Warning: Details in this story may be disturbing for some
Evelyn Korkmaz spent four years at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., beginning when she was 10 years old.
On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Korkmaz is sharing the legacy of trauma and suffering she endured while she was forced to attend the school.
Stories from St. Anne’s paint some of the most horrific treatment of Indigenous children in Canada, with reports of children being put in straight jackets for punishment.
“There was an electric chair at St. Anne’s,” Korkmaz said to CTV National News.
For some, the discovery of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School in B.C. this spring was their first look at the genocidal colonial history that created the intergenerational trauma wrought by the church-run institutions from the 1870s to 1996.
But for the more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children who were forced to attend residential and so-called Indian Day schools, that legacy full of rape, abuse and death condoned by, and crafted by the churches and the Canadian government is something they have had to live with for decades.
Korkmaz and other survivors from St. Anne’s have been locked in a long legal battle with the federal government and the Catholic Church to receive compensation for the abuses they suffered, as federally appointed adjudicators have doubted their credibility and claims of severe abuse.
Korkmaz says that there are some 12,000 police documents that would prove their claim.
“I have a right to know about what happened to me,” she said. “Why my perpetrators raped me.”
The Ontario Supreme Court ruled that the records be released in 2014, but they were heavily redacted – something Korkmaz finds unacceptable.
“If you or I were not to follow court orders, we would be picked up at our door and put away,” she said.
The federal government has not committed to ending their legal battle against the survivors of St. Anne’s, a process that has cost them millions over the years.
But advocates say any hope of reconciliation is null without the truth.
“I think that any government should stop fighting Indigenous people,” said Stephanie Scott of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to CTV National News. “I think its time to move forward in this country to resolve all outstanding matters.”
On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, that call has echoed across the country as communities march and hold ceremonies in solidarity with First Nation, Metis and Inuit survivors of the residential school system – and those who never made it home.
While the unredacted documents from St. Anne’s have still not been released to survivors, Korkmaz and others like her say that will not give up until they are properly compensated for the abuse they suffered.
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.