Years Later, Healing Journey Continues for Quesnel Area St. Joseph Mission Survivors – Quesnel Cariboo Observer

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Lhoosk’uz Dene County Ella Stillas went to St. Joseph’s Mission for three years. On Tuesday, January 25, she joined the Lhtako Dene Nation for a day of healing and recognition for residential school survivors like her who attended St. Joseph’s Mission. (Photo by Rebecca Dyok)
A residential school survivor, Terry Boucher is a Family Support Worker with the Lhtako Dene Nation.  (Photo by Rebecca Dyok)A residential school survivor, Terry Boucher is a Family Support Worker with the Lhtako Dene Nation. (Photo by Rebecca Dyok)
School District 28 Indigenous Support Worker Karen Green (left) presented a poster signed by QJS students to the Lhtako Dene Nation on Tuesday, January 25 with QJS student Nevaeh Boyd, the Indigenous Support Worker Kassi Cunningham and QJS Director Trish Simpson.  (Photo by Rebecca Dyok)School District 28 Indigenous Support Worker Karen Green (left) presented a poster signed by QJS students to the Lhtako Dene Nation on Tuesday, January 25 with QJS student Nevaeh Boyd, the Indigenous Support Worker Kassi Cunningham and QJS Director Trish Simpson. (Photo by Rebecca Dyok)
A poster signed by students from Quesnel Junior School was recently donated to the Lhtako Dene Nation following the results of a preliminary investigation at St. Joseph's Mission boarding school, south of Williams Lake.  The visibly emotional Quesnel School District Indigenous Support Worker Karen Green said everyone was heartbroken.  (Photo by Rebecca Dyok)A poster signed by students from Quesnel Junior School was recently donated to the Lhtako Dene Nation following the results of a preliminary investigation at St. Joseph’s Mission boarding school, south of Williams Lake. The visibly emotional Quesnel School District Indigenous Support Worker Karen Green said everyone was heartbroken. (Photo by Rebecca Dyok)

Warning: The details of this announcement may be triggers. Supports are available from the Indian Residential School Survivor Society (IRSSS) at 1-800-721-0066.

The journey to healing never stopped for residential school survivors Liliane Squinas, Ella Stillas and Terry Boucher.

The three Dakelh women were surrounded by various supporters at the Lhtako Family Center near Quesnel on Tuesday, Jan. 25, after the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) released preliminary findings from the St. Joseph Mission investigation.

“I found the morning chiefs’ meeting much more difficult than the afternoon one, maybe because I heard it earlier,” said Squinas, chief of the Lhoosk’uz Dené Nation.

Squinas was one of several chiefs who attended a virtual closed-door meeting before the findings were publicly broadcast live Tuesday afternoon on Facebook.

“It’s proven very strong among all the leaders – we all have to worry about how our community is going to take it, and that’s why Lhtako and Lhoosk’uz Dené have been very successful in bringing in both l west and the traditional support mechanisms in place before this aired,” she said.

“You worry about your members, especially those who are still suffering in silence.”

Traditional healer Johnny Johnson was on hand to brush his teeth and a talking circle was held before people of all ages gathered at nearby Lhtako Hall to watch the afternoon lecture.

Preliminary investigation revealed 93 potential graves and a dark history of concealment and abuse.

Squinas attended St. Joseph’s Mission for 10 years and has yet to share his story with the WLFN investigation team, believing that priority should be given to older survivors who may be in poor health.

His uncle Lashaway Alec of Nazko attended St. Joseph’s Mission when it started out as an industrial school, as did his late mother.

Alec was able to share his story and record it. Squinas credited her maternal grandmother, who she described as a powerful matriarch, for keeping their family together and strong.

“Every day something triggers a bad memory, and you can’t bury it anymore,” she said.

“I swear we got used to doing this when we left boarding school. We weren’t allowed to talk about it, so you learned to bury it. So now that we’re older, we learn to deal with it every day.

Lhoosk’uz Dene County Ella Stillas’ eyes shone with tears from the preliminary geophysical results of the first phase of the survey.

She went to the St. Joseph Mission for three years.

“It hit me hard,” Stillas said. “It’s a life damaged by everything that’s happened.”

Stillas has been on his healing journey for about 30 years.

She quit drinking and went to a treatment center before working as a family counselor at Nenqayni Welfare Center for eight years.

“I keep trying to move forward no matter what, but sometimes it’s hard,” Stillas said.

She believes counselors should be available 24/7 for in-person services within the community.

“We don’t have anyone to fall back on to say, okay, I need to talk to someone to get that person there,” Stillas said.

“I think with COVID it also becomes difficult to reach people and you’re afraid to mingle with other people.”

Like Squinas, Lhtako Dene family support worker Terry Boucher also attended St. Joseph’s Mission south of Williams Lake for 10 years.

Boucher said there was a lot of physical and sexual abuse from priests and nuns.

After he left, she started drinking, trying to forget much of what had happened to her.

“When I started my healing, I was missing meetings,” Boucher said.

“I didn’t want to hear about it, and then I started to take it slow, slow, and start my healing journey.”

Boucher has been on her healing journey for several decades now and works to help families.

Although budgets are often tight for programming, Boucher said she applies for all proposals and they run various workshops.

“We’re trying to get our people out of alcohol, and we have band members who are addicted,” she said.

“The intergenerational trauma continues, but once you start to heal, things get better a little at a time.”

Monday mornings usually have sewing and throughout the week, money permitting, other activities such as basket and moccasin making and beadwork. A men’s landing net-making workshop was also held, and Boucher said they hoped to find someone to teach them how to make paddles, even though it’s like a lost art.

The Lhtako Dené Nation tries to hold at least two healing workshops throughout the year, often bringing healers like Johnson to their territory.

(Monica Lamb-Yorski’s Wiles Files)

Do you have anything to add to this story, or anything else we should report? E-mail: rebecca.dyok@quesnelobserver.com



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