Tony Stevenson attended the residential school in Lebret on and off for about 10 years. He was at the school when it was transitioning over to the Star Blanket First Nation. Tony knows from experience life in residential school was not perfect. He is a long-time an advocate for residential school survivors. Tony believes his personal experience has helped him connect with the survivors. His memories of his time are bittersweet.
Reason for going
Tony attended public school prior to being recruited by the QIRS hockey team when he was about 12 years old. He said the school was an improvement for him for several reasons. Tony and his family were living on reserve in a small, poorly built house. His uncles worked at the school as coaches and child care workers. While playing hockey for the school, he spent weekends at the school, which he enjoyed. He enrolled full-time the following school year.
Impact of the school
Tony did not care for the public school he attended prior to 1981. He said it was not a good experience for him in the predominantly non-Indigenous school. Tony recalled being treated differently by teachers and other students.
He said walking into the huge residential school for the first time felt great because it felt like home.
Tony said it was the other students who made it a welcoming environment. The majority of the staff were good people, but said there were some who should not have been there nor should they have worked with children. He recalled personal incidents when the punishment was excessive, but said such incidents were not regular.
Looking back, he knows some of the staff should not have been working at the school, but says many others went above and beyond for the students. Tony said students from the final generation are unique because they witnessed a shift in how the school operated and reaped the benefits of those changes.
For many students the school was a better alternative to life at home due to social factors like poverty and addictions. Tony said those experiences are what helped create that bond between students, friends became like siblings.
Although things were not perfect, Tony says it was still a good place for many. As a long-time advocate for residential school survivors, he has sat with many former students and learned their stories. As a result, he has a grasp of the history of the residential school experience that others do not.
Tony does not regret his time at the school because of the lifelong friendships he made. He says the school provided an alternative for those students who needed a place to go to school. Tony said there was room for improvements when it came to choosing child care workers. However, he would not trade the experience for anything,