Connie Walker: Before we begin, we want to let you know that this episode contains descriptions of violence and sexual abuse against children. Please take care while listening.
Connie: Previously on Stolen: Surviving St. Michael's.
Hal Cameron: Like, Dad and I, we were pretty—we were pretty close, so I remember lots of, like, doing things with him and, like, him taking me to go sweet grass picking.
Lorraine Cameron: Uncle Ivan, he's the one that said he got really, really bad treatment at the residence.
Bill Cameron: I think he had it tougher than anybody else.
Winston Walkingbear: I'd literally drive to Duck Lake, St. Michael's. And then I stand there looking at it. Oh, man. And I don't know, that anger came from I don't know where. I'd be just cursing away at it. Why? What have you done to our—the generations ahead of me? And the ones after me?
Eugene Arcand: We've got to help fix this, but we got to help fix it with Indigenous thinking, Indigenous ceremony, Indigenous language. You have it. You gotta find it. It's in you. It's in all of us.
Connie: I started this journey a little lost, not quite sure where I was going. When I came home to Beardy's last August, I arrived at my dad's house with so many questions about him and our relationship.
Connie: I only had a few fuzzy memories of him from growing up, and I didn't really know how his story affected mine. I had no idea where this reporting would take me, how deep into my dad's past I would go, and what I would unearth along the way. And I never thought I would get to see my dad again at his house on Constable Cameron Road.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: What she wanted, nine times out of 10 she got. Academically, she was—she was smart.]
Connie: This is my dad talking about my late sister Robin.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: Played along with her brothers in all sports, in road hockey and soccer, and she battled with them, got her bumps and bruises, but never quit.]
Connie: It's footage I've never seen until now, from a series called Chaos & Courage. It was filmed at his house in 2012. He's sitting in his yard, not far from where I sat with Hal last summer, surrounded by big tall birch trees. And he's remembering his late daughter Robin. The road his house sits on is named after her.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: Howard: I asked her. I said, "My girl," I said, "What influenced you to join the RCMP?" She said, "Dad, I used to see you put your uniform on and go to work. And that's what I wanted to do." I was proud and happy, but yet in the back of my mind, I kind of said to myself, "Oh, man," you know?]
Connie: Watching him on tape is both familiar and foreign. It's so nice to see him looking strong and healthy, and to hear him talk, he sounds like I remember him—firm and certain. But there is a vulnerability in his voice that feels less familiar. You can hear how much he loved Robin, how proud he was that, like him, she joined the RCMP.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: She had some tough days in depot training. A few times she phoned and said "Dad, you know, I don't know. I don't know if I could—I can make it." I told her, I said, "My girl," I said, "This is what you wanted. Why quit now?"]
Connie: I love the way he calls her "My girl." You can tell by the way he talks about her that they were close. Robin was his first-born daughter from his first marriage. Norlaine told me that Robin stood up to my dad, that he was stubborn, but she was too. She spoke her mind and didn't back down from him.
Connie: In this interview, my dad says he talked to Robin every night before she went out on a shift.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: That became a kind of routine that we had set up, and then that July the 7th, I missed her call. The answering machine took her call telling us that she was going to work and I'll call you later. And that was the last time that—that I actually heard her voice.]
Connie: Robin and her partner were shot that night while on duty responding to a domestic violence call. Norlaine remembers getting woken up in the middle of the night.
Norlaine Cameron: We were sleeping already, you know? And then Hal's knocking on our bedroom door. He said, "Dad," he said, "There's a cop here." And of course, Dad just jumps up, eh? Right away. Just jumps up. And it was a sergeant from Rosthern. And your dad knew. He said because they don't send the sergeant, you know? They don't send a sergeant for just any old thing. And that sergeant told him what had happened, and Dad said, "Holy shit!" He said, "Okay." He said to that cop, he said "You're gonna take me."
Connie: They raced to the hospital, and waited for news about Robin's condition.
