This story may contain information that is difficult for many. A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support to former residential school students who can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-Hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.
After five days walking from Port McNeill to Campbell River, Charles Williams, his wife Sharlotte and nephew John Prevost finished their trek dedicated to residential school survivors.
Williams says they walked eight hours a day on the near 200 km journey, to be welcomed in Campbell River with songs and speeches before heading into the Big House for dancing on April 14.
“It was awesome, the support we received,” said Williams. “Honking and waving too. When we arrived in Campbell River, some store owners came out and clapped and cheered us on. It’s a day I will not forget.”
The 61-year-old of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation dedicated the walk to survivors as he is a survivor himself. Williams says he went to Alert Bay Indian Residential School starting at five years old.
“It was a very confusing time for all of us who were taken from our village, not knowing if we were going to see our parents and relatives again,” said Williams
Williams says during his time there, he suffered sexual, verbal and physical abuse and shaming every day.
“A loneliness was always there no matter if we were good. We still got beaten or strapped every day to show us who was in charge,” said Williams. “I remember I was six years old jumping on my bed having fun, being a kid. [Suddenly], I was slapped on side of the head, and I hit the floor. I was told to get up and lay on the bed.
“Then he proceeded to tie my feet to end of bed on posts. ‘This is what happens when you jump on the bed acting like animals,’ he told the rest of the kids. I was strapped 20 times on each foot and my feet swelled.”
Williams also remembered being physically forced to eat after throwing up into a bowl of oats. However, their resiliency and culture kept many of them together.
“We would never amount to anything, but here we are,” said Williams. “They tried taking our power, they tried killing the Indian inside us by correcting us when we spoke or strapped us when we spoke our language.
“Our spirit is what carried us through the years of longing for home and our parents.”
As a survivor, Williams is telling the younger generations and adults to “never give in to the darkness as it has many forms.”
“We must never forget what happen to our people when they were taken away an put in those torture chambers,” said Williams.
“Stay away from the addictions, alcohol and drugs. They will destroy you and your family. We lost a lot through the addictions, so please love yourself enough to stay away from alcohol and drugs.
“Never forget, every child matters.”