Connie Walker: Before we begin we want to let you know there are references to violence and sexual abuse against children in this episode. Please take care while listening.
Connie: Previously on Stolen: Surviving St. Michael's.
Connie: I am just arriving in Duck Lake, and I'm on my way to meet my brother Hal.
Hal Cameron: My dad and I were pretty—we were pretty close.
Connie: My dad passed away, and the only way I can get to know him now is through these interviews and these conversations with people who knew him better than I did.
Connie: And what did he say happened?
Hal Cameron: He recognized him as being one of the priests that—and he said, "One of the priests that abused me in residential school."
Auntie Ivy: I don't remember the priest. Even to this day, they don't talk about what happened to them at residential school.
Auntie Leona: And stuff like that you just try and bury.
Connie: Did he tell you who the priest was, or anything about him?
Hal Cameron: No, he didn't. No. I've only just created this image in my head of what this person looks like. Big, intense eyes. You see people who have, like, just hate in their eyes? Like that.
Connie: 10 days after she turned 17, my mom woke up in the middle of the night. She didn't feel well. The pain and cramping in her abdomen was so intense it frightened her. She went into her parents' room and gently shook her mom awake. "Mom, I'm getting sick," she said. My grandma turned over and nudged my grandpa. "Dear, wake up. This girl is going to have her baby."
Connie: My grandpa woke up and went outside to start the car. It was a cold snowy night in late March. My mom and her dad drove the 20 minutes from our reserve to town in silence. He hadn't spoken to her since he found out she was pregnant. When they reached the hospital in the small town of Balcarres, my grandpa drove past the parking lot up to the brightly-lit entrance. The doors were locked, so my mom rang the buzzer and a nurse appeared. Once she was inside, my grandpa drove away.
Connie: My mom was alone in labor in a small room behind the nurses desk for 18 hours before I was born at 1:20 a.m. on March 25, 1979.
Connie: I have no idea where my dad was that night, but less than a mile away in a nondescript, one-storey building is a police station where he worked as a special constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Why wasn't my dad there on the night I was born? Did he know my mom was at the hospital? Did he visit us? Probably not, because even though he was only 24, my dad already had two kids—and he was married to someone else.
Connie: I don't know when he first saw me, and it's kind of a sensitive subject with my mom so we don't talk about it. But after hearing the story of my dad and the priest, and thinking more about my relationship with him, I want to know: did he hold me when I was a baby? Did he think that I looked like him? What did my dad think about me? I don't have any photos with him from when I was a kid. My parents' relationship was on and off throughout my childhood, and we moved around a lot. I remember bits of all these places, and bits of him, but I never remember hugging my dad, or him showing me any kind of affection. Did those things happen and I just forgot? Or is it that my bad memories of him have pushed the others out of my mind? And if I learn more about him, can I get any of those memories back? If I find out what happened to my dad, will it change the way I remember him?
Connie: I'm Connie Walker. From Gimlet Media and Spotify, this is Stolen: Surviving St. Michael's.
Connie: Where was this one taken, where you're smiling there?
Norlaine Cameron: That looks—well see, Dad would go to a lot of these elders' gatherings and stuff, eh?
Norlaine Cameron: And I'm pretty sure that's from one of them.
Connie: That's such a good picture.
Norlaine Cameron: Mm-hmm.
Connie: I'm in my brother Hal's house looking at a framed photo of my dad. The photographer caught him mid-laugh, and there are deep lines around his eyes and mouth. He looks so happy. Standing next to me is the person who probably knew my dad better than anyone, his wife Norlaine. This was their home before she passed it onto Hal.
Norlaine Cameron: I don't come back here too often, but it'll always be a part of home, right?
Norlaine Cameron: So this is where your siblings raised. This is where your dad lived. You know, so it'll always—and I'm glad that, you know, Hal took it over. I knew that he would—he wouldn't disturb anything that your dad had already set up, you know? But this boy's not much of a housekeeper, eh?
