Note: Abraham Bearskin’s presentation has been edited due to space limitations.
I come to share. And to share what I’ve done with my own healing and dealing with my own pain over the years.
I am a residential school victim. I am also a sexual abuse victim. I’ve also experienced child incest at home as a child, even before going to residential school.
I was in residential school eight years and most of my early days were in the south. I’m not sure at what age I was taken away from home — around 6 or 7. You see, my parents were very traditional. They’ve spent their life in the bush, every year. They’re both 77 and they’re still on the land. And I was with them until the time that I was taken away from home and put in the residential school.
My mother was my first teacher. My dad, I don’t recall him ever hitting me. They had their way of discipline. That was kindness.
It’s still hard after seven years. That first
year in school, I experienced sexual abuse. I was about 7 (pause) 6 or 7. You see, I have a mental block still. I can’t remember. That’s how damaging the pain is.
That first year, thats when I experienced my first —
I don’t know what it was — the supervisor, I remember that watched us. That first year, not even a year— she started to do something with my body. I don’t know what it was. I thought it was normal. She’d touch me all over the place and it, more or less, was shocking me.
And then it went further. There was the Minister, the principal that was running the school and he started to do that to me and I began to notice he was doing that to some of the boys. I also know that the first year that he was fooling around with one of the staff members.
And the confusion started for me. There was this man that was preaching about Jesus and what love is. The church was packed all the time. We prayed in the morning and evenings. And he was doing that! Those things happened at Fort George. Fort George Island.
Later I got shipped to another residential school and the abuse continued. I was bruised all over the body. I used to get hit. Sometimes we didn’t eat for a long time. The sexual abuse continued. It happened with us, even the boys. We were doing that to one another. Sometimes the senior boys would pin us down and do that to us, like you do to a woman. That was painful.
Then from Moose Factory, they shipped me to another residential school. La Tuque. And it continued there.
This time we had some Native supervisor, non-Natives too, and this time the native supervisors started to do that to me, started to fool around with my penis, things like that, but more screwed up.
By that time, I was about 14. I was rebellious. I tried every way to get expelled.
I started to drink. I fought. I fought back at the supervisors. I started to hate white people. I started to hate the church. I had a lot of resentments. I even had resentments against my parents, against my people.
I started to do the abusing. By that time, I was numb. I had a way of escaping. You know, I could get thrown against a cement wall and not feel the pain. I was getting good at it.
That year was my first experience of, I guess you could call depression. I thought there was something wrong with me. My mind was someplace else all the time. I started to think about how to end the pain.
It was too painful. Sometimes I’d pick up a broken glass and try to slash or cut my wrists somehow. I thought I’d bleed to death. Then one day I wrote a letter and explained what was happening. I remember writing that letter back home, but in English, and telling them what was happening to me.
I got called into the office by the principal, the Minister. My letter was opened. Somebody had opened it. I got strapped. Again.
There’s more incidents.
I drank for 21 years. I finished high school, in the back of my mind saying, “I’ll fight back. I’ll get you in the end.” I said, “One day when I grow up, I’m gonna come looking for you and really get you.” I had it all planned out.
I got into drugs. I got into alcohol. For 21 years, I drank. And the pain started to go. At this time I was in my late teens, early twenties. I think I was around 21 when I thought of suicide again. I planned it, how to do it. I would get drunk, get high on drugs and just end it. I had no where to go. No where to turn to. I couldn’t even tell my parents. I got back home and my own people told me this — you know you live like a white man. Then again, the confusion came back. Some people call that caught between two worlds, but to me there’s no two worlds — there’s just a collision of societies and I was in the middle.
I started to rebel against my own people. They couldn’t tell me anything. I knew everything because I went to school. I finished high school. I went to university. I was so mad. So full of anger. Bitterness. Violence. After all these years I’d been through, going through the system and I go back and get the same treatment back home. But I didn’t care. I kept drinking.
I did a lot of abusing during those years. I abused women. I had one relationship after the other. Then I met this girl in a bar. A year later we were married. 13 years we were married. 13 years we separated. I thought that was love. She drinks, I drink. Good match. She takes drugs, I take drugs. Yeah. That’s the woman for me. Those 13 years we were together, I didn’t stop. I had affairs. I was never at home. I abused her. That’s how far the pain went in me, the damage that was in me.
One day I woke up, more or less. I looked out the window and I saw my dad go by. Something happened right there. He was walking very slow. That’s when I said, there’s something happening with me.
Oka. I went there for treatment. I said to myself: ‘I’ll go to save my marriage.’ Two weeks later, I found out, No. This is not the reason I am here. I’m here to treat my alcohol and drug addiciton. And slowly it started. Things started to open up in my life. And the pain, I started to see that the pain didn’t belong to me. Something happened to me.
That’s how it started eight years ago. I started to look at myself and found that, I was not such a nice a guy. I still had resentment. I still prayed. I still went to church, but I had resentments against the church. But I found my strength through the teachings of my grandfather. I always remember him. Job. His name was Job Bearskin and he talked about the land. He talked about the old ways, about creation. He talked about the Creator and the beauty that’s out there. That’s where I started to find strength.
After treatment, maybe three months later, I ended up back in treatment, out west at Poundmakers. I started to experience some of my grandfather’s teachings, what he used to teach me, and I could relate to them. When I started to reflect back, I began to realize: ‘Yes. The Creator also gave Native people gifts.’ I knew I had to do more. I started to talk about my sexual abuse.
I started to deal with my sexual abuse. Dealing with it doesn’t take overnight. It takes a while.
You don’t do that in one day or one month. When I started to see the good in myself, then I began to say, Hey the Creator created you. There must be some good in you. The Creator doesn’t create anything that’s bad. And I began to see the beauty in being a Native person, to know a little bit of who I was. When I dealt with my sexual abuse, I began to see that the abuse began about 500 years ago. And I looked further, and the abuse started in the time of man, when man was put on this earth. I went back to the time that it happened to me.
I began to change those negatives around, and they became my tools. They became my teachers. Anger became a teacher. Bitterness became a teacher. Violence became a teacher. They became the tools in my own healing. A lot of pain, a lot of crying. I still cry a lot.
My healing is in my tradition. I didn’t have to look far. We pray to one Creator. It is faith that will take us far.