Norlaine Cameron: Finally we got called into this little conference room there, and we're sitting there and—and then they tell us, you know, that both of them sustained head shots. And ...
Connie: That was the first time he knew she was shot in the head?
Norlaine Cameron: Yeah. They didn't know, you know, yet, you know, the extent or whatever.
Connie: But he knew what that meant.
Norlaine Cameron: He absolutely knew what that meant. And—and we went into—we walked into the hallway, and he just kind of fell against the wall and just slid right down, eh? And he just—like, he just looked up at me and he said, "My baby's gonna die."
Connie: When I got to the hospital, the whole Cameron family was there. There were dozens of us. We spent days there, in the waiting room, the cafeteria and on the patches of grass outside the hospital.
Connie: I remember kind of feeling like I was watching my family go through this terrible tragedy. My dad was surrounded by Norlaine and his brothers and sisters, and I saw the strong, stern man I knew from my childhood broken by grief.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: It was—it was bad. The chances of her surviving from her wounds was two percent. Regaining consciousness was one percent. So me and Robin's mother, we didn't want to see our baby that way, and decided that it was—it was time to pull the pin. And as a parent, you know, that's—oh, man, that's one of the hardest things, you know, a parent can do is to pull life from your baby.
Connie: My Auntie Margaret was there too. She was at Robin's bedside at the end.
Margaret Gamble: [Prayer in Cree] I started saying the prayer in Cree, and I told Robin, "Go home now. Go home to the Creator. It's okay. We'll never forget you. We'll always love you." Soon as I was done, she was gone.
Connie: Robin died on July 15, 2006. Curt Dagenais, the man who shot and killed Robin and her fellow officer, Marc Bourdages, was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder for their deaths and sentenced to life in prison.
Connie: I read an interview that my dad gave a year after Robin died. In it he says, "If this was 20-some years ago, I most likely would have hunted this person down and killed him myself."
Connie: My dad had faced this choice before, of whether to seek vengeance. Decades earlier he gave into his anger when he beat up the priest who abused him on the side of the road. But by the time Robin passed, my dad had changed.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: I mean, it's hard for me to, you know, push that anger aside and stay on the higher road. I felt a lot of times to lash out, but then I tell myself then it would go against everything that Robin and Mark stood for.]
Connie: This is the man my dad became. Hearing him in his own words, watching him singing and drumming, it hits me that this is who my family has been trying to get me to see all along.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: I go back to—to my culture, to my—to my traditions to help me cope. And that component of our culture has—has helped, you know, the family.]
Connie: In this footage, he looks just like he does in the photo I have of him holding my daughter Sekwan, the photo I took of them right after she was born. It was the same year, 2012, just months before he got sick. I'm just realizing now that the person I've been looking for was sitting across from me then. He was open and ready for me to connect with him. He'd become someone who could change and grow and do better.
Connie: And now that I can see my dad more clearly, I can see how this has also been a journey into my own story, a journey into my memories—what I've let go, and what I've held onto.
Connie: And there's something else I need to confront. I never stepped foot inside the St Michael's Indian Residential School, but I couldn't escape the damage it caused.
Connie: I'm Connie Walker. From Gimlet Media and Spotify, this is Stolen: Surviving St. Michael's.
Connie: Okay, so I just asked my Auntie Lois how she came to be my godmother. Yeah, because I've always wondered, like, who here knew about me when?
Auntie Lois: I thought we knew about you, like, right away kind of thing. Like, you were a baby.
Connie: I'm with my Auntie Lois at her house on the reserve. Every time I'm here to visit, we end up sitting here at her kitchen table talking for hours. If I'm trying to remember what my life was like when I lived here as a kid, my auntie is the best person to talk to. She knows. She was there.
Auntie Lois: We were in this house when—I'm pretty sure we were in this house. That was in '84, when I remember your mom and dad were back together then, and you'd spend most of your time with us and stuff. And I remember we were really close with you. I remember your mom wanted to get you baptized, and you said, "I want uncle Ernie and auntie Lois to be my godparents. " And we were thrilled because we loved you so much, and we just thought you were the best thing. And so, anyhow yeah. I have pictures of your—I'm pretty sure I have pictures of the baptism when you were baptized.