Connie: I love Norlaine. She's always been so warm and welcoming. And when she married my dad a few years after my Mom and I left, she embraced becoming a stepmom to all of my dad's kids. And they had four more together, including Hal. They raised them here in this house.
Connie: I saw the best of my dad in the 26 years he was with Norlaine. They were together until he passed away.
Connie: Yeah, so I was here with Hal yesterday for a couple hours, and then I went to Auntie Ivy's last night.
Norlaine Cameron: Oh, yeah?
Connie: And so it was nice to ...
Norlaine Cameron: Connect? Or even make those connections again?
Connie: Yeah, and remember as well.
Norlaine Cameron: Yeah. Yeah. So what are you working on? What are you—what are you doing? Like, what ...
Connie: Yeah. So I'm not sure yet. I guess just the first. That's the thing.
Connie: Before coming home, I messaged Norlaine and asked if she'd meet me for an interview. I told her I was thinking of doing a story about my dad. She and I hadn't talked in a few years, but she responded right away and said absolutely.
Connie: Then Hal shared that post about dad when he was an RCMP constable and pulling over that priest.
Norlaine Cameron: Mm-hmm.
Connie: And that was, like—that really hit me, you know? Because I never really thought about what his experience would be. I didn't know anything about it. I don't know anything about it. And in turn, I don't know how then it impacted him, and I don't know how then it impacted me.
Norlaine Cameron: Yeah. Ah, it's so important, you know? So important to know, to ask those questions and to get the whole story, right? You know? Because there's a reason why things happen the way they happen, right? And there's a reason why people are the way they are. Your dad was very affected by the residential school, you know? And I knew that—I knew that when I—you know, before we even, you know, got together, I knew that. I knew that his history kind of thing, eh?
Connie: How did you know that?
Norlaine Cameron: 'Cause I knew him from before.
Connie: Oh, really? Okay. How did you guys meet? How did you ...
Norlaine Cameron: I knew him from, like, playing ball and hockey, you know, like that. So I knew who your dad was, eh? And your dad was such a bug. Like, he was such a—you know, like, kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Connie: Norlaine says my dad asked her out. She turned him down a few times, but he was persistent.
Norlaine Cameron: And then one time he just, like, come and I was sitting in a restaurant in Duck Lake having fries and gravy. I remember that. And he come and sat down and I was like, you know, mad. You know, like, get away. And he just said, "I'm gonna ask you out one last time." He said, "You say no to me," he said, "I'll never bother you again. But how are you gonna know?" He said, "That's all I'm gonna say is how are you gonna know if you don't take a chance?" Yeah, ended up going on a date with him, and then there was another one. Then there was another date and like that, eh? And just ...
Connie: And then eventually you did like him?
Norlaine Cameron: Eventually I did, yeah. Well, fast forward, fast forward months, I'll say. And I wasn't sure, you know? I got to that point because I was seeing him drinking. Yeah, when he was—when he was drinking. And it was—it was a different Howard.
Norlaine Cameron: You know, than the one that swept me off my feet kind of thing, eh? We were good when he was like that, but he was different when he was drinking, eh? And that's not what I wanted, you know? I was having feelings, but yet I was scared because I knew his history.
Connie: Norlaine says she knew my dad was violent in his previous relationships.
Norlaine Cameron: But he never tried that with me.
Norlaine Cameron: You know, the physical part.
Connie: Really? No?
Norlaine Cameron: I asked him. I said, "How come, you know, you never beat me like that?" You know? And then he said—he said, "I lost two families by doing that." He said, "I didn't want to lose another family," you know? And he said he knew he had to stop that, you know?
Connie: Me and my mom and my two younger siblings were one of the families my dad lost. I was seven years old. We picked up and left in a day. We didn't even get to say goodbye. I didn't see him again until I was 14. This is the first time that I'm getting insight into what my dad felt, the first time I'm hearing of his regret.
Norlaine Cameron: Because your dad talked about that, you know? He hadn't—he hadn't seen you guys for years and years.
