The residential school system is just one of Canada’s dirty secrets. For decades, the Canadian government, in partnership with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United churches, took Indigenous children away from their families and imprisoned them in residential schools designed to “take the Indian out of the child.” Children were stripped of everything indicative of their culture. School officials cut their hair, put their clothing in the garbage, and punished them severely for speaking Indigenous languages. Many children suffered physical and sexual abuse; some died under these horrific conditions. At The Walrus, Annie Hylton highlights survivors’ stories from the community in and around Delmas, Saskatchewan, so that they can start the long, difficult process of healing.
Annie has written about Indigenous issues for Longreads. Read “Searching for Mackie,” a story about Immaculate “Mackie” Basil, a young Indigenous woman who went missing in British Columbia in 2013.
Jenny Rose Spyglass was three years old when the men came for her.
As Spyglass recalls, her family lived in poverty—her father had recently been deployed by the Canadian military, leaving her mother to care for six children. That fall day, Spyglass remembers, a black vehicle drove up the gravel road and approached her house. A few men emerged: federally appointed Indian agents—who enforced Ottawa’s policies across First Nations reserves and Indigenous communities in Canada—and two priests. The men pointed at Spyglass as her mother pled. “I hung on to my mom,” she says. The men snatched her from her mother’s grip and tossed her, along with her two elder brothers, Martin and Reggie, into the back of the vehicle. During the drive, Spyglass fell asleep and later awoke to children sobbing and gathered near another vehicle. All of them had been torn from their homes in neighbouring reserves—Moosomin, Poundmaker, Sweetgrass, and Red Pheasant, among others—after their parents were threatened with jail or fines if they resisted their child’s attendance at the Thunderchild school.
One day, when she was about four years old, Spyglass learned that her brother Reggie, a year older, had become ill. She and Reggie were close—best friends. Reggie was isolated in a small room, and nobody was permitted to see him. “They just let him suffer,” Spyglass says. “He never made it home.”