Clarence (Kat) Pennier during an Aevitas waste recycling plant protest by the Fraser River on Dec. 17, 2013. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Clarence (Kat) Pennier during an Aevitas waste recycling plant protest by the Fraser River on Dec. 17, 2013. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Stó:lō elder opens up about children found at residential school site in Kamloops

‘People suspected things like this happened, but there was never proof of it’

Clarence ‘Kat’ Pennier’s voice didn’t waver on the phone as he talked about Kamloops and the 215 children’s graves found on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. His voice didn’t crack with emotion and he didn’t choke up as he talked about his thoughts and feelings.

But make no mistake.

As a former student at Mission’s St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, married to a woman (Nancy) who was a student at that Kamloops school for 13 years, Pennier hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the unfolding tragedy.

The 76-year-old member of the Stó:lō Grand Chiefs has a lot to say. He just struggles to say it.

“Part of the reason I don’t get so emotional is because of the abuses I experienced in school — physical and mental and spiritual and sexual abuses,” Pennier said.

“One of the things we learned in (residential) school was not to show our emotions, which is the wrong thing to do. But they were very strict in there. If you didn’t get punished yourself, you saw other people being punished. You couldn’t say anything and that’s why it becomes a little harder for people to talk about things after they leave.”

Pennier said he went through plenty of therapy to get to the point where he could handle news like this without falling apart. For others who don’t go through counselling, “it hits them like a ton of bricks when they find out things like this.”

Pennier was in Kamloops Monday, at the site of the tragedy, as part of Nancy’s healing journey.

“She probably knew some of the ones that are in there,” he said. Several organizations are working with the Tk’emlups te Secwepmc to identify the remains, including the local museum and B.C. Coroners Service.

Pennier said it was part of the residential school experience for students to disappear, with fellow students left not knowing if the child ran away or how they died.

“People suspected things like this happened, but there was never proof of it. I think if they do the same at other residential schools they’ll probably find the same thing. Maybe not as large or to the same extent as this one, but they’ll probably find something.”

It’s one thing to know and acknowledge that bad things were done to Indigenous children at residential schools, but when you see graves in a poorly-tended field, or see 215 little pairs of shoes on the steps of a building, it makes it a little less abstract, Pennier said.

“Yesterday, after the ceremony to take the childrens’ spirits back to our territory was ended, we saw a lot of cars waiting to enter the school grounds. Many were already parked and a lot of people were sitting in the arbour which holds a lot of people. So there is good coming from this exposure,” Pennier said.

“What’s happening in Kamloops provides an opportunity for the people to learn about the history of this country regarding the treatment of our people, and how from an early time governments wanted to get rid of ‘the Indian problem.’ There is a lot of talk about ‘reconciliation,’ but people do not understand what needs to be done to make things better between our societies.”

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

Like us on

chilliwackIndigenousresidential schools

Just Posted

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

North Westside residents can dispose of their unwanted bulky items between June 30 and July 14, 2021. (File photo)
North Westside residents can soon get rid of unwanted bulky items

Large household items can be disposed of at North Westside Transfer Station June 30 to July 14

Starting in 2022, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is extending dog control to the entire Electoral Area D area. (Stock photo)
Dog control bylaw passes in Shuswap area despite ‘threatening’ emails

CSRD board extending full dog control to Electoral Area D; director calls for respectful discussion

The new Civic Memorial Park will incorporate pieces of the 80-year-old arena it replaces. (Artists rendering)
Pieces of Civic Arena reclaimed for new Vernon park

City centre space to incorporate wood from the historic arena

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read