Norlaine Cameron: And I know it weighed on him, you know? But you guys were always talked about, you know, because you were part of the kids.
Norlaine Cameron: You know, like that, eh? age So our kids grew up knowing you guys.
Connie: If my dad missed us, I didn't know it. For me, it felt like seven years of silence.
Connie: I feel like I have a memory of him sitting on a chair like that, like a big kind of chair that was, like, rocking almost, eating a bag of radishes. Did he ever ...?
Norlaine Cameron: Oh yeah! Oh yeah! [laughs] Yeah, he ate those because he could just sit there with the bag of radishes and eat. Or a cucumber and salt. [laughs]
Connie: It's a small thing, this memory of my dad eating radishes out of a bag, but it feels significant because it's one of the few memories of him that I have. It feels like Norlaine is validating those impressions that I've held onto, and it's nice to be able to ask her more about my dad's life.
Connie: Do you know much about, like, dad's experience in the RCMP?
Norlaine Cameron: Wait, I'm gonna check this cabinet here, because he had his ...
Connie: Norlaine gets up and walks out to the porch to grab something to show me.
Norlaine Cameron: Somewhere in—maybe Hal put it in ...
Connie: Oh, wow.!
Norlaine Cameron: 'Cause he had—his badge was here. But his badge ...
Connie: There's a wooden cabinet there with glass doors, where she's kept a lot of my dad's RCMP stuff. She digs out an old beer mug engraved with some dates.
Norlaine Cameron: See, look: your dad was right here. He was in Balcarres first, I think, eh? And then Shellbrook.
Connie: Okay. Okay.
Norlaine Cameron: Yeah.
Connie: What does that cup say? H.J. Cameron.
Norlaine Cameron: From '78 to '79. So this was when he was in Shellbrook.
Connie: I'm surprised to find out that my dad was only an officer for a brief time. He joined the RCMP in 1977 and left in 1979. So there's just a two-year window when he could've pulled over the priest. And there are only two places where it could have happened. Norlaine tells me he was first stationed in Balcarres, and before I was born, he transferred to Shellbrook, and was there until he left the force.
Connie: Okay. So do you think that's where, like, he pulled over that priest?
Norlaine Cameron: I think so.
Norlaine Cameron: 'Cause it would've been because that would have been a priest from the surrounding area, I would think, right?
Norlaine Cameron: Yeah.
Connie: Shellbrook is only about 30 minutes away from Duck Lake, so Norlaine thinks maybe my dad pulled over a priest who lived nearby.
Connie: Did he ever say who it was?
Norlaine Cameron: Mm-mm.
Norlaine Cameron: No.
Connie: Did you ever hear the names of any of—anybody from ...
Norlaine Cameron: I've never heard him mention, like, names of, you know, priests or whatever that, but I knew he had stories.
Connie: Norlaine and my dad were together for decades. Despite their closeness, she says my dad rarely talked about residential school.
Norlaine Cameron: He didn't really talk a lot about the experiences but, you know, it wasn't very good. You know, he was abused. You know, he was abused physically. He was abused, like, sexually. That part he never really talked about, but I know it happened 'cause he told me it happened. Didn't go into detail. That's all I wanted to know. But it made me understand, you know, better.
Connie: Yeah. I want to try to find—I mean, I don't know if I'll be able to, but I want to try to find out who that priest was.
Norlaine Cameron: Yeah.
Connie: And I want to find out, or try to find out, like, if he was ever—if we could find out who it was, like, if he was ever held accountable for anything that happened.
Norlaine Cameron: Yeah. You know, have you talked to Auntie Margaret?
Norlaine Cameron: She would know, because I'm—your dad talked to her, like, about everything.
Norlaine Cameron: If she doesn't know, then Uncle Harris or Uncle Dodgie would know. He was very close with those and he shared a lot with them too.
