The Marieval (Cowessess, Grayson) Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997, was located 24 kms north of Broadview, east of Crooked Lake in the Qu’Appelle Valley on what became part of the Cowessess First Nation Reserve in 1981 (Treaty 4). The Roman Catholic Church operated the school, first by four Sisters of Notre Dame des Missions de Lyon and from 1901 – 1979 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Hyacinthe. Previously, a day school had existed at Crooked Lake from 1886 – 1888, but it closed and Catholic students were transported to Qu’Appelle school until the boarding school opened in 1899. The Federal Government purchased the property for $70, 000 in January 1926. “In 1949, citing their rights under Treaty 4, the parents at the Cowessess Reserve petitioned the government for a non-sectarian day school. ‘We ask for a higher standard of education so as our children will grow up in the spirit of self reliance.’” This petition was dismissed, at that time. The Government assumed responsibility for the residential school in 1968 and in 1970 proposed the closure of the residences. This proposal was protested by David Ahenakew because it was “not the wish of the Indian people affected.” The residence’s existence continued to be precarious and there were arguments made for its existence into 1978. The Cowessess Band took over operations in 1981. The school closed in 1997 and was controversially demolished in 1999 and finally (50 years after the petition) replaced with a day school. “The church, rectory, and cemetery remain.”
Ronalee Lavallee not only attended the Marieval, Saskatchewan, school from 1965 to 1971, but she also went to work at the school for twenty-two years. Lavallee had a number of positive memories of working at the school.
Friday evenings I would have to be at work at three, so I always made a trip into town, and go and buy some pop or juice, and popcorn, or chips, ’cause we always had movie night Friday night. And in the dorm, they had a child-care worker’s sleeping room. It was a single bed, and two big, long couches, and I said it was so cute because I’m not one for scary movies, eh, [laughs] so I would sit on the edge of my bed, and all those little, like, there were sometimes thirty little boys, and, and I think of it when it really get to a scary part, they’d all come running, and jump behind me on my bed, and sit behind me. So, like, there’s lots of, you know working with, with them, lots of good memories. How every Monday was our bug shampoo night, and there was eight sinks, and I would take them one at a time, and I’d start one at one sink with the bug shampoo, and do them ’til I had the eight sinks full of these little boys. I’d put the first one in the shower, and, and then I’d start another one. Second one in the shower.
And there’s lots of good memories, playing floor hockey with them, and how they always wanted to trip me, or badminton, playing in the gym, badminton. They’d have me running from one end of the side of the gym to the other side. [laughing]They were torturing me, but it was a good torture. It was fun. How we walked the hills, like, just allowing them to have that freedom that I never had when I was in boarding school.287 (Vol 1-2, p. 528)
Ronalee Lavallee said that at the Grayson, Saskatchewan, school in the 1970s, there were a number of students from northern Saskatchewan who spoke fluent Cree. At night, they would teach the language to the other students. “We wanted to learn this language, and how we used to take turns watching for the nuns so that we wouldn’t get into trouble. And I think, just think, that was 1970 or ’71, that’s not so long ago, and they were still doing that to us?”156 (Survivors Speak, p. 53)
Ronalee Lavallee … recalled a change in attitude at the school when it came under band management. “When our First Nation took over the boarding school, and the nuns were no longer there and the priest and I could see that difference. It was, like, it was so much lighter, and I could see that in the children. They were so much freer.”731 (Survivors Speak, p. 200)
Amber K. K. Pelletier, who was the youngest Survivor to provide the Commission with a statement, attended the residence operated by the Marieval Community Education Centre on the Cowessess First Nation from 1993 to 1997. She said that a number of the long-disliked policies were still in practice at the residence. For example, the school had retained the policy of cutting students’ hair when they first arrived, and assigning them numbers. According to Pelletier, in the 1990s, “We could tell when the keepers were mad because they would, they would use our number to call us or to talk to us. In breakfast line or supper, dinner line, if we were acting up they’d say, ‘Number 20.’ And then you just stopped whatever you were doing.”
She also felt that the behaviour of some staff members was objectionable. And then the keepers, some of them would come around and tuck you in and they would give you a kiss on the cheek and they would say, “I love you.” I remember the first night I was just lying there and they were doing that. And I, I was thinking, that lady’s going to come and, that lady’s going to come around my bed. So by the third, fourth day I figured out that if I threw my blankets over my head and looked tucked in, then you know, all the work was done. And then I would just have to listen to their steps, ’cause it would take one, two, three steps to get to my bed from the next bed. And I could just peek and say, “I love you, goodnight.” And they wouldn’t have to, they wouldn’t kiss me.733 (Survivors Speak, p. 200)
The first day of the provincial healing gathering was greeted with mixed emotions by those in attendance, many of whom revisited old memories.
The Cowessess First Nation is hosting the gathering to help residential school survivors who are applying for their Common Experience Payments under the government-approved settlement.
Carol Lavallee, 56, has a unique perspective of residential schools. She lived through the bad times as a student and as an employee she worked to make it a happy experience for others.
Everyone can recall their first day of school and the excitement surrounding that big day, but for many residential school survivors their memories are not so cheery.
