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An Indigenous woman tells her story: residential school, addiction, and learning to heal

Canadians are demanding answers after unmarked graves of Indigenous children were found on the grounds of a former residential boarding school in British Columbia. Similar schools existed across Canada and the U.S. aimed at “assimilating” Native peoples by removing them from their culture and language. Muriel Betsina, before her death in 2019, told her story of survival and healing after a harrowing childhood spent in a residential boarding school, recorded in partnership with the Global Reporting Centre as part of the series, "Turning Points."

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Canadians are demanding answers after unmarked graves of indigenous children were discovered last week on the grounds of a former residential boarding school in British Columbia.

    Similar schools existed across Canada and the united states with the intent of helping "assimilate" Native Americans by removing them from their culture and language. Children from local tribes were often forcibly removed from their homes, some never returned.

    We've been bringing you a series of stories from Yellowknife in Canada's northwest territories called "Turning Points"— personal accounts from members of the community on addiction and recovery.

    The stories were recorded over time in partnership with the Global Reporting Centre.

    One of those stories is from Muriel Betsina, who before her death in 2019, told her story of survival and healing after a harrowing childhood spent in a residential boarding school.

  • A caution:

    some of the subject matter may be disturbing.

  • Muriel Betsina:

    Once you learn to sew any kind of material you have no hardship. It gives you harmony of peace, joy – one stitch is like one day at a time (laughs).

    With my parents…oh my it was a gold mine. They were so, so kind and I always see my dad feeding other people. And all go hunting. We all share our meat. My mother was like that too. My mother always sewed for other people. Like this – what I have on the table here – she just puts it together and just gave.

    That's how I was brought up. And I always want my children to know that kind of life.

    This is where I do all my dried fish and dry meat.

    My mom taught us everything. Scraping caribou hide, moose hide. We lived this kind of life for many, many years.

    I really want the people to know because so many people don't really know who we are.

    When I was young I got kidnapped from home. A plane came around, gave a letter to my dad. My dad said, "I don't know how to read. I never went to school." But my uncle Maloo went to school.

    He said, "They come for Muriel and Alice."

    "What for?" My dad said. "I don't know. They have to go to residential school."

    I am doing a little bit of sewing. I thought I was going to do some sewing but I'd rather tell my story.

    Because I really feel there has to be healing somewhere.

    We lived in school for nine years. Yeah, that's when lots of tragedy happened to me. I just turned 14.

    I talk about it. I was so hurt.

    My fingers are all broken. They hit my finger ruler down.

    Because…I got rape…and uh… by a priest.

    That's where I learned to be who I was 40 years ago.

    I was no good. I was so mean to my children.

    I had dry drunk attitude. Do you know what dry drunk attitude is? You appear sober, yet you carry garbage addiction – like residential school addiction.

    Boy I tell you I had to go through so much mistakes, you know? But I found out who I was.

    I'm not an army commander mom. I started questioning myself. You're not a mean mother.

    We have to clean this garbage of residential school.

    Through my story there is a lot of healing. And I'm so happy about that. People listen.

    People have ears now. People have eyes now. They don't see garbage anymore. They only see positive.

    I want to have a family like my parents had. I want to have children – happy go lucky – laugh all the time.

    In my sobriety life I try to do that.

    But they say it takes five generations to get healed. I've got four generations.

    This one is really good. My great-grandchildren.

    They don't know nothing about any negative things. I know my fifth generation grandchildren, I know they're going to be very healthy. Yeah

  • Text on Screen:

    Muriel Betsina 1943 – 2019

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