About the Author


Karen Chaboyer is an Ojibwa mother and grandmother from Rainy River First Nations, a community in northwestern Ontario. As a child I went to St Margaret Indian Residential School for 9 years (6-15). 

I faintly remember what happened to me as a child in residential school. What I do remember is the fear. Fear of getting in trouble, fear of doing things wrong, fear of not pleasing the supervisors. My parents did not teach me my language which saved me from many spankings but I witnessed children getting punished on a daily basis. All the punishments was done in public. I felt their pain; I felt their loneliness, I saw the desperation in their eyes as they cried for their parents. I cried for mine. I grew up ashamed of who I was. My self esteem had become depleted after 9 years of degrading put downs. According to statistics if you’re put down for at least 15 minutes one can change the way you feel about yourself. I was in this environment for 9 years.

There was also lateral violence in residential school. I came into school not knowing my language. I did not live on a reserve. I had fair skin and green eyes. I was considered white. White was the enemy. I was getting mixed messages. The nuns treated me like I was one of the students, but the students bullied me because of my fair skin and hazel eyes. I did not know where I belonged.

Coming out of residential school was a graduation of many things. I was free. I did not know who I was. I felt unloved, I was unaccepted, I was alienated from family who had become strangers. My social skills were limited. I did not trust. Communication was assumptions. I was introduced to the work force. I found friends who accepted me, so when they drank, I drank. I became a different person when I drank, I became angry. All the pain I went through as a child erupted. I hated everyone around me, including myself. I did not care. I wanted to die, to escape the pain. When I became sober depression set in.
My parents were both alcoholic and I saw their behaviors change as they drank. I did not like who they became. I saw myself becoming them. After a few years of drinking I went to rehab. It was the beginning of getting to know myself. I discovered my fears.
I became stuck in my pain. I blamed. I wanted change. I wanted this pain to end. I looked for answers. I wanted someone to fix me. I did not realize that I had to do the work. Residential School stole my childhood, my family and my culture. I never realized I had choices. I could continue being this angry person, who wanted apologies and compensation, and I did receive it but this did not cure me. In order to be free I had to work on myself and let go of the past. I learned that we cannot change the past, we can only go forward. Every victim can only free themselves by working on their pain and releasing it before it festers. There is no way around it, one must face it and go through it. It’s a tough journey but considering we went through the pain and looking at it, dealing with it, knowing the reasons it happened, one can put it away, in a healthy way. I have been blessed that the Creator showed me this on my journey.