Manitoba reserve hopes to transform residential school into museum
A Manitoba reserve is hoping to convert a building that was once used to assimilate First Nations' people into a museum that will preserve their history.
The Long Plain First Nation -- in Central Manitoba -- is seeking to reclaim the nearly 100-year-old Portage la Prairie Indian Residential School.
Built in 1916, the building was part of network of residential schools that crisscrossed the country. Some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families and forced to attend government schools over the last century, including thousands that were housed in Portage la Prairie until its closure in 1975.
It is estimated that at least 6,000 children died at the schools and many experienced abuse, neglect and did not receive adequate medical care.
Most of the children who attended the Portage la Prairie school were from northern reserves, where English was barely spoken. When they came to the school they were taught to farm, become homemakers and to live in a white man's world.
And if they didn't appease their teachers, they often faced harsh punishment.
"I remember getting strapped," Ruth Roulette -- from Sandy Bay First Nation -- who attended the school told CTV News.
"They asked me how many times I wanted to be strapped. I had a choice. I believe I could only stand five."
Other survivors recall beatings, rape and torture taking place at the school.
The upper floors of the building are now closed off, but its lowest levels harbour a dark, cold cupboard that former students say was used as a jail cell.
The boiler room was also one of the places used to inflict beatings.
Even though the school closed 40 years ago, many survivors are still trying to come to grips with their experience.
"It didn't have to happen. I feel sorry. It didn't have to happen that way, our lives are too valuable," said Sadie North.
Despite the horrific memories that stain the walls of the Portage la Prairie school, Dennis Meeches chief of the Long Plain First Nation, says that by converting it into a museum they can reclaim their history.
"It is definitely needed. We need to do this, we have the support of the federal government and the provincial government," said Meeches.
"We want to revisit and share the stories of our people," he added.
With a report from CTV’s Jill Macyshon in Portage la Prairie