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

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The Binche Fishing Derby at Stuart Lake is fast approaching. (Binche Fishing Derby Facebook photo)
Binche shares excitement for upcoming fishing derby

“It’s more than just fishing,” says Dave Birdi

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Local youth vaccination clinics underway

Pfizer vaccine will be used

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Most Read