‘I blame Canada for killing my mom’
Published: Apr 19, 2023 05:42 PM

Photo taken in May 2022 shows former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. Remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in the school in 2021. 
Photo: VCG

Photo taken in May 2022 shows former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. Remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in the school in 2021. Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

There have been constant discoveries of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools in Canada, revealing the dark history of brutal mistreatment against indigenous people on this land. Lorelei Williams (Williams), whose parents stayed in residential schools, has become one of Canada's most vocal advocates for missing and murdered indigenous women. In an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen in her I-Talk show, Williams shared the bitter experience of her mom in residential schools and how that experience affects her life.

GT: Did your parents tell you what life was like in residential schools? How do you feel about it?

Both my parents went to residential schools. My dad didn't say anything to me about it. He said absolutely nothing. I didn't even know he was in a residential school until after he passed away. It was when I was visiting the residential school that my aunt told me that he was, I feel like he didn't talk about it for a reason. It was too much for him. And I think the best way he dealt with whatever happened to him at residential school, he did through his artwork. He was this amazing, talented artist. 

But my mom, on the other hand - it was a totally different story. I grew up with my mom in an alcoholic home. I realized that my mom's drinking problem was because of what happened to her in the residential school. Growing up as a kid, I didn't know anything about residential school. With my mom, I knew that whenever she was sleeping in a room, she mostly slept on the couch. She couldn't sleep in her room because of the residential school. Whatever room she was sleeping in, mostly the living room, we could never turn out the lights. She could be dead asleep, passed out from drinking. But if you switch off a light, she would jump up and she would scream and yell, "turn the light back on," because in residential schools, bad things happen when the lights were out. 

My mom drank my whole life for as long as I could remember. And that's how I grew up. So I didn't really learn culture, but if I did learn anything, it was when my mom was drinking. If my mom was singing our songs or dancing around or speaking our language, I became ashamed of it because the way I was learning it was through a drunk mom. So I myself became ashamed of being indigenous. I didn't want to be part of that. What I thought was a drunk culture. I know it was really hard for my mom where she was abused and beaten. I don't know the details about that though, it wasn't until around 18 or 19 years old when I started to realize or learn about residential school, and it wasn't until after I started my dance group called Butterflies in Spirit, that I started going to conferences, and I started going to advance about residential school, and I started to learn more about it and what it did to our people. You can't just go up to an indigenous person and say, what happened to you in residential school? You have to do it in a secret way. 

I remember being at a conference and an elder got up and spoke about her experience in residential school for the first time. She just got up in front of everybody and she went to the mic and started speaking, and she spilled out everything that she could in that moment. But it was so hard for her. And it was her first time speaking about it. And she just ended up collapsing in that spot. 

So, knowing that, I didn't go up to my mom right away and ask how is it in residential school. I made sure to prepare myself, but also ask her in a gentle way. When I finally got the courage to ask her, it was when my daughter was four or five years old, and my daughter was playing with her toys. I just, for some reason, felt like it was okay to ask her. And she looked at me and she spoke out for the first time. When she was taken, she said she was about four or five years old, the same exact age that my daughter was sitting there with the toys. She remembered being taken, and she remembered counting every single mountain on the way to the residential school, because she wanted to find her way home. When she was telling me this, I could see in her eyes, she was hurt, she was crying.

I could see that pain. I could not imagine my daughter being taken from me. I was just burst into tears and she was crying. I could never imagine a little girl having to go through that. So that was my first time asking her. Then my whole life started to make sense. No wonder she drank. She was drinking her pain away. Eventually she ended up passing away from her drinking. She died because her liver was not good. 

After she passed away, I was sad. I started to have anxiety attacks just for two weeks from when she passed away, which I had never experienced before. But then with that came anger. My automatic reaction was, I wanted to sue the government of Canada. I blame Canada for killing my mom. They took her, they kidnapped her. All these children were ripped away from their parents, and put into these residential schools that were run by Christians, by the churches, the nuns and the priests. They didn't have to do that. It was where all that trauma happened. That's where all the rapes, the violence, the beatings, the medical experiment have been. The residential schools were horrible places for these children and where they were brainwashed. 

I even talked to a lawyer. But that's as far as they got. Life went on and I just thought this is not going to happen. It's too hard. 

GT: What role do residential schools have played in destroying indigenous culture? What is the biggest harm of residential schools to human rights?

