My memories of living with my parents were happy ones until my father died in 1954. My mother struggled to raise 7 young children on her own. Unfortunately, she was not able to manage due to a mental breakdown and she was institutionalized and this resulted in me and my siblings being placed in the Mohawk Institute Residential School (Mushhole) in 1957 in Brantford, Ontario. Entry into the Residential School was very scary for us. We had no one to turn to and were totally reliant on the administrators of the school for any and all of our needs. The focus of my story is to let others know that what should have been a positive in our lives turned out to be the opposite.
What happens to a child when separated from their parents? How are their needs met and by this I mean the emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical well being? Being deprived of the basic nurturing components that would ensure healthy growth and development was not evident at the “Mushhole”. From the very beginning the isolation and loneliness was very evident. The one way of ensuring compliance with children was to physically punish and threaten.
One of the most devastating times for me was not being able to leave with my mother during the few visits she was allowed. These visits were highly emotional and I usually sat on her lap and cried through the entire visit. I was so happy to see her but I knew in my heart that I couldn’t keep her with me.
After she was gone I was so distraught and in such and state of emotional distress. During these visits the Minister of the Institution sat in his office directly across from the visiting room and could monitor our visits. The last time I saw my mother at the School I was in the girls’ playroom and one of the little girls had told me my mother was here to visit. I started running towards the stairs that would take me up to the main lobby but froze at the bottom of the stairs and started crying and I couldn’t stop. The tears were flowing so heavily. I wanted my mother’s arms around me so much but, I knew I would have to go through the same separation again. I call this experience ” emotional rape”. Emotionally I was ripped apart and the only thing I could do was detach myself from this trauma that I was experiencing. I was able to see myself from a distance and when I did this I didn’t feel the hurt and pain anymore as I stood in that basement. What I do remember was the little girl came up to me and told me my mother was leaving and asked me if I loved my mother. She said your mother is going to leave if you don’t want to see her. That is when I came back to the reality of the situation and I ran up the stairs crying and found my mother waiting for me. I hugged her as long as I could and cried through the whole visit. That is the last time I saw her at the “Mushhole”.
What I do remember after this visit is that the minister had me in his office sitting on his lap and I was still upset and crying. This perverse man pretended to comfort me but, what he was doing was molesting me as I sat there crying. His hands were where they should not have been and this led to him sexually assaulting me. This is the man that we as children were told if we didn’t behave we would be sent to him for any kind of discipline. I had already developed a fear of him and to be totally overpowered and assaulted by this man was extremely traumatic emotionally and psychologically. From that point on I learned to stop crying and hide my emotions. I did not want to feel pain and hurt again. Children are quite resilient even through abuse. I was able to put up a protective barrier that allowed me not to show emotions or feel the pain and this protective mechanism lasted throughout my childhood and to some degree even into adulthood.
The abuse continued by the Minister and he used the pulpit to terrorize. I sat at the back of the church and tried really hard not to fall asleep because if he caught me I knew what the punishment would be. It seemed like the blink of an eye that I fell asleep for only a few seconds. I remember waking up suddenly as his voice was loud and when I opened my eyes he was looking directly at me. I could feel my heart beating fast and I was scared of what my punishment would be. The assault occurred within the Church and now I was even more terrified. There was no safe place to be and no one to help me. The one person of authority over all of the children was also the abuser and this is the one person that we were threatened with if we did not behave. We were totally at his mercy because of my mother’s situation we had no home to go to. The Institution was our home.
There was a systematic way of destroying us as children. These predators new exactly what they were doing. We were emotionally and psychologically damaged and the Institution itself was a breeding ground for many abuses and housed the most vile predators. What I really wanted was to have my mother’s love and have her hold me the way she used to. A mother’s love for her child is endless. Female predators were also at work. Usual techniques of grooming a child and playing with their affection and a great desire by the child to be loved allowed the abuses to continue. I feel like it was a form of emotional prostitution. What you want is to be loved and have someone treat you with kindness and give you the hugs that you miss from your mother. I did not like what was being done to me but during these times I could escape by putting up the emotional barriers that acted as shield so the hurt and pain did not come through.
Imagine what a child’s life is like trying to fend for themselves in this environment. These abuses were taking place in many Residential Schools across Canada. I did not understand that the little broken child in me was left at the “Mushhole” and through my own healing journey and the wonderful people I have met along the way helped me to bring that child out of the “Mushhole” and bring her home. I still feel scarred and damaged but the burden of guilt and shame is not mine to carry anymore.
Roberta “burdocks” (Mushhole name) Hill