Connie: My Auntie Lois has so many photos of that time, and I'm surprised to see places and people from my childhood that I've forgotten until now.
Auntie Lois: But that's you three kids, right?
Connie: No, this is me, Sherri and then Jonathan.
Auntie Lois: You, Sherri and Jonathan. Okay. Yeah, because Harry wouldn't be that big. Yeah, okay. No, that makes sense.
Connie: She shows me one of me and my little sister Sherri with our nephew Jonathan. It's summer and we're sitting outside on a porch. There's another photo that I find in one of my auntie's albums taken inside the last house I lived in in Duck Lake. It's a picture of me with my dad. It's one of the first I've ever seen of us together from when I was a kid.
Connie: You can tell it's summertime from our brown arms and legs. We're in the kitchen, and seeing it brings back a flood of old memories. My little sister's just a toddler walking around, and there's a box of my little brother's baby food on the counter. And there's the sink where I accidentally lost my tooth down the drain. I must be around seven years old in the photo. I have a goofy grin on my face and I'm standing behind my dad, reaching out toward him as if I'm about to grab him or tickle him.
Connie: It's so nice to see us together, and to see that I'm not afraid of him. It looks like we're having fun. Well, I do at least. He looks a bit grumpy.
Connie: But I know there were other things happening at the time, more than what's shown in this photo, and more than what my dad was going through at home.
Connie: That's probably why I was happy to stay with my grandparents or stay here.
Connie: When I was little, my Auntie Lois and Uncle Ernie's house was like a second home to me, and they were like a second set of parents.
Auntie Lois: Oh, I remember the one time when your mom had come. I don't know if she was leaving your dad or if she'd just come to visit. I can't remember how that was. I remember we were really close with you. And then I remember when it was time for her to go back, you were begging her to stay.
Connie: So much of remembering my life here in Beardy's happens like this: my hazy memories sharpen when I hear someone else's version. I don't remember this scene, but I remember the feeling of wanting to stay with my Auntie Lois and Uncle Ernie. They had four boys and I was right in the middle—their goddaughter. I loved being here with them. It's a place where I felt safe as a kid, and I still do.
Connie: I remember we lived with Kokum Mary for a little bit. And I remember we lived with—or we stayed at, who knows how long we stayed with Uncle Earl and Auntie Wanda in their basement. And then I remember that gray house, and that's where we lived, like, right—right before we left.
Connie: This journey I've been on to learn about my dad, to make sense of his life, has also been a way for me to make sense of mine. And while I've been interviewing my family members and talking to them about their trauma, mine has been bubbling to the surface. My auntie and I are on our third cup of coffee when the phone rings.
Auntie Lois: Hello? Hi. I'm okay. How are you?
Cousin: I'm good, I'm good. Just wanted to touch base and check up on you, see how you're doing.
Auntie Lois: Oh, I'm doing okay. Connie is here with me.
Cousin: Oh, nice!
Auntie Lois: Yeah, she came yesterday.
Cousin: Well, do you ladies have coffee on? I can come over for a few, for a little bit.
Auntie Lois: We do have coffee on, you bet.
Cousin: Okay, I'll be there pretty quick.
Auntie Lois: Okay.
Auntie Lois: Sounds good. Bye-bye.
Connie: It's my cousin. Minutes later, she's walking through the front door and fixing herself a cup of coffee.
Cousin: Where's the sugar? Is it here?
Connie: It's usually here, I think.
Cousin: I just take sugar in my coffee.
Connie: When I first came home to talk to my family about doing a story about my dad, we were here at my Auntie Lois,' About a dozen of us sitting around outside. I didn't have my recorder. I just wanted to see how people felt about it. And right away, my cousin seemed interested. Like my Auntie Lois, she has clear memories of me when I was little.