Connie: When I tell her that I want to try to find the priest, it's the first time that I'm saying it aloud to someone in my family. Finding the person who did this feels important to me. I don't know what will happen if I do, but maybe it's a chance at getting some kind of accountability.
Connie: Norlaine encourages me to keep going, to talk to my dad's brothers and sisters. I want to ask them about their memories of my dad, about what happened in residential school. And ask if they've heard the story of my dad pulling over the priest. Maybe they even know who he is.
Auntie Margaret: You might have to talk a little louder than normal.
Connie: Okay. Yeah, I'm fine with that.
Auntie Margaret: I'm—I think I'm losing my hearing.
Connie: Oh, really?
Auntie Margaret: Not that much, but a lot ...
Connie: That's my Auntie Margaret. At 76, she's the oldest Cameron and the most traditional. Before I turned on my microphone, I gave her a pouch of tobacco, and she said a prayer in Cree.
Connie: Can you introduce yourself in Cree?
Auntie Margaret: Oh!
Auntie Margaret: [speaking in Cree] I didn't even know what my name was 'til I went to the residence.
Connie: Really? What did they call you at home before that?
Auntie Margaret: Ntawnis.
Auntie Margaret: Yeah.
Connie: And that means "daughter?"
Auntie Margaret: Yeah.
Connie: Oh! Ntawnis.
Auntie Margaret: Yeah. 'Cause I was the only girl in the Cameron family for a while, for a long time.
Connie: Did my dad have a nickname in Cree?
Auntie Margaret: Tikinê.
Connie: Tikinê? What does that mean?
Auntie Margaret: Crazy one.
Auntie Margaret: [laughs] He played ball. He played hockey. And anything he needed I used to supply it. He was crazy.
Connie: My Auntie Margaret is 10 years older than my dad, and she helped raise him.
Auntie Margaret: Him and I understood each other, and he'd come and sit in the kitchen. Yeah. And we were able to talk to each other.
Connie: Mm-hmm. My brother Hal, he shared a post about ...
Connie: I ask her if she's heard about my dad pulling over the priest.
Connie: ... and the person who was the driver was a priest from the residential school who had abused him.
Auntie Margaret: Oh!
Connie: And he told Hal that he—he beat him up.
Auntie Margaret: Oh! Huh.
Connie: Yeah. Did you ever hear about that?
Auntie Margaret: No. Never heard about it.
Connie: So my Auntie Margaret doesn't know the story. But Norlaine also said to ask my Uncle George—or "Dodgie," as my family calls him.
Connie: Did you know that story?
Uncle George: Yeah. He's told me that, yeah.
Connie: Really? What did he tell you that happened?
Uncle George: Well, you know I think the rage came out of him, eh? Because of the straps and the lickings and stuff, eh? And being in the position that he was in, eh? So he kind of had the upper hand, whereas in residence, the priest had the upper hand, eh?
Connie: Yeah. Did my dad tell you which priest that was that he'd beat up?
Uncle George: No.
Connie: My Uncle George is a year older than my dad. When we lived in Beardy's, I remember we spent a lot of time with him. He and my dad were close.
Uncle George: He was rough and tumble. [laughs] Yeah, drinking and stuff and playing ball and hockey, and I did that too, you know?
Connie: I have so many memories of being at the ball diamond as a kid, hanging around while my uncles played. And then after the game seeing them all sitting around the dugout with a case of beer. Sometimes the post-game drinks turned into a weekend-long bender. My dad did that, too. And when he drank, he sometimes turned violent.
Uncle George: He was a harsh, harsh individual. Your mom will attest to that. Probably has attested to that.
Connie: My mom told me that one time, she took me to my Uncle George's house when my dad was being abusive. My dad followed us there, but my Uncle George went outside and told him to leave, to go sober up. My mom was grateful when he listened to him. I didn't realize that my dad's family knew how abusive he was, and they not only witnessed it but maybe understood it because they knew where it came from.
Auntie Lorraine: But yeah, your dad would have been strict too.
Connie: He was very strict.
