The Repercussions of Residential School

My name is Charlie Carlick, I am of Thaltan and Tlingit origin. I was born at Telegraph Creek BC in 1945. Telegraph Creek is located approximately one hundred fifty miles inland from the mouth of the Stikine River. My father died in the year of 1950; he was 50 years old when he died. He left behind a wife, three daughters and seven sons.

Shortly after our father’s death, we moved to Atlin BC by float plane, and this is where the story begins.

I went to the Lower Post Indian Residential School in 1951, I was six years old, and I was forced by law to stay there for eight years.

Now to the reader of the story “THE EAGLE LOST HIS WINGS,” I pose this question to you: have any one of you experienced being taken away from your home environment only two years after you’ve come out of the crib? Or shortly after leaving your mother’s breast? This is what I experienced at the age of six; the short bond of love that had developed between my mother and I was crudely and cruelly severed. This shocking separation could be described as being cut by a crude knife made of stone. The hurt was so deep, but now only the ugly psychological scars are left behind, as evidence of this jagged cut.

One of the painful memories that enters my mind is that when I entered the school every boy was addressed by a number. I was no longer “Charlie,” but more often addressed as “Number Ten.” I still think that every boy who had attended the school still to this day can remember their number.

At first when I entered the cold grey environment of the “Rez” I remember that there was a lot of crying, I looked desperately upon my older brothers for help but all I could see was the hopeless look in their eyes. And all they would quietly say was “Charlie, don’t cry.” I think my loneliest time was in the late night hours. In the darkness of the night I would feel a small tear run down my cheek, and then I would cover my head and let the loneliness flow silently out of my heart. I would cry until exhaustion would take me into a fitful sleep.

Eventually, the tears did stop, because in my six year old mind I thought to myself, “what’s the use, no one cares.” I knew that I was trapped! I was psychologically fenced in by rules and regulation that I dared not break. And that is why I came to the conclusion that no matter how much I cried, the bus was not going to come back to get me.

So my silent tears finally turned to stone, and my heart became like flint, and at the age of six I boarded up my true feelings from the world. Trusting adults became very difficult for me in those days, and the psychological repercussions were devastating to those who tried to come close to me, and as far as I was concerned, “love was dead.”

One of the people who suffered from this was my dear Mother, she couldn’t understand why her little boy had become so hard. Some of the words I could still hear her say, “I thought that they were supposed to teach you!” I suppose that my actions said different, because even at that age I was becoming a problem child.

Another repercussion was that I showed very little respect to my elders, because in the boarding school there were no elders, so how could I show respect to someone that I only saw once a year, for two months at the most? To me elders did not show wisdom, to me they were only old and weak, because the only parents or elders that we grew up with were cold rules and regulations. I cannot remember once where anyone in the school said to me “I love you” or gave me a hug.

There were no parents or grandparents around to speak to us in our native tongue, and even what words I could speak of my native tongue, their biased rules and regulations forbade it.

When we had a summer holiday we had a great communication barrier between our Elders and ourselves. We lost so much from the language barrier, so much so, that it is almost impossible to describe the loss in one short paragraph, so therefore I won’t even make an attempt, because I would not do justice to their knowledge.

I didn’t have a proper father image, and only sixteen weeks out of eight years did I have a mother image, therefore I did not know what it was to be a father and only had a limited knowledge on what a good mother was. This is another repercussion that I noted in my life. The thing that I regret the most is not being able to put my arms around my two daughters. The first reason is because I was never taught to hug anyone and the next is because I was sexually abused while in the school.

In the eight years that the Government of Canada put me in Residential School, I took verbal abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, and all these things have to have repercussions on a persons’ life. “Who knows best what is in a man’s mind except the man himself?” “Who would know what hurts are in a person’s heart except the person themselves?” I’ve been there and back.

The reason that I am writing this exposition on “The Eagle Lost His Wings” is not to have people feel sorry for me, or for my people, but to try to expose the repercussions that the Residential School system has on today’s generation.

Now to say that there are no apparent serious repercussions on our First Nation people, would be speaking in total ignorance of the foundational history of the Indian Residential Schools. Can we at least say as educators, “Just suppose it did happen?” Then, if it did happen, we can only do justice to the problem if we research the root cause, by doing an unbiased, thorough study of this history. Then perhaps we could recognize this not only as a First Nation’s issue, but as a human rights issue as well. Then perhaps we could look for a holistic solution. One judge quoted, “Every country at one time or another receives a black mark on its record.” This is one black mark that has not been written or recognized in the history books of our school system. If I were involved in bringing changes to the present day system I would surely check out the history of this story.

I would like to say that I was the eagle that lost his wings, but through the love and patience of my wife and children, and many friends, I have learned to forgive. The eagle can once again soar high above the mountains through the azure blue sky, and the boy who once envied, envies no more. In closing I would like to leave this thought with you: “History does have its repercussions, unfortunately, some people just haven’t been able to get off the ground.”

Written by Charlie Carlick, used by permission.