Cousin: I remember the first time I seen you, you were just a baby. And Kokum was living by St. Michael's. And they said that Lorraine was coming with Connie, and you were just a baby.
Cousin: Yeah. You were like—I remember you were in a sleeper. Yeah.
Connie: My cousin spent time with me and my mom and my dad, and as we sit here and talk, I realize that me and my dad's story isn't unique.
Cousin: Seeing, like, the amount of drinking and, like, I had told you that before, like, I really—there's one point where I really hated my parents.
Cousin: I really—but now, like, with what they experienced and what they went through, I understand. I understand. Now back then, I didn't. I really didn't.
Connie: I have more than a hundred first cousins, and so many of us went through similar things with our parents who had us when they were still struggling with the aftermath of residential school.
Connie: My auntie leaves to run an errand, but my cousin and I stay to talk. I can feel that she has things she wants to share with me.
Cousin: Yeah, my mom and dad, they drank so much. And no word of a lie, Connie, like, my brother and I, we were left with just anybody who would babysit us. That was our many, many years.
Connie: One of those people she was left with was our late Uncle Ivan.
Cousin: And Uncle Ivan, I'm sorry, he was a predator. And he preyed upon innocent children. You know, he was one of our regular babysitters.
Connie: My cousin says Ivan, my dad's younger brother, the one who said he was abused by Gilles Gauthier at St. Michael's was her abuser.
Cousin: That's the tarnish, that's the dark spot on our family is the sexual abuse. And it happened. It really did.
Connie: My cousin was a child when it happened. That's why we're not identifying her.
Connie: Had you told your parents that it happened?
Cousin: I remember my mom holding me once and confronting me. "Did he touch you? Did he—did he do anything to you?" But the way she came at me, it was aggressive. So I denied it. You know, when you're a kid getting asked that, you don't want to admit to it.
Connie: Yeah, it's the shame.
Cousin: Yeah, if it was maybe a different approach, I would have told her.
Connie: It took years for her to come forward, and when she did, she realized she wasn't alone.
Connie: How old were you when you decided to charge him?
Cousin: I was 24.
Connie: Oh, really?
Cousin: I was 24, yeah, when we charged him.
Connie: Oh. When you came forward, you were one of eight that you knew then?
Connie: Nine that you knew then.
Connie: How long did it take from ...
Cousin: The investigation took months, I remember.
Connie: The investigation led to multiple charges against my Uncle Ivan, but when it came time for the case to go to trial, not everyone who accused Ivan went through with it. In the end, there were four complainants—including my cousin.
Cousin: That was a difficult process because you have to go up on a stand and describe everything, what you remember. And they know there's so much that you suppress and you don't remember, but it happened over years. It wasn't a one-time thing. It was over years.
Connie: There are parts of the trial my cousin says she doesn't remember anymore, but there's one moment she'll never forget.
Cousin: I just remember the reading, like, the verdict. We were all sitting in the bench, holding hands. All of us.
Connie: In 1993, Ivan was found guilty on four counts related to the sexual abuse. He was sentenced to three years in prison. These weren't Ivan's only criminal charges. We found court records from a later case against him, where his lawyer told the court that the sexual abuse Ivan went through as a child was at the root of his problems.
Connie: His lawyer said the sexual abuse started at Fort San, the tuberculosis sanitorium where he was hospitalized at age three. And Ivan said he also was abused at St Michael's. We saw this in the lawsuit Ivan filed against Canada and the Oblates. He alleged that Gilles Gauthier abused him every day for years.
Connie: There was never a criminal investigation into the claims against Gauthier. He was never forced to sit in a courtroom and listen to the testimony of the 16 survivors who accused him of sexual abuse. Gauthier has never had to answer in a court of law for what he is alleged to have done. Ivan did.
Connie: And as difficult as this process was for my entire family, my cousin says she was able to find some sense of healing through it.
Cousin: I've come to terms with it, and now I can talk about it without breaking down or crying, yeah. Whereas when it was still fresh, in the early years, I wouldn't be able to talk about it. It took me many, many years to get over it.