Auntie Lorraine: Yeah.
Uncle Bill: And mean. Short fuse. Oh, man. Get mad at [snaps fingers] like that.
Connie: That's my Uncle Bill and his wife my Auntie Lorraine. My Uncle Bill is my dad's oldest brother. He's 75. When I visit with them, my Auntie Lorraine has cooked dinner: ribs and rice.
Uncle Bill: Help yourself there, Connie.
Connie: Thank you so much! This is so nice!
Connie: As we eat, my Auntie Lorraine tells me that it wasn't just my dad—all the Cameron men were stern. She points to my Uncle Bill.
Auntie Lorraine: When we were—we'd sit around the table here and have supper with our kids, he used to be so strict with those kids. "You finish what's on your plate."
Uncle Bill: Don't drink while you're eating.
Auntie Lorraine: "Don't drink while you're eating."
Connie: No elbows on the table?
Auntie Lorraine: Being overly strict with the kids, with our kids.
Connie: I feel like that's how my dad was when I was a kid. It was like you had to, like—you had to be really careful about how you were ...
Uncle Bill: You couldn't—you couldn't sit like this.
Auntie Lorraine: They're all the same.
Connie: My Uncle Bill is so different now, but I know exactly what my Auntie is describing. Meals with my dad were also tense. No elbows on the table. Hold your fork properly. Eat all the food on your plate. And now as I'm sitting across from my dad's brothers, I'm struck by how much they look like him and sound like him. And that so many of the things I remember about my dad from childhood, their kids would have gone through too.
Connie: My uncle George tells me they still live with regret about the fathers they were to us.
Uncle George: Your dad was not the nicest guy, you know? He had a lot of issues that he had to deal with. Just like me, I guess. I had a hell of a time expressing love.
Uncle George: And it's only in the last that I was able to say to my kids "I love you." To my grandkids. But with my first wife, there was a disconnect there. And that's the same thing I think your dad went through. We had to be tough, I guess, really. That's what we—not to be—not to show that we were broken, really, I guess.
Connie: Was that from the residence and from those experiences?
Uncle George: Yeah. Yeah. Like in residence, boom! You know, you get the strap. So you learn to just take it, eh? Mentally I guess, it toughened you up to the point that it broke you inside.
Connie: Coming to talk to my dad's siblings about him has reminded them of their own experiences at residential school, which I know is difficult. When I spoke with my Auntie Ivy and Auntie Leona, they made it clear that they never really talked about what happened there.
This silence is part of my family's history on both sides, and it goes all the way back to my grandfather—my mom's dad.
Connie: In university, I took an Indian studies class, and one of my assignments was to interview a family member to record their oral history. I decided to interview my grandpa, the one who was mad at my mom for getting pregnant with me. We ended up being extremely close, and in many ways, he was a father figure to me.
Connie: When I was a kid, my grandpa was my bus driver, and then when he got older, I drove him around. We spent so much time together, but it wasn't until I was interviewing him for my class assignment that he told me that he went to a residential school when he was six years old. He told me how, when he was a kid, he was also really close to his grandfather, and that he died while he was in residential school. My grandpa remembered that he wasn't allowed to go home for his funeral, and that he cried underneath a staircase. I don't think he'd ever told anyone about that before, and if I hadn't had this assignment, even that story would have gone with him when he passed.
Connie: I wish I could go back and talk to him again, that I would have taken the time to learn more when I had the chance. I never talked to my dad about residential school either, but now, I feel like I do have a chance to not let the questions go unasked, even if my dad isn't here to answer them. There's still time to learn the truth from his siblings. Like me, they knew him at his darkest moments, but they also know what came before.
Auntie Margaret: We all grew up at the residence. I entered something like kindergarten, and I stayed there 'til I was 16. But boy, did I ever miss my family.
Connie: All of the Cameron kids went to the St. Michael's Indian Residential School. My uncle Bill says that when he started, it was the only place for kids from the reserve to go to school.
Connie: Do you remember?
