Not all students, not all teachers

Published May 2, 2000

But if all perspectives of Indian residential schools are to be taken into account, it must be understood that these schools were not all bad places run by bad people. "I don’t like to be thought of as a villain. I don’t think I was … I think I was a fairly decent person and still am," says Berit Rasmussen, an 83-year-old Norwegian woman who came to Canada as a missionary in 1949, spent decades at residential schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and now lives in Lytton. [pullquote]Sitting in her living room knitting a large blanket, Rasmussen fields questions about the schools at Gordon’s Reserve, Pelican Falls and St. George’s where she worked. One of the highlights of her time at these schools came when she tucked an eight-year-old girl named Lilly into bed one night. "She pulled my face to hers and whispered, ‘When I came to school last year I thought you were a white woman.’" The girl was so comfortable with Rasmussen that she gladly mistook her for a Native mother or aunt.

"My experience does not reflect what some Native activists and much of the media are saying," says Eric Carlson, a status Indian who attended St. Anthony’s Indian Residential School at Onion Lake, Sask., for 12 years. "I don’t recall ever going hungry and the nuns did their best to clothe us and keep us in good health. The academic instruction was such that I had no difficulty keeping up when I moved on to St. Thomas College," adds Carlson, who eventually went on to teach at a residential school.


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