Hundreds of children attended Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) during its more than eighty years of operation. Many, forcibly removed from their families and communities, faced years of sexual, physical, emotional, and mental abuse as well as neglect, malnutrition, and disease.
Like numerous other Residential Schools across Canada, those who managed to eventually leave are not referred to as ‘graduates’, but rather as ‘survivors’, a telling indicator of the conditions children endured within the institutions.
One such survivor is Eddy Jules, a member of the Skeetchestn Indian Band near Savona, BC.
Jules attended the school for eight years, beginning in the fall of 1968, after first attending Skeetchestn Day School and then Savona Elementary.
“When I first went, the first day I was kind of excited because it was going to be a new experience and I didn’t know nothing about that school before I went there,” explained Jules.
“Nobody ever talked about it. I just knew a lot of community members had gone there, and when they came back, they never said anything about the place.”
The day that Jules and other children from his community were to enroll in the school, his uncle, Chief Charlie Draney, took them all for a picnic along with Jules’ grandmother, who raised him and around 15 other children according to Jules’ recollections. Jules’ mother lived and worked off reserve, sending money home to support him and his siblings.
The children were happy to be going on what they felt was a new adventure, but Jules noticed that something was upsetting his uncle.
“He was standing there, and tears were running down his face,” said Jules.
“He was looking up at the mountains and not saying very much to us and not being himself.”
Draney was very familiar with the school, and it was only after he had arrived that Jules began to understand why his uncle was heartbroken to be delivering the children of his community to the doorstep of a place that, according to poet and KIRS survivor Dennis Saddleman, was a “monster”.
“They took me up to the dorm with all the other boys and they took my clothes and those disappeared,” said Jules, detailing the beginning of what would become many years of cultural erasure.
The Oblate Brothers, who oversaw the day-to-day operations, told Jules that his clothes would not be returned because they were “dirty, heathen” clothes, an experience which closely mirrors that of Orange Shirt Day founder’s, Phyllis Webstad who attended St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Williams Lake.
“The first thing they did to me, they took me into where the guy was giving everybody haircuts and shaved off all of my hair, and my hair was long,” said Jules.
“I was asking them why they had to cut my hair and they said it was because all you Indians have lice and you carry all kinds of bugs on you, bedbugs and you’re lower than animals so we have to make sure that you’re clean, so you don’t infect the rest of the people here.”
Jules didn’t understand the hostility of the Brothers and became frightened.
“They took me downstairs into what was a gang shower and they washed me with bleach. If you ever get bleach in your private parts, it really hurts. They bleached me and washed me off then they took me upstairs and showed me what would be my room, and that’s when everything changed.”
Jules had sisters at the school, but he was forbidden from communicating with them, and so, cut off from them and his grandmother and family at home, Jules felt alone and frightened his first night in the dormitory.
“The first night I was there I was so scared, I never ever peed my bed, but I peed my bed the first night I was there,” said Jules.
“I think it was within the first week was the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was taken to the Father’s office by his sidekick who all of us kids called Hawkeye, because he was always watching you.”
Jules explained that when he first arrived at the school as a young boy, he was what he called “chunky” because at home his grandmother had kept him well fed and healthy, and Jules believed this was the reason he was chosen for abuse by the KIRS principal.
“He liked boys that were chunky, I put that together because all the boys, my friends, that he raped were a little overweight,” said Jules.
Within six months, the well documented lack of adequate, nutritional food had begun to take its toll on Jules, who lost weight, becoming “unattractive” to his abuser. Unfortunately, Jules alleged that despite this, he was abused by no fewer than four other men employed at KIRS during the remainder of his time at the school.
“I knew that there were other bad things happening there,” said Jules.
Sometime in 1969, Jules got the measles and was kept isolated in the infirmary for six weeks where once a day, a “rough, mean” nurse would come and put lotion on him to reduce itching. One day, the lotion ran out and he was instructed to go to the medical room to get more.
“I went down there, and I opened the door to go into the medical room and there was blood all over the floor,” recalled Jules.