Uncle Bill: Going there? Yeah. Vividly.
Uncle Bill: We went by horse and buggy.
Connie: Wow. How did you feel?
Uncle Bill: Lonely. Your whole family structure is taken away, you know? It was tough.
Auntie Margaret: There was a lot of loneliness. But we didn't complain. We never questioned.
Uncle George: I entered residential school at five years old, and then it was five months before I seen my mom and dad for Christmas. And then it was six more months before we would see them again.
Connie: I want to know what it was like for my dad and my aunties and uncles at St. Michael's, and I'm listening for any kind of insight into the priests who ran the school. The longer we sit and talk, the more they share.
Uncle Bill: The slop they used to give us to eat. Unbelievable. And I said I wouldn't even give it to my dog.
Auntie Lorraine: Then after classes were over, they were supposedly supposed to have been given a snack.
Uncle Bill: Yeah.
Auntie Lorraine: And it was apple peels or breadcrumbs. And then they'd throw it on the floor to them.
Auntie Lorraine: Just like a bunch of little animals. And he said, "And if you weren't quick enough then you went without a snack."
Connie: How old would you have been?
Uncle Bill: Started when I was six years old.
Connie: Oh, my gosh!
Connie: The image of kids scrambling on the floor fighting over scraps of food is horrific. And it hurts to think of my aunties and uncles and my dad as those hungry children.
Connie: What were—what were the punishments, if you ...
Uncle Bill: Strap.
Auntie Lorraine: Strap. The nun used to have a strap hanging from underneath her apron.
Connie: I think of what my uncle George said—that the rage came out in my dad when he confronted the priest that night. Rage caused by the straps and lickings and abuse at residential school. It makes me think of how I imagine the night he pulled over the priest, about how when my dad realized who he was looking at, he lost control. And it wasn't just my dad whose trauma from residential school stayed with him his whole life—it was all of them.
Connie: My Auntie Margaret tells me a story about a time at St. Michael's when she was accused of trying to run away. She says the priests and nuns gathered all of the girls in the playroom.
Auntie Margaret: And they were all put in a circle. We used to sit on benches, but they put a bench by the door—doorway. And one nun took my—we used to wear bloomers. She pulled it down, laid me on the bench, and she beckoned to the priest. And he came and he whipped me with the—with the belt, about that wide. Sometimes it's hard to talk about it.
Auntie Margaret: I blocked it out for years and years. Then one day I remembered it. And at that time when I was being beaten, I don't know if I cried. But when they came back to me, I cried and cried and cried.
Connie: How do you feel talking about it now? Are you—are you feeling okay?
Auntie Margaret: Mm-hmm. Yeah. The one that had beat me, his name was Father Duhaime.
Connie: My Auntie Margaret says this happened to her more than 60 years ago, and she still clearly remembers that priest—Father Duhaime. Hearing the name of a priest is a reminder that the abuse my family endured wasn't at the hands of some institution—people carried out this abuse against the children they were supposed to take care of.
Uncle Bill: That stuff we had to go through as kids, it's unbelievable. I wouldn't even consider my grandchildren going through that.
Uncle Bill: Like, put your daughter in there.
Connie: No, I can't even imagine.
Connie: My daughter is 10 years old, and hasn't been away from us for more than a night or two in her entire life. I don't even want to think about her having to go to a residential school. Then my Uncle Bill and Auntie Lorraine tell me that one of my dad's brothers was sent away even before he had to go to St. Michael's.
Auntie Lorraine: Uncle Ivan, something happened to him.
Uncle Bill: He was at Fort San from three years old.
Connie: Really? Oh my God!
Connie: They say my Uncle Ivan got tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium four hours away. At just three years old, he had to stay there by himself.
Uncle Bill: They'd go and visit him, but he didn't know.
Auntie Lorraine: That they were his parents.
Uncle Bill: They were his parents.
Connie: They say that he forgot how to speak Cree, and that when he got home two years later, he didn't recognize his own family.
