Voices From Here: Madeleine Basile

Madeleine Basile recounts the day she left for Pointe Bleue residential school and memories from the 10 years she spent there. She shares how those experiences impacted her life. She also discusses her work with other Survivors and her participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Survivors Committee.

Mikwetc, Madeleine, for sharing your childhood experiences, talking about your healing work, and welcoming us to Domaine Notcimik.

Warning: This testimony contains descriptions that Residential School Survivors may find emotionally triggering. If you need support, the Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419.

Madeleine Basile recounts the day she left for Pointe Bleue residential school and memories from the 10 years she spent there. She shares how those experiences impacted her life. She also discusses her work with other Survivors and her participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Survivors Committee. Mikwetc, Madeleine, for sharing your childhood experiences, talking about your healing work, and welcoming us to Domaine Notcimik. Warning: This testimony contains descriptions that Residential School Survivors may find emotionally triggering. If you need support, the Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419.

Filmed on August 22, 2019 in Nitaskinan, QC.

Cinematographer: Jonathan Elliott
Offline Editor: Genséric Boyle Poirier
Colour: Martin Gaumond + Outpost MTL
Sound mix – SeratoneStudios
Portrait - Natasha Donovan

Transcript

Residential Schools touched the soul... the soul of a people.

My name is Madeleine Basile. I’m from Wemotaci, a communitythat is part ofthe Atikamekw nation. My experience, Residential Schools in my life… it’s quite the story.

It is really a story of vile domination. It must never happen again, that history.

When I took part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there was a sort of statement of philosophy – it was “The parent forgotten, the child uprooted.” Indeed, it was an uprooting.

I had just turned six when I left for the Pointe Bleue Residential School. And I remember, before we left at the beginning of September, my grandmother wouldn’t stop sewing. She was making dresses for us. I didn’t ask her any questions. The day came for us to leave, and my grandmother dressed me up in my new dress. I was happy! I had a new dress. On the day we left, we were told to get on the bus. I went to see my grandfather. And I said,‟Nimoshom, Nimoshom, aci ni matcehon.” That means, “Grandfather, Grandfather, I’m leaving now." He looked at me and put his hand on my head. And… that’s it.

When we arrived at the Residential School, there was a lot of crying children. I was looking for my parents. In my young mind, I knew something was going on, but I didn’t really know what that was.

When I was little, I always had long hair. Everyday, my grandmother would brush and braid my hair. She had told me my hair was sacred. But there, at the Residential School, they cut my hair. They cut my braids. It was utterly humiliating. I suffered a lot of humiliation there. The hair, but also being forbidden to speak our language. I am very proud to still speak my mother tongue. They did not succeed at taking that away from me. I speak the Atikamekw language. The Atikamekw language is my identity, it’s my culture, my pride.

My mother lost all her children. My little sister was 4 or 5 when she left. My mother had no children left. We all went to the Residential School. My little sister died there. She was 9 years old. She was sick. It shattered my family. It is a real tragedy in any mother’s life, in any grandparent’s life. It was while I was working on the Residential Schools file that I discovered I wasn’t the only one who suffered because of Residential School. My mother did too. My grandparents as well. My community. We need to talk about it. We need to keep talking about it.

I know that I have subconsciously passed down intergenerational impacts to my children. We never wanted to pass on the shame, the anger, the humiliation, the rejection. I never wanted to pass that on to my children. A child is free. Living in a state of happiness. The tears too… the tears. It’s so pure. I feel like going there took away my purity.

Ten years in the Residential School is really long when you’re a child. I left that place full of anger, of rage. My grandmother didn’t recognize me anymore. I would hear her speak; she’d say, "What’s wrong with Madeleine? What’s happening to her? " I started drinking excessively. For many years, I drank. That’s where it got me. But through that, during those years, I met my husband, and I had my kids. It was a quieter period because I had kids. But then it started again. It seemed like it was all coming back. The feeling of anger, mostly. But I told myself: "I can’t be angry all the time". I decided to get myself together and to start seeing a therapist. I cried and raged a lot. It was hard to accept my past. For that reason, I have been working for many years with Survivors.

At the beginning, I worked here, in La Tuque, for a few years. I was working with the parents and the families a lot. After, I was entrusted with the Healing Project, which was called "Projet Mirermowin." It lasted 4 years. Then, in 2004, I tried my luck at the Council of the Atikamekw Nation where I was the manager for the Healing Program, Koskikewetan. Koskikewetan means "Return to the source". It was a beautiful project that lasted 10 years. We offered inner child therapy to all the Atikamekw Survivors who wanted to work on themselves. Afterwards, we developed couples’ therapies. Then we started elaborating a family therapy program when the federal Government decided to put an end to all the healing projects throughout Canada. On March 31, 2010.

Government Apology clip:

I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools. The treatment of children in these schools is a sad chapter in our history.

Madeleine Basile: I wanted to hear it for myself, on June 11, 2008, when the federal Government apologized. I went with one of my friends.

Government Apology clip:

For more than a century, Indian residential schools separated over 150,000 aboriginal children from their families and communities.

I took part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. In 2010, I was chosen to sit on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Residential School Survivor Committee. The Commission’s work consisted mostly to carry out seven national events. There were many activities at each event, such as listening to the testimonies of Residential Schools Survivors, as well as the gestures of reconciliation. The gestures were offered by the Church, or teachers, or government representatives. Some of them gave photos, or a gift, or a book. The objects symbolized gestures of reconciliation offered to the Survivors. At the last event, in Edmonton, I put down a little baby carrier because that’s what I played with when I was young. I had a really hard time finding a small doll. But finally, I found a little doll, and I put it in my tikinagan. In the Atikamekw language, we call that a “tikinagan" - a baby carrier. I gave it as a symbol of my childhood.

Reconciliation starts with me. I reconcile with myself, with my past. Then, I gradually reconcile with my family, my community, my nation. There’s a sort of opening. In my opinion, that is what reconciliation is. Here, at the Domaine Notcimik, where I am, the mission has a Truth and Reconciliation component. I encourage Quebecers and Canadians to move towards sharing, reconciliation, well-being, and peace. Build a bridge.

Acknowledgement:

To my children: You have always been and are a blessing in my life. I acknowledge that sometimes I wasn’t easy in my attitude, my actions, my words. For this, I humbly ask your forgiveness.

To my precious grandchildren: I love you from the deepest part of my being. You are love, purity, and childhood joy. Those feelings that were less present during my childhood at residential school.

To my partner: Thank you for your love, your presence and your compassion.

I am still learning to live in love, peace and joy.

Mikwetc to my family for accompanying me through life and for being a part of my life.

With love,

Madeleine