This article describes the abuses suffered by children in residential schools that can be triggers. It mentions suicide and violence against children, including sexual, physical, mental and emotional abuse.
The things Tina Savea learned about her father after his death make her stronger today.
A proud man and decent father, Elton Keshane never spoke about his time at boarding school. Savea’s mother, Theresa Desnomie-Fiddler, and Keshane both attended Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Schools were just a part of life and more family members attended them than not.
“I didn’t know, I didn’t understand the real horrors that were going on in these schools,” Savea said.
The North Saanich resident spent most of her childhood in Keesekoose First Nation, where her father’s family is from.
Savea was visiting her mother in Saskatchewan on February 15 when the Keesekoose reported that ground-penetrating radar showed 54 potential graves at St. Philip’s and Fort Pelly, two former residential schools near Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Savea watched the announcement online with her mother by her side.
It was useful to be in his hometown to have a last visit with his grandfather, talk and share stories with aunts and his mother. “There’s strength in that, just being together.”
St. Philips was the day school Savea attended for much of her life and graduated from in 1997.
“I think that was a big thing for me…to realize that I was running all over that ground, that there were remains of children under our feet as we ran and played tag.”
The real impact of the schools hit Savea, like many others, once stories began to emerge from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While his father was among 6,500 witnesses who shared his experiences at boarding school, he did not share them with his family.
At the time, Keshane took his daughter aside and explained that he was going to a hearing to share his experiences and he didn’t want family there.
After the hearings, her life spiraled out of control.
“All his life he had pushed it down, hid it, and just done with it,” Savea said. They had no idea of his private battle.
Eight years ago, Elton Keshane overdosed, the addiction cost him his life.
After his death, Savea learned that he was among the children who suffered a myriad of abuses, including sexual ones, at boarding school.
At first, she was angry with everyone, including him.
But it painted a clearer picture of his father, who had good times but was also a troubled and broken man trying to stay together his whole life.
At her funeral, she made a decision. “I was going to be his voice. Be the voice of this little boy and share his truth.
About six years ago, she became a facilitator of Exercise Kairos Blanket, an experiential workshop that explores the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Blankets on the ground represent the land and participants are encouraged to take on the role of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
“I love doing this, but that’s partly because every time I do it, I’m sharing my dad’s story,” Savea said.
At first, she feared that Keshane, a private man, would not be happy. It’s a question she’s grappled with in private for years.
On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021, she was overwhelmed with the feeling that he was with her. She heard it in her soul and believes he is whole, happy and proud of her for giving the little boy a voice.
Continue the conversation
Already active with the Kairos Blanket exercise, Savea is working to get the community talking about important perspectives with a new Facebook page called All Things Indigenous – A Conversation.
“I feel like there’s a big wall…we just don’t understand each other.”
Savea suggests that the best resource for beginning to understand and truly commit to change is to find and read the 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.
“You can never fight hate with hate, it can only be done with love.”
Support for former residential school students and their family members is available by calling the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066.
Indigenous Peoples Residential Schools Saanich Peninsula