Uncle Bill: Yeah. Like Ivan was a stranger, you know?
Auntie Lorraine: He didn't know anybody.
Uncle Bill: Didn't know anybody. I think he had a tougher than anybody else.
Connie: Because then he would have had to come home and then go to residential school.
Auntie Lorraine: Yeah.
Uncle Bill: Yeah.
Auntie Lorraine: And he's the one that said he got really, really bad treatment at the residence. He was sexually abused by a priest.
Connie: Oh no!
Auntie Lorraine: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Connie: Did he say which priest?
Auntie Lorraine: Was it Gauthier?
Uncle Bill: Gauthier.
Auntie Lorraine: Father Gauthier. G-A-U-T-H-I-E-R. Is that ...?
Uncle Bill: I-E-R. Yeah.
Auntie Lorraine: What was his first name? Father Gilles? Gilles Gauthier?
Uncle Bill: No, I don't know.
Auntie Lorraine: I forget.
Uncle Bill: I don't care.
Connie: My dad wasn't the only one in his family who was sexually abused by a priest. His younger brother, my uncle Ivan, was also abused at the same school. I'm left with the same feeling I had when I first heard the story about my dad and the priest, like I can't look away. I have to do something. I'm here as a daughter and a niece, but also as a journalist. And now I know the names of two priests who were alleged abusers at St. Michael's: Father Gauthier, who my Uncle Ivan accused, and Father Duhaime, who my Auntie Margaret accused. Were they at the school at the same time as my dad? Did one of them abuse him?
Connie: Okay. I'm just arriving at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. And I'm here to look at the Oblates records for St. Michael's.
Connie: Father Gauthier and Father Duhaime were members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, an order of Catholic priests. The Oblates ran 48 of Canada's residential schools, including St. Michael's. Historically, they've kept their residential school records private, but survivors have been fighting for transparency from the church and government for decades. In recent years, the Oblates pledged to be more open about their role in the residential school system. They say they're working to ensure their records are available to survivors, their communities and families. In 2018, the Oblates gave hundreds of thousands of pages of their records to the Provincial Archives in Alberta, making them accessible to the public. That's where I am now.
Connie: They said that I can record, so I'm rolling.
Connie: Before coming here, I requested 21 boxes of records. The archivist wheels them over on a big cart, and I see just how many there are. Each box is filled with file folders, which are filled with pages and pages of documents. I know that I can't read all of this in one day, so my plan is to take as many photos as I can and look through them later.
Connie: It's like a time capsule of what went into the day-to-day running of a residential school. I'm looking at attendance records for over a hundred years at St. Michael's. I see family names that I recognize from Beardy's: Gardipy. Seesequasis, Eyaphaise and Gamble. The federal government paid the Oblates for every student that was in their care, so the priests kept extensive records. But there's no mention of neglect, hungry children, straps or abuse. The horrors of residential school that I heard from my aunties and uncles aren't reflected in these pages. But I find their names written on attendance sheets: Ivan, Ivy, George, Margaret, Bill. And finally, I see my dad's name.
Connie: Oh my God.
Connie: Howard Cameron. With a number next to it—829. It's on an enrollment form dated May 5, 1961. He was six years old. It's heartbreaking to think of him being so small when he was sent to the school. And I can't help but wonder how long after he arrived did the priest abuse him?
Connie: My dad was at St. Michael's for the 1961-62 school year, and then he seems to have left. By then, other schools had opened up nearby that weren't residential schools. I find my dad's name back on the St. Michael's attendance records from 1967 to 1968. And then when he was 13, he transferred to Lebret, another residential school run by the Oblates a few hours away. He was there for a year and a half.
Connie: I asked my uncles if they thought the priest could be from Lebret, but they said they were treated much better there. And one of my uncles said that my dad told him the priest he pulled over was from St. Michael's.
