A Subsequent Survival
Randy Fred discusses the Blackwater trial and the self-medicating that followed
Who were the real beneficiaries of the millions of dollars paid out as compensation for Indian Residential School settlements? Lawyers, of course, were major beneficiaries. Survivors did put much of the settlement money to good use. But, it’s sad to know that so much of the money ended up in the hands of drug dealers.
Sexual abuse never leaves a victim’s mind and these memories are a distraction throughout their life. The memories are painful, and drugs and alcohol can be considered a form of pain management.
I was a plaintiff in the precedent-setting Blackwater et. al. criminal and civil court actions. Unfortunately, the lawyers we contracted had no sexual abuse experience. And, just as detrimental for all of us, the role of the lawyers representing the Government of Canada and the United Church of Canada was to prove we were liars. The entire court process brought no justice to the Alberni Indian Residential School victims. In fact, it was victimization all over again.
The proceedings provided the plaintiffs with an opportunity to share our horrifying stories but, at the same time, it brought the horrible memories to the forefront and they engulfed our lives. Over the years the case was dragged out, the increase in the pain was matched by my increase in drug use.
Modern psychology does not know how to cure the pain of sexual abuse, or even physical abuse, family separation and emotional abuse. Plaintiffs in the Blackwater et. al. case were expected to ‘get over it’ when the court process ended. The miniscule and ridiculous cash settlements paid out were supposed to heal us. It didn’t.
We were forced to sign a waiver stating we wouldn’t sue the government or the church for any other abuses suffered from the Indian residential school experience. This greatly added to our pain as those who later went through the courts were able to go further, like through the Individual Assessment Process where they were rightly able to collect damages in the way of cash settlements for physical abuse, family separation and emotional abuse.
An injustice to all Indian residential school survivors was the fact that subsequent claim processes based their settlement amounts on our court case. This was not just because our case was limited to sexual abuse against only one dormitory supervisor.
The entire court process was wrought with lies. A former school principal obviously lied on the witness stand, yet Justice Donald Brenner favoured his testimony over that of the plaintiffs regarding students informing the principal about having been sexually abused. There was very obvious slanting of evidence presented in court by supposed ‘expert witnesses’. Again, Brenner took their testimonies over that of the plaintiffs and expert witnesses utilized by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
The adversarial justice system brought on much more pain to the plaintiffs. In my situation, I grew to hate the lawyers representing the government and the church. Drugs helped reduce my nightmares of killing them.
Having been a heavy drug user most of my life I can relate to those Elders who continue to use drugs to attempt to kill the pain of the Indian residential school legacy. I smoked pot for more than 30 years and used many kinds of hallucinogenics and hard drugs besides drinking to the point of blacking out. I attempted suicide twice. I am not proud of any of this but my history is typical of many survivors.
I know many suicides within the Aboriginal community are a result of sexual abuse. The cycle of sexual abuse has not yet been fully broken. This unbelievable symptom of Indian residential schools continues in many families and communities.
I believe the Truth & Reconciliation Commission has fallen far short of any kind of success in reconciliation. Thanks in large part to the courage of survivors, they were successful in truth sharing. But, their visits earlier this year to Vancouver Island left a trail of suicides. There is still a lot of ignorance about Indian residential schools. True reconciliation can reduce racism in Canada and can create many positive changes in society. I see many high paid TRC workers patting each other on the back but I still see many hurting survivors and encounter much ignorance everywhere I go. Reconciliation needs to involve all Canadians or what’s the point?
Several plaintiffs in my case used some of their cash settlements for drugs. One plaintiff committed suicide. One plaintiff died during the court case and I consider this death as a form of suicide as he was drinking as though he wanted to die.
I know survivors who spent all their Common Experience Payments on crack cocaine. I feel sad for them but I cannot judge them. Every survivor is at a different stage of healing and peace of mind.Some survivors have replaced alcohol and drug use with some other form of addiction. Many continue to smoke cigarettes. Some are hooked on bingo or other forms of gambling.
Insecurity and denial continue to run rampant within our communities. This is a psychological symptom that is difficult to remedy.
This article is completely my own thoughts and opinion. I do not claim to represent anyone or speak for anyone else. I do not have any answers or advice or wisdom to share to advance the healing of Indian residential school and inter-generational survivors. Today, instead of drugs and alcohol, my pain management consists of prayer and reliance on the Creator.
BIO: Randy Fred
Randy Fred survived nine years as a student at the Alberni indian Residential School. He first shared this experience as a foreword in Celia Haig-Brown’s book, “Resistance & Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School”, published by Arsenal Pulp Press’ imprint, Tillacum Library, for which he was the Managing Editor. After a degenerative eye condition prevented him from continuing in his career of accounting he moved into the communications field. He worked in radio broadcasting, video production, book publishing, newspaper publishing and currently publishes a magazine, “FACE: Aboriginal Life & Culture”. He set up short courses in communications, trained many people in book and newspaper publishing and today does contract work in training coordination for aboriginal fishers.
Photos from Alberni Indian Residential School, archived in the childrenremembered.ca, Residential School Archive Project