Cousin: I've dealt with it. And I think dealing with it is when I talked to my therapist, and actually confronting it and talking about it in court. I think that's where it really—it really stopped.
Connie: Talking about trauma can help heal. I've been learning that, not just in this story but in my reporting over the last few years. I've seen it. And now, sitting across from my cousin, it's finally clear to me how asking my family about what they went through in residential school has also been my attempt to help heal from the trauma that I lived through as a child. It goes beyond my relationship with my dad. And now it's my turn to talk about it.
Connie: You know, I wasn't here that much when I was a kid, but I remember Uncle Ivan also abusing me. I've never talked about this with anybody, except for today with Auntie Lois, and then now with you, yeah.
Cousin: Well, with me, I will not say anything, but it doesn't surprise me. I can see Ivan getting to you because you guys lived with them with Kokum. And that's one thing I'll tell you right now: no kid was safe in that house. I'm sorry. And I was scared to fall asleep in that house. When that happens to somebody, it continues. It's a cycle. It's like a ripple effect with what they went through and what carried on into their lives.
Connie: They were abused and they became abusers.
Chuck: Hi, hon.
Connie: Hi, how's it going?
Chuck: Good. How are you?
Connie: I'm okay.
Connie: I call my husband Chuck to tell him about my conversation with my cousin. What I've just heard—and revealed—is devastating, and I'm just searching for some relief.
Connie: I'm just so overwhelmed by everything. Yeah.
Chuck: Getting to be too much.
Connie: It's like beyond too much. I was feeling like I just don't want to hear any more. I just don't want to know any more.
Connie: It's crushing to feel this weight, to understand how each ripple affects us. Me, my cousin, my dad, my Uncle Ivan, I see it all around me. Every single person in my family has been impacted by the pain and trauma of residential school.
Connie: If it started at St Michael's, it didn't stay there. It's followed us. It's still here. And it's almost too much to bear.
Hal Cameron: Hi.
Connie: Hi. Sorry. I'm so late.
Hal Cameron: How are you?
Connie: I'm okay.
Hal Cameron: Yeah?
Connie: I'm late to meet my brother Hal. We're meeting at Junior Eyahpaises's house on the reserve. Junior is an elder, and was an old friend of our dad's. He helped my dad get into sweats, and he's having one here today.
Connie: My Auntie Carol, my Uncle Harris's wife, said she was coming to the sweat a few days ago, and she asked if I wanted to come with her. I've never been inside a sweat lodge before, and when she invited me, I wasn't sure if I was going to join. But after talking with my cousin, I feel like I might need it.
Hal Cameron: Busy day?
Connie: Yeah, I was just doing an interview.
Hal Cameron: Oh, yeah?
Connie: Yes. And it got intense. So I didn't wanna—I couldn't leave.
Hal Cameron: Yeah. Yeah, no worries. Well, we were all just relaxing and visiting and ...
Connie: Oh, good.
Hal Cameron: Yeah. They're getting ready for the sweat too.
Connie: Yeah, I know. Yeah. If Auntie Carol comes, I'm going in too.
Hal Cameron: Oh, yeah?
Connie: Is she coming? Yeah. She's—because I talked to her and uncle Harris the other day and then after she ...
Hal Cameron: How was that? Good?
Connie: Yeah, it was good, but it's all so intense, really.
Hal Cameron: It's real stuff, eh?
Connie: Yeah. It involves, like, your family.
Hal Cameron: Yeah.
Connie: Yeah. No, but I mean, it's good. I'm trying to, like—trying to get mad about something so I don't feel so upset.
Hal Cameron: [laughs]
Junior Eyahpaises: Don't you know how to tell time?
Connie: I'm sorry! I apologize.
Connie: Junior teases me about being late, and introduces me to one of the helpers who knew my dad too. People start showing up to join the sweat, and then my Auntie Carol arrives and we go in together.
