‘It’s going to take some time’: Residential school survivor Robert Kakakaway reflects on healing

Robert Kakakaway spent six years at Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan and like his grandparents and parents, he is a survivor of the system.

As part of processing the trauma, he has put his experiences down on paper — over the pages of three books: Thou Shalt Not Be An Indian, Torn Between Two Worlds and To Hell and Back.

Thursday morning, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Cowessess First Nation, the home community, announced an estimated 751 unmarked graves were discovered at the former site.

Kakakway, who is of the White Bear First Nations, spoke to Global’s Roberta Bell about where we go from here.

Read more: Estimated 751 unmarked graves found at former Saskatchewan residential school

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Question: Robert, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. In light of everything that’s going on, how are you doing with it all?

Answer: It’s numbing. It’s shocking. I guess I feel a lot of sorrow for the families that have lost loved ones in Marieval. I thought Kamloops was bad, which it was, but it almost seems like this is twice the impact of what happened over there.

Q: What do community members and survivors need right now to help with the grieving process? 

A: I wouldn’t want the news to just go out and start talking to community members who may have lost family in Cowessess. Give them some space and allow them some time to deal with that whole grieving process. It’s going to take some time, so be patient.

Read more: ‘They made us believe we didn’t have souls’: Survivors of Saskatchewan residential school speak out

Q: And you, yourself, have given so much over the years to raise awareness about what happened at that school. Is there anything from your healing journey that you think that people should know?

A: For me, my healing may be a little bit different than other First Nations because we all have different experiences. Through time, I was able to write about my experiences and writing is healing. So I wrote a trilogy. I started off with Thou Shalt Not Be An Indian, my first year in Marieval Residential School. The horror of seeing a nun for the first time. Many of our survivors are not ready to talk about the horrors of these so-called concentration camps. Because that’s what they were. It’s Canada’s Holocaust — whether they want to admit it or not — but this was done for not just one generation, but my parents, my grandparents all went through it. So I’m a third-generation residential school survivor and I don’t want to see my children or grandchildren ever experience these residential schools. That’s why I wrote the books that I did: Thou Shalt Not Be An Indian, Torn Between Two Worlds and To Hell and Back. I would like to see these books become part of Canadian curriculum so that people can understand. People all have stories to tell. This is our story, not only as First Nations, but as Canadians.

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‘They made us believe we didn’t have souls:’ Survivor of Saskatchewan residential school recounts their experience

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

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