Moose Factory resident and Catholic nun Anna Wesley, 72, pled not guilty to charges of administering a noxious substance and assault, but was convicted on May 10.
A Sudbury judge decided the Cree nun who forced children at Fort Albany’s St. Anne’s residential school to eat their own vomit will face enough punishment simply by going home to her community of Moose Factory after being convicted.
She forced three children, who couldn’t keep their cod liver oil down, to eat vomit off their plates, according to testimony. When they couldn’t keep that down, she forced them to eat the vomit again. One child was served the same vomit for three days without being given anything else to eat, the court was told. Wesley worked at the Catholic St. Anne’s school during the 1950s. The school was started in 1903.
It was one more milestone on a long road to justice for Fort Albany residents. In 1990, then-chief Edmund Metatawabin and his community requested a reunion conference on the issue of the St. Anne’s school and the legacy it left behind.
The conference included a testimonial panel of Aboriginal professionals who listened to individuals who felt they had been abused during their stay in the school. A panel report was produced and given to the Ontario Provincial Police. After five years and 900 interviews, seven people were charged with criminal offences.
One of those was Anna Wesley, a First Nations Catholic nun.
Metatawabin, after hearing there would be no jail time for Wesley, said the conviction is the important thing. “Justice would have been better served with jail, but we got what we wanted,” he said.
“It shows these incidents took place. It’s not hearsay,” said today’s chief, Mike Metatawabin. He, too, was disappointed with the sentence and said “the people who experienced it were upset with what seems to be a slap on the wrist for the person who was responsible for the pain.”
Counting Wesley, five people have been convicted on charges stemming from St. Anne’s. One other person was found not guilty. Ed Metatawabin said this was because the victim was too sick to go to court.
Ed Metatawabin said the community originally approached Indian Affairs, the Ontario government and Catholic church to begin a mediation process, but was rebuffed. “They must have thought it was because we had no money for a court case,” he said.
Things have changed since the convictions. The parties were to sit down to begin an alternative dispute resolution process on July 12. “The convictions were our ace to begin this process,” Ed Metatawabin said.
“I don’t think this process will be settled in a year. St Anne’s had 70 years to damage our culture and people.”
Ed Metatawabin said the process respects the wishes of the Elders in seeking mediation. This process will be the long journey of healing, he said. While compensation would be sought, it would not be awarded in a way to indicate that one person’s pain was greater than another’s was, he added.