Behind Closed Doors

“Well the residential school taught me how not to love. Because there was no affection shown. There was a lot of discipline. No affection, none whatsoever.”

“I was whipped so many times that eventually you get so tough that you block those things out and you can’t feel things, you’d get hit and you can’t feel it no more.”

These quotes are from former students of the Kamloops (B.C.) Indian Residential School.

I think many Canadians are reeling in shock at the on-going discovery of children’s bodies at former residential schools. Me too. I’m sorry to say that in school I didn’t learn anything about the residential schools or really anything at all about Indigenous history or culture.

I’m trying to make up for that now. I’m currently reading, Behind Closed Doors : stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School. I can only describe this book as a raw, real and unfiltered read. You may recall that in late May the remains of 215 children were found at this school. In Behind Closed Doors, 32 former students, adults now, tell their stories, in their own words. Reading their stories, my heart ached for the children who received so little and had so much taken away from them.

Every single storyteller said they felt sad, scared and bewildered about being removed from their family and home and taken to an institution. At the school they were forbidden to speak their own language or to practice any part of their culture. Cultural genocide, in other words.

It gets worse. Discipline was very harsh and an everyday occurrence. Kids got the strap for all kinds of things, speaking their own language, speaking in class, not doing their schoolwork correctly, bedwetting, you name it. As well, some of the children were sexually abused.

It should come as no surprise that many of the former students seem haunted by their experiences and remain troubled as adults. Many admit to being shut down emotionally and having difficulties forming relationships. Many admit to turning to alcohol or drugs to blunt their pain. It’s easy to see how these kinds of festering wounds get passed down to the next generation.

If you, like me, are seeking to fill gaps in your knowledge WPL has many items on residential schools in its collection as well as a page on with a selection of Indigenous reading suggestions plus links to many resources.

— Penny D.

Note: you might always want to read the Indigenous History Month blog post by Jackie M. to discover more books for all ages by Indigenous authors