“The door was ajar and there was this young girl laying there and this old non-native guy with glasses was holding something in his hands, and all the blood was on the floor. The girl, I never saw her after that day, and I realized what he was holding was a little baby that he just aborted, and it probably belonged to one of the men that worked there. He used a coat hanger, so I think that while he was pulling the baby out, he killed this young girl and she disappeared.”
As Jules was standing there, in shock, his nurse appeared.
“The nurse hit me as hard as she could, and I hit the floor and she said what the heck are you doing down here you little so and so, and I was so scared I ran back upstairs to the room because she was hitting me,” explained Jules.
“Then I realized I still needed the medicine so I had to go back, because if I didn’t get the medicine she would beat me for that, too. When I was going past the boiler room, the janitor was there and he had the fetus in his hand and he was throwing it into the furnace… and that’s when I really realized that they could do anything they wanted to use there, and there’s nothing I could do, or anybody could do to get out of the situation.”
Irene Favel, a student of the Muscowequan Residential School in Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1949 related a similar event she witnessed, wherein a baby was born at the school and then disposed of.
“I tried telling people in my community and all of them ignored me, because I didn’t realize they were all survivors of the Residential School, and they went through the same thing I went through, and they knew they couldn’t do anything about it,” explained Jules.
“I went to the cops and the cops wouldn’t believe me, because I’m a drunk Indian.”
By the time Jules entered the annex where the eldest boys lived at KIRS, alcoholism was already rampant among the students.
“There was a lot of alcohol happening there because everybody was trying to hide what happened,” said Jules.
“They were making alcohol out of anything they could find. Probably about 60% of those people that I went to school with are dead, from alcohol, overdoses, being on the streets, all trying to hide their pain.”
Jules became an alcoholic himself and did everything he could to numb himself to his experiences and trauma. When his 16-year-old brother died when Jules was 14, he found he couldn’t feel anything about it.
“I could not cry because I had no empathy, it didn’t matter to me, I didn’t care,” said Jules.
“And I know now that that’s what you would call a protective shell, you just disappear into it and everything around you. Feelings, you don’t feel anything, it doesn’t hurt anymore. Even when I cut myself it wasn’t a big deal, I didn’t feel the pain. If I got into a fight with one of the other boys and I got a black eye or a broken nose, you didn’t feel the pain because you can block it out, you go into your little safe place.”
This emotional paralysation lasted until Jules was 21. That year, at Christmas, Jules took stock of his life and realized that, despite working since he had left Residential School, he had nothing to show for it as his only focus had been intoxication.
“The alcohol and the drugs were a way to get away from all the bad feelings about that school and all the dark thoughts I had,” said Jules.
“You go into a stupor where things don’t matter and being drunk was a good thing and sometimes you had laughs and other times you cried and other times you were mad, but at least you didn’t feel the pain. I had feelings of suicide, I tried shooting myself, but my best friend saved me, he kicked the gun out from underneath my chin. I was in the hospital for six weeks for that.”
By that time, Jules said he was no longer thinking about the Residential School, but rather the emotions that had come after, and his life as it stood then.
“I just wanted to stop doing what I was doing to myself, always abusing my body, drinking, trying to hurt myself, trying to commit suicide.”
He made a promise to himself that he would quit drinking that New Year’s Eve, and to this day Jules, now 63, has kept that promise to himself to never drink again. He also became a councillor of the Skeetchestn Band, a role he has returned to on and off over the past 30 years.
Wanting to restore joy and pride to his community, he realized he would have to heal himself in order to help the Skeetchestn people heal. His wife, Lori, was also instrumental in helping Jules come to terms with his experience and to work through the trauma he endured.
Part of his healing process was being involved in the book project Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which includes the testimonials of 32 survivors.
Finally, years after his uncle Charlie Draney’s death from cancer, he was also able to come to terms with the hatred he had developed during his years at KIRS and forgive Draney.
“I had such hate for him while I was in that school,” said Jules.
