Class of 1997

Chris attended was part of one of the last classes to graduate from the Lebret residential school, which was renamed White Calf Collegiate. From Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba, his family moved often. They lived in Fort Qu’Appelle before moving to Sioux Lookout, Ont. when he was 13. It was not a healthy place and Chris asked to go to the residential school in Lebret.

Reason for going

Chris’s older sister was in Lebret and said many of the people they both knew in Fort Qu’Appelle were at the school. Chris was unhappy with the degree of racism he was dealing with in Sioux Lookout and residential school seemed like a way out. He was also anxious to reconnect with childhood friends.

Impact of the school

Although Sioux Lookout meant he was closer to family, the stress of dealing with hostilities was too much for him to handle. Chris said there was a clear divide between groups and this created a very tumultuous environment. It was the first time he experienced racism and he didn’t like it and wanted to move back to Saskatchewan.

He said there was a strong cultural component to the school, which was all new to him, having been raised in a Christian home. When he arrived at the school, all the male students gathered in the boys common are called the playroom. To his surprise a smudge bowl was passed around in a circle and everyone introduced themselves. Although it was all completely new to him, Chris found it comforting. 

Because his parents were in Ontario, he only went home only on holidays otherwise he stayed at the school throughout the school year. Chris said the students and staff at school helped make those long days bearable. He didn’t mind the routine of the school, but he did miss his mom and dad. 

After graduation, Chris decided to make Saskatchewan his home. He says residential school was great because of the life-long connections he made with other students. He still feels a connection to the school site because for a few years it was home. Chris said the school taught him to be independent because he was responsible for himself. The best and worst part of living in residence was never being alone. Chris said it was difficult to get privacy sometimes, but at the same time it was good always having someone nearby. 

Final thoughts

Chris enjoyed most of his time in residential school and appreciated being introduced to traditional teachings. His only regret was having to be so far away from his parents. Chris never did live with his parents again and it was because he learned to take care of himself at a young age. He says his independence has no reflection on his love for his family.