In a residential school, they weren't allowed to practice their culture, even the language they spoke, their tongues would get stabbed or burned or so. They are one of the main reasons why I don't practice my culture. I'm slowly getting it back through my dance group. My mom used to speak the language, my mom used to dance, my mom used to sing. But it was all taken away in the residential school, because whenever they practiced it, they were beaten or killed just for practicing the culture. 

I heard a story about my dad's people how anytime they gathered more than two people that was considered a potlatch or a ceremony, so they weren't allowed to do that. But if they were reading the Bible, they were allowed to do that. What my people did was they did gather while they always had a Bible handy. If somebody came, they would grab the Bible and pretend that they were reading it. But in reality, they were practicing secretly.

So that's how my dad's culture was able to stay alive. But they had to be secretive just for practicing their culture. It makes me sad that I don't know too much. I would love to be practicing my culture more and learning more. 

There is genocide against our people, which happened and are still happening. The biggest harm is the genocide against our people. We know when they took our children, they were trying to kill the Indian and the child. They're still doing it to this day. We don't have the residential schools. We have the foster care system. We have all these children not going into a school, they're going into these separate homes across Canada. At least in the residential school, everybody was together, even the siblings were together. And right now the siblings are being separated in different homes. So that makes it worse because now they don't have each other like they did in the residential school. 

GT: Several Canadian governments issued apologies for the development of residential schools. There was a law called Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Do you think these are enough? 

Stephen Harper's apology was not. I just felt like it wasn't an actual apology. When you apologize somebody, you don't do those things again. You stop the harm, but they are still harming us. It was filled with euphemisms and rhetoric. It was just not an apology at all. 

GT: Has the government ever offered any compensation to you or your people?

No. And even with the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), they came out with all these recommendations which are not being implemented. All these recommendations, all these inquiries, they just sit on shelves. We are trying to push people to follow through it with these recommendations that have not been implemented that could save our lives. And they just don't. Majority of Canada are racist. I say this all the time. 

My mom got compensation. It was about $25,000 to $30,000 from what I remember. I don't think it was enough. I just feel like the process to even get that was horrible. You're telling these residential school survivors to retell their stories. And how much money they're gonna get or not is based on what they say or what has happened to them. They re-triggered the trauma and opened old wounds. It wasn't in a safe way. It won't take that pain away. It won't take the trauma away. 

GT: You advocate the rights of Canadian indigenous people, especially women and children. Do you take it as a way to honor your parents?

I do, especially when the children were found, I was able to speak more about my parents. I speak internationally. I've got a lot to Mexico, Columbia. When I speak about the residential schools and my parents and what happened, they were always shocked. They're just like, why did they target the children? Who would do that? They're just children. Why would people talk? We didn't even know indigenous people existed in Canada. We thought Canada was all white people.

GT: On the issue of genocide in residential schools, the Canadian government has failed to truly protect the human rights of indigenous people. Why?

There are so many reasons. One, the racist policies, Murray Sinclair (former Canadian senator, First Nations lawyer) said, no matter what, you could take all the racist people who are working in government out. But it doesn't matter because the new people coming in will have to follow the same exact racist policies. So there's no point of getting rid of those racist people when those policies are there.

I've done a lot of work with the police trying to build positive relationships. We have such a horrible relationship with the police. They were the ones who took our people, our kids and threw them in the residential schools. But in that position, I also hold them accountable for not doing their jobs properly, which I'm doing a lot. 

So racism is one of the many reasons why we're not protected and why we're still being killed to the day. There are so many white murderers out there that get away killing our indigenous women and girls. It's insane. They have all the evidence there, but they get let go free. So the Canadian laws are killing us as well. 

There's white supremacy. With white people, the way they act, they're racist. The majority of them are racist in this country, and that's what's killing us. It's the racist white people, and they use it as weapons as well. They use anything that they bought, and it's just so natural to them, like they will call the police on us for no reason. They are so privileged and that's killing us. 

I am not afraid to call them white people. The white supremacy is horrible. The whole convoy that went across Canada ran to the parliament. If those were indigenous people doing that, they would have shot them right away. But they let those white guys in their trucks, convoy over there. They let them get away with everything. Why people can get away with everything? They run after those indigenous people. In Nova Scotia, our indigenous people were allowed to fish on their own lands. The white people were getting mad because they were losing out on millions of dollars when they couldn't fish for certain times of the year. But this is their traditional way. You're making money of their traditional way. They were the ones that were very violent. They were the ones that were starting fires. They were going after them, they were attacking. White supremacy is definitely killing us here.