Connie: The records show my dad overlapped with eight priests during the time he was there, including the two my family named: Father Duhaime and Father Gauthier. They were listed as the principal and vice principal in 1968 when my dad was there too. Before coming here, I asked if they had any files on Gauthier and Duhaime. The archivist told me there are personnel files for each of them, but that the Oblates won't allow those to be released until 50 years after a priest's death, for privacy reasons. For 50 years, whatever is inside of them will remain a secret.
Connie: Instead, the archivist hands me two manila folders—one for Gauthier and one for Duhaime. They're filled with personal photos and mementos collected by the Oblates and given to the archives.
Connie: Okay, this folder says "Gauthier, Father Gilles, OMI."
Connie: What's inside looks like the contents of a drawer in someone's desk—postcards, photos and keepsakes. Father Gauthier has a lot of photos of himself, and most of them look like professional portraits or headshots. In one of them, he's wearing chaps and leather gloves with a bandanna tied around his neck. And he's holding a Stetson hat.
Connie: Looks like he's in a play, playing a cowboy. Oh my God, what is that a picture of? Him walking down the street giving a piggyback to a native kid? That's weird.
Connie: The picture looks like it was taken in the 1970s. Gauthier's smiling at the camera. He's not wearing a priest's collar, but has a large silver cross dangling from his neck. And on his back is a teenage boy. He looks Indigenous. I find it kind of disturbing. It's a priest who has been accused of sexually abusing a boy giving another boy a piggyback ride. But it doesn't compare to what I find in Father Duhaime's folder.
Connie: This is—it says Father Antonio Duhaime.
Connie: Father Duhaime's folder looks a lot like Gauthier's, except he's kept this sheet of negatives. I can't quite make out what I'm seeing, so I hold them up to the light.
Connie: But it looks like there's, like, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven of them getting dressed or getting undressed, including one guy who looks like he's in his underwear.
Connie: There are two photos of teenage boys changing in a locker room.
Connie: Oh my God. One guy looks like he's completely naked in this picture. But why would he take pictures of them undressing?
Connie: There's not a single mention of abuse at St. Michael's in these archives, but there is this picture of a naked boy in a priest's file. These are the records the Oblates were okay to release to the public, and even though I set out to find an abusive priest, I'm surprised to see something so explicit sitting right here in one of their files.
Connie: The records I found today show that Father Gauthier and Father Duhaime—both alleged abusers—were at the school at the same time as my dad. They knew him, and he knew them.
Connie: Next time on Stolen: Surviving St Michael's.
Connie: I've been trying to find out who that was, you know?
Eugene Arcand: You don't want to, Connie.
Eugene Arcand: No. Why?
Connie: Well, because I feel like a big part of my understanding of residential schools ...
Eugene Arcand: Because I think I know who it is, but you know, it's not—I'm not gonna say it on this thing.
Connie: Stolen: Surviving St Michael's is a Gimlet Media and Spotify original production. The show is hosted and reported by me, Connie Walker. Additional reporting by Betty Ann Adam. Producing and reporting by Chantelle Bellrichard, Max Green and Anya Schultz. Our supervising producer is Ellen Frankman. Our editor is Devon Taylor. Our consulting editor is Heather Evans.
Connie: Additional editorial support from Lydia Polgreen, Reyhan Harmanci, Jonathan Goldstein and Saidu Tejan-Thomas. Fact checking by Naomi Barr.
Connie: Original music by Emma Munger, Cris Derksen and Raymond Cameron. Scoring, sound design and mixing by Emma Munger. Music supervision by Liz Fulton.
Connie: Legal support from Iris Fischer, Nathalie Russell, Whitney Potter and Rachel Strom.
Connie: If you have information that you'd like to share about St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, you can write to us at: stolen(@)spotify.com. If you are a survivor or intergenerational survivor of Canada's residential school system and you need help, there's a 24-hour support line you can call: 1-866-925-4419. And if you or someone you know is dealing with physical or sexual violence, you can find resources in your area by going to Spotify.com/stolen.
Connie: Thank you for listening.