Connie: I'm not gonna talk about what happened in the sweat. Junior said I shouldn't. But when I came out, some of what I'd been carrying was lifted. After the sweat, we ate. My Auntie Carol made soup and bannock, and as we sat together talking and laughing, I felt lighter and lighter. This is where my dad came when he felt heavy, when he didn't know what to do with the pain and trauma he held inside of him. And I understand now why it was a relief for him.
Connie: Once you can begin to let go of the hurt and reconnect with your culture and your family and your community, you can start to heal. And hopefully, eventually you can become the person you were meant to be.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Speaker: Go ahead, Mr. Cameron. Your opening comments.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: Bonjour Tansi. My name is Howard Cameron, Sr. with the Beardy's Okemasis First Nation, Saskatchewan. I am the ceremonial keeper for my community. I'm a father, grandfather, great-grandfather.]
Connie: For years, my dad engaged in community work, and by 2011 he was part of a panel advocating for Indigenous kids. Here he is speaking at a Canadian parliamentary hearing on child welfare.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: First nations children need to remain in their communities where their ties to their culture, language and value systems have the most impact and provide the greatest chance of success to disrupt the cycle of despair created by intergenerational effects of the residential school.]
Connie: He'd seen the results of residential schools. He lived it. And he saw how it affected his kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. And the children, my dad says, deserve better.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: In the Cree language, awâsis is "a child," âwasowin is "children." And in the literal translation of âwasowin is "the shining ones." When we talk about children, you know, they're—they're sacred. Their future is in our hands. They don't have the power to make the decisions that we are able to do to guide them to the—to that good place. So let us learn from our mistakes and let us do better, Merci beaucoup. Thank you.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Speaker: Thank you very much, Mr. Cameron.]
Connie: "Let us learn from our mistakes and let us do better." My dad lived those words up until the end of his life. Less than two years after he spoke in that Parliamentary hearing, my dad was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer.
Connie: I remember when he got the news. It was in 2012 just before Christmas. We were all called to go and see him at the hospital in Saskatoon.
Norlaine Cameron: In his final weeks, final days, I know that he made peace. He found that forgiveness, and he made peace because he told me himself. He said like—like in Cree, "Not yet." He said, "I can't go yet. He said [speaking Cree], you know, and then "I gotta, you know, forgive," he said, you know? And I knew when he—when he'd say "forgive," I knew it was, of course, forgiving what happened to him, you know, in residential school, but also forgiving himself. But he always said, "I can't leave this Earth," he said, "Until I forgive this man that killed my girl."
Connie: I didn't know in those last few weeks of his life the work my dad was doing, how he was still striving to be better. My Aunties Ivie and Leona were also by my dad's side in those last few days.
Auntie Leona: When he called for you guys when he was sick, that was so heartbreaking. Because from what we seen when he was drinking to what he was when he was sick, wow. What a—it was amazing. And we were proud of him, because we went to sweats. And it wasn't to cure him, it was to forgive himself for all the many things he did in life. And with every sweat we went to, he kept telling us, "I need to do this. Before my time is up, I need to talk to Lorraine, to be able to be at peace."
Auntie Leona: It took a lot for him to make that call, when he called for your mom. I'll never forget that. He said, "I'm gonna do it. I need to do it." And okay. And he said, "Dial the number." So we did. And when your mom came on the phone, "Can you come down here? I'd come to you, but I'm not able to travel." And your mom said, "Yeah, I'll come." And to see them sitting in the porch together. He was holding her hand. She was holding his hand, and he was crying. And he looked her straight in the eye, as sick as he was, and he said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the life I gave you, the person I was. Can you forgive me?" And your mom was crying. "Of course," she said. "I forgave you a long time ago."
Auntie Ivie: I think he just needed to hear it.
Auntie Ivie: You know?
Auntie Leona: And he cried for a long, long time. But when it was over and done with and your mom was gone, it was like, he was happy. As sick as he was, he was happy.
