VIFF 2012: We Were Children depicts residential school stories

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Lyna Hart was just four years old when she was sent to the Guy Hill Residential School in Manitoba.

She was one of over 150,000 aboriginal students in Canada that were legally required to attend similar church-run schools across the country.

It wasn’t until decades later, when Hart was in her fifties, that she shared her story about her time there.

Like other accounts from resident school survivors, Hart’s experience included severe trauma. Her memories of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse she says she faced at the school form the basis of We Were Children, a new documentary premiering at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

According to director Tim Wolochatiuk, the filmmakers chose to depict Hart’s story, along with former residential school student Glen Anaquod's account of his experience, to illustrate the situation many students faced at the facilities.

“How do you tell a story that stands 130 years and deals with over 150,000 children,” Wolochatiuk said in a phone interview with the Straight. “So obviously we’re looking at two, and the stories are going to specific to Lyna and Glen’s experiences, but there are things in the film…that I think apply to all survivors.”

The film, which was produced by Kyle Irving for Eagle Vision Inc. and David Christensen for the National Film Board, alternates between interview clips with Hart and Anaquod and powerful dramatizations of their stories.

“The re-enactments I think serve to take the audience to places where a documentary wouldn’t be able to take you,” explained Wolochatiuk.

While the documentary depicts Hart and Anaquod’s recollections in heartbreaking detail, audiences are not shown some of the most brutal accounts of abuse. Wolochatiuk noted that some of those most traumatic stories were left to the viewer to imagine.

“I think our own imaginations are often more powerful and sometimes frightening than what I could conjure up through the lens of a camera,” he said.

Hart, now 58, said prior to sharing her experience with the filmmakers, she hadn’t told the full story of her time there to anyone else.

The sharing of that story, she told the Straight in a phone interview, is what she views as a crucial step in her healing process. She’s hoping that by talking about her experience, she’ll inspire other residential school survivors to take the same step.

She also wants Canadians to get a sense of what many First Nations students faced at the schools.

“They hear all these stories and they tell us to get over it,” she said. “But when they actually see it, it’ll have an impact on them. They will finally know what happened to us.”

Wolochatiuk acknowledged that prior to making the film, he knew very little about the schools. In June 2008, the federal government issued a formal apology to residential school survivors, calling the treatment of children in the schools a “sad chapter” in Canadian history.

“I knew somewhat about Indian Residential Schools, but it was really sort of cursory overview, and as we got into the research portion of the film I learned an awful lot,” Wolochatiuk recalled. “And I was shocked to be honest. I was…embarrassed that I didn’t know about this. Why wasn’t I taught about this in school? And I certainly wasn’t.”

Wolochatiuk indicated he’s hoping the film will be an eye-opener for those that haven’t learned much about the schools, and that it can also be used as an educational tool for Canadian students.

“Hopefully our film is a good jumping off point to get people interested and want to learn more about Indian Residential Schools and more importantly the impact that is still felt from the schools today by so many survivors, and the relatives of survivors,” he said. “The impact of these schools is still felt in so many communities today, sadly.”

We Were Children screens tonight (October 2) at 9:15 p.m. at Empire Granville 7 Cinemas Theatre #4, and on October 3 at 10:45 am at Pacific Cinémathèque.

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Margaret
The sadness I feel for these children is profound. The anger I feel at the Caucasion Canadian Government for insisting on this attendance is profound.. The shame I feel for the current neglect of those who need to recover is profound. How can weever be forgiven?
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Wanda
Yes it is very sad and horrific that this took place for generations of oppression and genocide of First Nations of not only Canada but around the globe. I agree when they say people should be more educated more exposure of Residential school. I mean think about it especially if you have children; how would you like it if a stranger literally ripped your 4 year old child/children out of your arms and you were not to see you children for months maybe years, and you had no choice. This is sad history of Canadian Government and the church.
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elizabeth Dell
Just saw this film the morning and I am still "recovering" from the horror...it has totally altered my view of our country.Every Canadian ought to see this film and especially those of us who consider that we are Christian.This has shown me that the Religions have also
given the complete opposite view of who Jesus really is...simply a nightmare to realize that so many of Our Native Brothers and Sisters have had to endure such horror...help us to make it Right...
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Niel Braun
l just saw the "we were children" on T.V. How a church priest or anyone else could do this is horrifying. l do believe that this sort of thing still goes on in many places.(in Canada). We should be ashamed of our gov't.,for turning a blind eye to the obvious,even today. There is, was and never will be, a forgiveness for this. They were CHILDREN for God's sakes
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stefany simeon
When i saw this film and i was like "wow" i am more mad and sad at the same time. when my grandmothers and Grandfathers told me stories about their stay there it was always them working. working on the farm for the boys, stitching clothin for the girls. when i heard that there was fighting amoung the children and bulllies were formed i thought "where were the teachers?" didnt they see this?? and when i saw the film i understood they didnt give a dang... our ancestors have been through hell on earth. not only on residental schools but also when they were fighting for the lands.. lands that does not belong to anyone to begin with. i wonder what is in store for them when they die. hope they get what they deserve. no wonder we have become such anger people. we dont even trust each other because of all the things we went through.. to move forward we must thank our ancentors for being so strong and worthy.
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bert hilts
first I want to say to lyna hart and all the children who suffered im deeply sorry I know what you went through I to was taken away as a child 11 years old and put in a reform school and we to suffered the same things yous had to suffer me I still keep inside what happened to me as no one seems to care I tried talking to the government but to deaf ears I hope you find peace
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katrina
I can not believe how much pain those children went through I watched the movie but I also today attended
An assembly at my daughters school they attend an aboriginal school in Alberta and the archbishop was there today to read an apology letter for what they have done in the past to all of those who were sent to the residential schools and if you ask me I think we need more then a apology
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Juliette Moore (LeBlanc
My parents separated when I was in grade one and we went to the Oconnell Institute in Edmonton Alberta where we were treated the same way as this story and we were not native aboriginal we were little French catholic girls. We suffered the same types of horror in the nuns and priests hands. The only sexual abuse I seen was when I went downstairs one rainy day and caught the priest laying on top of a sixteen year old orphan and didn't realize the significance of this until I was older and finally one day our mother came to visit and found strap marks on my older sisters back from being beaten and the next day my Dad came to pick us up but no one ever said any thing about this we just lived our lives being happy to be out of this environment. Just think of those who didn't have this choice so they were left to suffer. My oh my what a world we live in. There have been many other instances we Canadians should not be proud of and another example is how we treated the Japanese Population during the war. I did not even know this part of our history although I had lived the other part until I was in my thirties. I went to finish my schooling and this was one of the books of our history that one of my teachers suggest the class read. I became immersed in this tale and read every thing I could find on documentaries and books written by the victims of this holocaust because I could relate so well to this story. My mother was so ashamed for making this decision to have us five little girls go to this convent after she found out about the abuse she would not talk of nor was she comfortable when we spoke of this part of our lives.
As adults we spoke often to our children and to each other of the things we had endured at the mercy of these so called people of God and I have finally come to terms with this part of my life and you know the old saying " What doesn't Kill you will make you stronger"
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bakersil
thats so sad
your such a strong women
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