“When they came and took me to residential school at six years old they came and got us in a cattle truck,” Lavallee recalled Thursday. “I remember I was so small that I couldn’t see over the box. My sister was standing right tight against me to hold me still so I wouldn’t be bounced around in the back of this cattle truck.”
Although that was the only time she and her siblings were transported by cattle truck to the Marieval Residential School, it’s a memory that has stuck with her. It was in the back of that cattle truck she was taken from a loving and safe home to face years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
“I always wonder how a person who’s supposed to be a Christian person, a priest, can abuse a seven-year-old girl,” said Lavallee.
After she spent 10 years in residential schools, she went on to have four children. All of them graduated from residential school, but she noted they all had a very different experience. Lavallee said when First Nations took over control of the residential schools it was a totally different environment.
“I had very bad things happen to me when I went to residential school and very happy things happen to me when I worked in residential schools,” said Lavallee, who spent approximately 20 years supervising at three different residential schools.
“The parents put me in charge of parenting their children and I tried to do it the way I parented my own children. I scolded them, talked to them, laughed with them and loved them.”
She said being a surrogate parent to many over the years has had its advantages because she runs into her “girls” everywhere and revels in their successes.
Lavallee is currently a council member of the Cowessess First Nation and as a leader she’s happy the reserve’s urban office undertook the initiative to help residential school survivors.
“What was in the closet now is all out. We’re going to face it. We’re going to live with it. We’re going to deal with it. We’re going to accept what happened to us and we’re going to make things better,” said Lavallee.
She said exposing her wounds has allowed her to heal and become a stronger person. She encourages others to also face their past.
“We have realized what we lost and we’re trying to reclaim it. We are reclaiming what we lost with a vengeance, our language, our history, our culture,” said Lavallee.
Vice-Chief Lyle Whitefish of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said the gathering should help residential school survivors on their healing journey. It’s also an acknowledgement of the abuse that occurred in the schools.”It’s a turning point where we start to try put the past behind us and find ways within ourselves spiritually with the help and support of the healers here,” he said.
He commended the Cowessess First Nation for putting the gathering together and believes it will benefit many survivors.
Several booths are set up at the gathering to help survivors fill out application forms, receive counselling, and obtain financial advice.
“Our goal is to help them understand how to do basic banking and get them client cards,” said Dave Gareau, a branch manager with Royal Bank of Canada. “It’s about building relations one client at a time.”
Deedee Lerat, Marieval Indian Residential School, 1967–1970. Lerat says, “
Janice Acoose has identified her experience in this school as part of a long legacy of “legally sanctioned imprisonment, abuse and brainwashing” common amongst her family and her community. (Acoose, 1995, p. 25) Acoose recalls several personal accounts of physical and emotional abuse compounded with cultural oppression. She cites that
[s]ometimes my tears were brought on by desperate longings to be at home with my family. Other times I cried out in pain because a nun had slapped me hard across the face, pounded my knuckles with a wooden block which she had made just for that type of punishment, or taped my mouth shut for long periods of time for speaking out of turn, for asking too many questions, or for showing „disrespect‟ for their god by asking for proof of “his‟ existence. (Acoose, 1995, p. 26)
Acoose (1995) writes that her experiences in the Cowessess Indian Residential School were not isolated and that other children were subject to the same abuses. Her assertion is supported by Harold Lerat who also attended the Cowessess Indian Residential School. In Lerat‟s book Treaty Promises, Indian Reality, Lerat dedicates a chapter to his experiences in the residential school system. Lerat was a child who learned that to be submissive was to survive. He experienced a suppression of his language, neglect of his health and was once strapped by a priest so hard that he was unable to sit properly for weeks. (Lerat and Unger, 2005, pp. 126-131) Extracted from Thesis: Dying Under the Living Sky: A Case Study of Interracial Violence in Southeast Saskatchewan by Kathleen Patricia Keating
Janice Acoose, 53
Involvement: Student, Cowessess Indian
Residential School, Sask., 1959-1961
Currently Associate English professor, First Nations University of Canada
My story is connected to a bigger circle of people. My parents were following in the tradition of their parents. I don’t think my parents realized they had a choice. Where else would we have gone to school?
I was seeing the school through a five-year-old’s eyes. My first reaction to it was, of course, fear.
Even though I had three older sisters and an older brother that were already there, that didn’t mean I had the support of family. We were divided into small-girls dorms and big-girls dorms.
One of the first things they do is they try to institutionalize you by taking away your name. I was given a number and that’s [how]I was identified. All my personal belongings were taken away from me. I remember the smells mostly. That kind of smell of disinfectant everywhere in the school. That smell of fear, too, if you know what fear smells like.
I don’t wear the badge of victimization. I want to move ahead in my life in ways that I don’t carry that stuff any more. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
Jamie Komarnicki Globe and Mail
Janice Acoose (42:12) and others speak in this moving documentary regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women. Finding Dawn. “I almost get shivers standing here, looking at that mission school. I do. I remember that church, oh, so many memories of that church and that school. That place is like an indoctrination camp, you know, it basically tried to make us into something that we weren’t, and at great price, a great price.”