Billy Ottereyes, a former chief of Waswanipi, is demanding compensation from the federal government for abuse he and other Crees say they faced as students at the Bishop Horden Residential School.
He is seeking $3 million.
“I’m not the only one who has a problem with this,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Senneterre. “A lot of other people have contacted me about this. Maybe others will come out.”
Indian Affairs sent Ottereyes and hundreds of other Cree kids to Bishop Horden in Moose Factory, Ont. by train and plane. He and 11 other Cree kids were the first ones to attend the school from the Waswanipi area. Their parents willingly sent them so they could learn English.
“We were excited to be going there, but later we found out there were a lot of things we couldn’t do there,” Ottereyes said.
The children, unable to speak English, were forbidden to speak Cree. They would be severely punished for this and other “offenses”: strapped, starved, forced to stand in a corner for the whole day. “If one kid got in trouble, all the kids would have to lie down on their bunks face down with their pants down and all of us would get strapped,” he said. Ottereyes said he will bring out other abuses at a later date.
The level of education was poor. Ottereyes was stuck in the same grade for three years. After five years at the school in the early 1950s, he still couldn’t read or write English when he graduated. He only learned English later on by struggling through books he brought with him in the bush.
The horrors of Bishop Horden haunted Ottereyes so
much that later he was afraid to return to school. Stuck with a Grade 4 education, he couldn’t get a well-paying job and so he couldn’t always provide for his family. Ten years ago, his left leg was amputated below the knee because of diabetes. “During the past 35 years, not having proper food, but living on junk food, I became diabetic, lost my leg and the other is getting badly affected,” he said. “The Bishop Horden residential school has ruined my life.”
The Anglican Church opened Bishop Horden in the late 1800s, naming the school after the first bishop of the sprawling Moosonee diocese covering Northern Quebec and Ontario. The diocese includes parishes in six Cree communities in Quebec.
The government took over funding of Bishop Horden in the 1950s, but the church was still in charge of day-to-day operations. In the 1950s, Bishop Neville Clarke, then-head of the Moosonee diocese, was administrator of Bishop Horden and St. Phillip’s Residential School in Fort George.
Bishop Caleb Lawrence, current head of the Moosonee diocese, said the church apologized for the residential schools in 1993 and “is willing to be part of a process of healing.” He said Bishop Horden and St. Phillip’s do not have as bad a reputation for abuses as the Roman Catholic Church’s Ste. Anne Residential School in Fort Albany.
But he did acknowledge hearing about abuses at the Anglican-run schools too. “One lady mentioned there was abuse, physical abuse, the death of her sister from beatings,” he said.
The Nation has written to Anglican Church headquarters in Toronto ‘to request the school records.