Clarence (Kat) Pennier during an Aevitas waste recycling plant protest by the Fraser River on Dec. 17, 2013. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Clarence (Kat) Pennier during an Aevitas waste recycling plant protest by the Fraser River on Dec. 17, 2013. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Stó:lō elder opens up about children found at residential school site in Kamloops

‘People suspected things like this happened, but there was never proof of it’

Clarence ‘Kat’ Pennier’s voice didn’t waver on the phone as he talked about Kamloops and the 215 children’s graves found on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. His voice didn’t crack with emotion and he didn’t choke up as he talked about his thoughts and feelings.

But make no mistake.

As a former student at Mission’s St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, married to a woman (Nancy) who was a student at that Kamloops school for 13 years, Pennier hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the unfolding tragedy.

The 76-year-old member of the Stó:lō Grand Chiefs has a lot to say. He just struggles to say it.

“Part of the reason I don’t get so emotional is because of the abuses I experienced in school — physical and mental and spiritual and sexual abuses,” Pennier said.

“One of the things we learned in (residential) school was not to show our emotions, which is the wrong thing to do. But they were very strict in there. If you didn’t get punished yourself, you saw other people being punished. You couldn’t say anything and that’s why it becomes a little harder for people to talk about things after they leave.”

Pennier said he went through plenty of therapy to get to the point where he could handle news like this without falling apart. For others who don’t go through counselling, “it hits them like a ton of bricks when they find out things like this.”

Pennier was in Kamloops Monday, at the site of the tragedy, as part of Nancy’s healing journey.

“She probably knew some of the ones that are in there,” he said. Several organizations are working with the Tk’emlups te Secwepmc to identify the remains, including the local museum and B.C. Coroners Service.

Pennier said it was part of the residential school experience for students to disappear, with fellow students left not knowing if the child ran away or how they died.

“People suspected things like this happened, but there was never proof of it. I think if they do the same at other residential schools they’ll probably find the same thing. Maybe not as large or to the same extent as this one, but they’ll probably find something.”

It’s one thing to know and acknowledge that bad things were done to Indigenous children at residential schools, but when you see graves in a poorly-tended field, or see 215 little pairs of shoes on the steps of a building, it makes it a little less abstract, Pennier said.

“Yesterday, after the ceremony to take the childrens’ spirits back to our territory was ended, we saw a lot of cars waiting to enter the school grounds. Many were already parked and a lot of people were sitting in the arbour which holds a lot of people. So there is good coming from this exposure,” Pennier said.

“What’s happening in Kamloops provides an opportunity for the people to learn about the history of this country regarding the treatment of our people, and how from an early time governments wanted to get rid of ‘the Indian problem.’ There is a lot of talk about ‘reconciliation,’ but people do not understand what needs to be done to make things better between our societies.”

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

Like us on

chilliwackIndigenousresidential schools

Just Posted

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Prince Charles Secondary School
School District 8 votes in favour of name change for Secondary School in Creston

In an act of reconciliation, a new name will be chosen for Prince Charles Secondary School

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
MP Morrison appointed to parliamentary national security committee

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian one of five candidates appointed to national security committee

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Most Read