“It wasn’t until I wrote this story that I realized it had nothing to do with him. He was crying because he knew what was going to happen to us and he couldn’t do nothing about it. He didn’t want us to be there, period. But, if he didn’t, my grandmother and him would wind up in jail. That was the bottom line. And I feel so bad because prior to going to the school, I loved the man with all my heart. He did so much with us when we were kids… he used to take us all over the mountains, he took me to my first rodeo in Williams Lake when I was, I think, seven years old; all of these things. And then you turn around and hate him because he brought you to that school.”
Jules spoke to his aunt, Draney’s wife, after working on Behind Closed Doors about the anger he had harboured for all of those years.
“Your uncle knew, and he didn’t blame you one bit, and he said, ‘one day my nephew will forgive me when he realizes that it wasn’t me’,” said Draney’s wife.
Jules also went to his uncle’s grave to lay tobacco and sage and to pray in the traditional way of the Secwepemc people, telling him he was sorry and wished he could make up for the years they lost, but which the Residential School system had disrupted.
It was this traditional healing that Jules used to move forward in his own life and help others, even now, as thousands of probable grave sites have been discovered at former Residential Schools, including up to 215 at the former Kamloops Residential School.
These graves were something Jules and other survivors had alluded to for years, knowing that their peers were dying and being buried there, despite Jules being told there was no way that children were buried on the grounds by the time he attended.
“No, it was still going on when I was there… you see stuff. You’re eleven years old and you see a light down there in the middle of the night,” said Jules, referring to the apple orchard where Ground Penetrating Radar has so far discovered the probable remains.
When children went missing other students were often told that they had returned home to their reserves, but Jules said that in reality many had died, some by trying to swim across the Thompson River.
“They didn’t want to go across the bridge, because old Hawkeye and his cronies, they watched the bridges all the time so you couldn’t run away, and anybody that’s from Lillooet or across the river, you have to cross the river to get home,” said Jules.
“And those kids have never been found.”
A student with a cleft palate disappeared one day and students were told he was going to have an operation to correct the defect.
“Well, years later we found that he was murdered, killed, because he pissed some guy off at the Residential School that didn’t like the way he sounded.”
Despite the re-traumatization happening to many Residential School survivors, Jules believes that the only way forward is to not only discover the lost children, but to repatriate them to their home communities.
“I’m ecstatic that all of these Residential Schools are being looked at, and now we’re at 6,500 people or graves they’ve found, and who knows, there’s probably more,” said Jules.
“It’s the kids’ turn. It’s their turn, and their lives matter, and to me the only way the healing can happen is if these kids, these bodies, they’re identified and sent back to their communities.”
Jules stressed the fact that he harbours no animosity towards any individuals, non-indigenous or otherwise, over the Residential School system, he just hopes to hold the Canadian government and the churches accountable for their role in the cultural genocide inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous people.
“All I want is healing,” said Jules.
“I’m over it, I want to move forward, and I want people to move forward with me. Let’s deal with the issue, period, and get the information out to non-natives so they know what happened and they’ll be more supportive to change it all. I used to hate everybody because of what happened to me, I don’t anymore. All I want to do is make friends with everybody,” Jules continued.
“I want them to know what happened there, so they understand why the First Nations they see on the streets that are drunk and maybe doped up or looking homeless out there, there’s a real reason for that, and it’s our mental health because of the residential schools.”
To this date, no person or entity has been criminally charged for operating the schools and to Jules’ knowledge, no individual was charged or held accountable for the abuse they inflicted on students at KIRS during his time there.
As Canada grapples with this black spot on its legacy, Jules said that the importance of bringing all relevant information to light cannot be understated as many are suffering the intergenerational impacts of Residential Schools.
“I would say to my fellow survivors, if you really want to deal with the issue, talk about it,” said Jules.
“Talk about it and get it off your chest because if you keep holding it inside, you’re never going to deal with it, it’s always going to be there and you’re always going to be hating people. Your life will revolve around it, and that isn’t what life is about, life is about moving forward and making things better, and enjoying what you’ve got.”