Healing the survivors
Social workers trained to help Grollier victims
by Ian Elliot
INUVIK (Apr 17/98) - The Grollier Hall legacy continues to reverberate through the North and a small army of social workers has been trained to assist those men who were sexually or physically abused at that and other residential schools.
The latest group includes 22 social workers and community mental health, alcohol and drug counsellors, from seven Delta and Sahtu communities. After finishing eight days of training in Inuvik earlier this month they were fanned out to their home communities, where victims of abuse in the residential school are steeling themselves for one more trial.
Paul Leroux goes on trial in Inuvik this August to face charges from more than 40 former students that he sexually abused them. Two other men have already been convicted for abuse in the school, which is now closed.
An earlier training session was held in Fort Good Hope to arm social workers with the tools they need to help the survivors. Many survivors cannot yet talk freely about the abuse they suffered, either because they are not ready, or because they are to testify in August and cannot share evidence that they are going to be asked about on the witness stand.
"There are a lot of legal issues about providing support for people who have chosen the legal route," noted Vera Morin of Yellowknife, one of the people who ran the training session. "You can talk about their feelings but you can't talk about specifics."
The abuse that took place at the school still haunts many who attended and shows up as alcoholism, drug addiction and continued sexual abuse of children. The period leading up to the trial and the trial itself is the most difficult time because many relive their own abuse, which was why the courses were held this spring.
"At times it's overwhelming," admitted Dale Sharkey, an Inuvik counsellor. "And a lot of the responsibility for dealing with this has fallen on the shoulders of a few people to this point."
The healing, which for many will only begin after the court cases end, will have to be founded on a aboriginal base to erase many of the more subtle effects of the schools, he said.
"The healing will have to incorporate cultural and traditional components, giving the people back their identity as Indians," Sharkey said, noting that the schools acted as focal points for assimilation and many former students can still identify themselves by the number they were assigned many years ago.
"Intentional or not, it's occurred and you can't separate the two. People walked into a system trusting the people who were assigned to look after them, thinking they'd be taken care of, and they were oppressed and they were abused."
"This is an issue the government has been very reluctant to include in the training of caregivers," added Lawrence Norbert, spokesman for the Grollier Hall Planning Circle.
"If you talk about what the school means to native people, it was oppression more than anything else."
Bertha Lennie, herself a former student of Grollier who didn't return to her home community for 32 years after attending the school, said practically every family in the North has been affected in some way by the abuse.
The job of the social workers trained in the course, she said, is to recognize the affects of the abuse and to be there when survivors are ready to talk.
"Just opening up is a start, it's a big start," she said.
Sadie Lester of Paulatuk is another former student who says what she learned at the workshop both shocked her and will enable her to deal with the troubled men, many of whom she knew when they attended the school in Inuvik at the same time.
"I didn't think all this would hit me as hard as it has," she said. "All this abuse was taking place under our rooms and we didn't know... I'm glad that I came to this workshop to accept and understand that this was all going on in Grollier Hall. Now we can go home and become caregivers for the boys in our home communities who have been abused and don't know who to talk to."