Connie: My dad passed away on February 1, 2013. In his final hours, we were all around him—his wife, his brothers and sisters, his kids and his grandkids. My dad had to overcome a lot: the theft of culture and identity, and the abuse at St Michael's. The violence that followed them back to their communities. And the loss of two of his children. First Robin, and then Darwin, who died two years after our sister.
Connie: But the mission of residential schools failed. Our culture and traditions are what pulled my dad through all of these hardships, and until the end he was still growing and teaching the people around him.
Connie: At the end of the footage from the documentary about Robin, my dad is showing his granddaughter Shayne—Robin's daughter—how to pick and braid sweet grass.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: Always offer tobacco to anything you're picking from Mother Earth.]
Connie: My brothers Hal and Milo are there too.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: And how you tell the sea grasses, it's purple at the end. Okay? Now I'm gonna braid it. So you separate it into—into three equal amounts. Think of braided hair.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Shayne: Yeah]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Howard Cameron: Okay?]
Connie: Months ago, before I'd seen this footage of my dad, my daughter and I learned those same lessons from my brother Hal. He took us to a spot near the reserve and showed us what our dad had taught him.
Connie: So dad took you out to do this?
Hal Cameron: Yep. But I remember when I showed him my—my pickings, he laughed because there was probably a lot of just regular grass in there.
Hal Cameron: He had that little cheeky grin.
Connie: Oh this smells like sweet grass.
Connie: It's a sunny day. We're on a path in the woods. My daughter Sekwan, and my husband, Chuck are with us. They've been with me the whole time I've been here reporting this story.
Sekwan: This one doesn't really smell like anything.
Sekwan: No. I think it's the fake kind, but I'm not sure.
Hal Cameron: So this one is sweet grass. It has a distinct color to it, like a green, but it's like really, like, shiny in the sun. It, like, shines.
Connie: Does it smell right away?
Hal Cameron: A little bit.
Connie: Oh yeah. You can smell it.
Hal Cameron: Yeah.
Sekwan: Can I smell it?
Hal Cameron: But then there's this stuff ...
Connie: Oh, yeah. That smells good too. That can be your sweet grass that you picked, okay?
Connie: Earlier in our trip, my daughter had a nightmare. She dreamt she was taken away from us and sent to a residential school with her cousins. She woke up in the night upset. I tried to reassure her that it was just a bad dream, that it would never happen to her, that it would never again happen to any Indigenous child. And I felt guilty that she was afraid.
Connie: I want her to know the truth about what happened in residential schools, but more than that, I want her to know the beauty in our culture, in our families, in our communities. To have moments like this where she can pick medicine with her uncle Hal and listen to stories about her Mosôm Howard.
Connie: And you try to pick it at the— at the very end?
Hal Cameron: Yeah. So, like, I just hold it, and then just go right down to the bottom ,and just pinch and twist. Try not to pull up the root so it continues to grow.
Connie: Oh, that's—that makes sense, yeah. Do you want to see, Sekwany? Cool, hey?
Sekwan: Good identifying.
Connie: Good identifying. Smell the roots. You can smell it.
Sekwan: Oh, yeah.
Connie: Yeah. I love the smell of sweet grass. Do you like the smell?
Connie: Yeah, me too.
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. Reporting and producing 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. Our intern is Julia Martin. Fact-checking by Naomi Barr.
Connie: Original music by Emma Munger, Cris Derksen, Raymond Cameron and Catherine Anderson. Scoring, sound design and mixing by Catherine Anderson and Bumi Hidaka. Music supervision by Liz Fulton.
Connie: Rights and clearances by Jonah Delso and Isabelle Larreur. Thanks to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and Sweetgrass & Sage, Inc.
Connie: Legal support from Iris Fischer, Nathalie Russell, Whitney Potter and Rachel Strom.
Connie: Thank you to all of the survivors who talked to us for this series. And a special thank you to my family.
Connie: If you have information that you'd like to share about the St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, you can write to us at: stolen(@)spotify.com.
Connie: 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.
Connie: 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.