A Journey to Healing

Inuk (left) and Jason (right) stand in front of tent in cold weather
by SalvationArmy.ca

Between 1883 and 1998, the Canadian government sent over 150,000 Aboriginal children to residential schools across the country that were designed to make them forget their language and culture, and where many suffered abuse.

Inuk was just nine years old when he was sent from his traditional native home to a residential school. At first, studying away from home seemed inviting since it allowed him to escape his father’s physical abuse, but Inuk only went from one trauma to another.

Inuk’s story

“My school experience was lonely and harmful,” says Inuk. “Discipline was harsh and students were prey to sexual and physical abuse.

“Discipline was harsh and students were prey to sexual and physical abuse.”

“Residential school traumatized me and, at 63, I still suffer,” says Inuk. “The aim of the school was to eliminate all aspects of my Aboriginal culture. I was beaten badly for speaking my native tongue. Other details are hard to give.”

After five years in the residential school system Inuk, then 14, returned to his fractured family.

“I lived in fear,” says Inuk. “My parents were alcoholics and my father continued to physically abuse us. I drank a lot of home brew to dull the pain.”

Meanwhile, Inuk graduated from Grade 10, worked in retail and for a medical office, then went on to study legal administration at the university level.

“And I constantly struggled to find my identity as an Indigenous person.”

“I eventually got sober, married and had children,” says Inuk. “But I couldn’t give my children what I didn’t have―guidance and wisdom. And I constantly struggled to find my identity as an Indigenous person.”

Apology’s Aftermath

Inuk had been sober for 18 years when, in 2008, the Federal Government expressed regret over the residential school system.

“When I heard the apology, emotions were high and I turned to the bottle,” says Inuk. “I was suicidal but didn’t follow through because I’d yet to find my sense of belonging or purpose in life.”

Inuk left his family and spent five days in an igloo for a time of self-reflection. When he returned home his wife and children had moved out.

“The house was empty and they left because of my search,” says Inuk. “It was devastating.”

 Full of Hope

Inuk got sober again and moved to Yellowknife where he worked as a cab driver. But when he couldn’t renew his chauffeur’s permit, due to high blood pressure, he returned to drinking.

“I ended up in a psychiatric ward,” says Inuk. “They told me about The Salvation Army’s Bailey House, and I agreed to go.”

Bailey House is a 32-bed residential facility that addresses issues such as addiction, faith, relapse prevention, literacy, anger management and self-esteem.

“Life is a whole lot better now.”

“The Salvation Army gave me a roof over my head and a listening ear while I worked to address the cause of my addiction, restore my self-esteem, learned to trust people and show pride in my Indigenous culture and identity. Alcohol addiction was a secondary issue to the trauma I endured in residential school.”

“The role of Bailey House is to provide resources, information, referrals and support,” says Jason Brinson, who works at The Salvation Army in Yellowknife. “We are very proud of Inuk’s accomplishments and continue to empower him in his recovery and desire to heal and create a positive future for himself.”

“I’m on a life-long journey of healing and understanding.”

Inuk has secured employment with the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving traditional and culturally based health care for Indigenous northerners facing a high burden of disease and unequal access to traditional health services. Inuk speaks at local schools and shares his experiences with the students.

“Life is a whole lot better now,” says Inuk. “I have moved into safe and affordable housing. I have more work to do, but I’m getting there. I’m on a life-long journey of healing and understanding.”