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Orange Shirt Day at CNC

Bruce Allen lied to one of his teachers.

He believes to this day the lie saved him from a lifetime of pain. The lie was that he wanted to become a priest. The female Lejac Residential School teacher he told that lie to, years later, was revealed to have sexually assaulted several young boys during her tenure.

Bruce Allen talks about his experiences going to school at Lejac Residential School during Orange Shirt Day ceremonies at CNC. Bill Phillips

“I saved myself from her by telling her I was going to be a priest because she had a big smile on her face,” he said during Orange Shirt Day ceremonies at the College of New Caledonia Monday. “Our paths never crossed. Later on, talking to other kids in the same grade as me I found out she was not a very good person.”

Orange Shirt Day addresses the need for Canadians to learn about the history of residential schools and the intergenerational trauma impact on the aboriginal people.

Allen said he believes his father warned one of the supervisors to keep his hands off him and that helped him through his residential school ordeal. The supervisor Allen’s father “introduced” him to was none other than Edward Fitzgerald.

In the 1990s, Fitzgerald was charged with 21 sex- and common-assault offences. He fled to the Republic of Ireland, a country that does not share an extradition treaty with Canada.

“I didn’t follow the conversation he had with Fitzgerald, but I imagine that it had something to do with ‘if you ever touch my son, I’m coming to get you,” said Allen.

Allen is now Instructor of Aboriginal Studies at the College of New Caledonia. His great-grandfather complained about the treatment of aboriginal children at Lejac. Allen was a “day parolee” at Lejac in that he got to go home every day, unlike most of the students.

“You can imagine how they felt when they saw one of the kids like me who got to home every day,” he said. “For them, I was going to what they left behind. I was going back to a home.”

He said he was bullied a lot and got into lots of fights because he got to leave the school every day.

“Teachers were ever-ready to strap us,” he said. “I remember getting the strap when I was six years old.”

Lejac Residential School was one of 130 residential schools that operated in Canada between 1874 and 1996. Lejac, located on the shore of Fraser Lake, was closed in 1976.

Orange Shirt Day originated in 2013 in Williams Lake and is about telling what surviving residential school means.

“It’s a story told by a residential school survivor who was forced to go (to St. Joseph’s near Williams Lake). when she was six years old between 1973-74,” said Stephanie Jack. “She was actually excited to go. She wanted to see her friends and many of her cousins.”

Her mother got her a brand new orange shirt to wear to school.

“But the nuns stripped her of it and wouldn’t give it back and she couldn’t understand why,” Jack said. “They treated her with contempt saying that she was impure, hedonistic, and they everything she ever learned was wrong.”

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools.

CNC Executive Director of Aboriginal Education Marlene Erickson speaks during Orange Shirt Day ceremonies. Bill Phillips photo

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