to be a child. The church has to be held accountable and responsible to help people get better, same with the government. They are passing the buck, all the time.”

Morrison also said he wants to see the correct history of Canada, adding that everybody deserves to know the true course of events.

“We’re not blaming anybody,” Morrison said. “We just need them to speak the truth about what happened in this country. What saved me is going back to my culture, language and being around elders. That’s what they stole from me and it took me a long time to figure out who I was.”

Kelvin Morrison and Lila Bruyere are residential school survivors. They are sharing their thoughts on accountability and reconciliation. – Merna Emara photo

As for Bruyere, she said there is a need for a treatment centre for survivors to deal with intergenerational trauma. Although she is now a retired counselor, Bruyere said she takes the time to listen to those who are asking for help.

Bruyere said she also wants to make sure professionals are consulted when the search for children’s bodies takes place on Couchiching.

“It’s good to be home. I have not been home in five years,” Bruyere said. “Our First Nations Treaty 3 area needs to wake up. They don’t like me saying that but it’s true. I use my voice and be assertive in telling them that we have to do something.”

Whatever the difficulties may be, Bruyere said it is all worth it when she knows she has made a difference. After one of the talks she gave at an elementary school, a seven-year-old student told her she’s sorry for all that Bruyere has gone through.

“I gave her a hug,” Bruyere said. “I’ll never forget her.”