It’s no damn wonder that Richard Hardy is angry.
Tulita-born and of Metis descent, he was sent to Inuvik’s Grollier Hall, a residential school, like Sacred Heart in Fort Providence, Breynat Hall in Fort Smith and Akaitcho Hall in Yellowknife, among several others in the NWT.
Instead of schools, some prefer to call them institutions. They were an instrument of the federal government and run by Catholic and Anglican churches. The purpose of these institutions was to tear Indigenous children from their homes and strip away their identities: their names were changed, their hair was cut and their language and customs were forbidden. Even worse, some of the children were physically, mentally and sexually abused.
That’s enough to make anyone angry. It was inhumane.
Resentment and sorrow have boiled to the surface again recently with the discovery of more than 1,000 Indigenous children’s unmarked graves outside of a few former Canadian residential schools.
Hardy is documenting his tormented childhood experiences in a book. He says he was sexually abused at Grollier Hall by a supervisor who’s now dead: Martin Houston.
Houston pleaded guilty to 10 sexual assault charges and was labelled a dangerous offender in the early 1960s. He went to prison for nine years. After getting out, he was convicted of gross indecency in 1975, which only resulted in two years’ probation.
Despite this abhorrent track record, Houston was ordained as a priest in 1990.
He further answered to his Grollier Hall offences in 2004, pleading guilty to sexual abuse charges in a Yellowknife courtroom. This wasn’t limited to Houston. Three of his supervisory colleagues were also convicted of sexual crimes.
An archbishop sent a letter of support during the court hearing, speaking highly of Houston’s volunteer work.
Meanwhile, Hardy said he and other victims of sexual assault by Grollier Hall staff were provided no support in 1962 – they were actually made to feel at fault and a priest told them to pray for Houston.
Do you share Hardy’s anger yet?
“The problem is the institution itself that has to be called to account,” he said.
Bishop David Parsons of the Anglican Diocese of the Arctic recently described the historical harms against Indigenous people as absolutely sad and horrendous. He said the recent discovery of Indigenous children’s remains has been upsetting. He and the Anglican church have made public apologies in the past.
He spoke of the need to communicate, to share and help one another and to heal.
“It’s time to wake up and listen to the hurts and pains of our Indigenous family,” the bishop said.
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya and his peers across the country are giving voice to the nation’s “Indigenous family.” The elected leaders are seeking justice and accountability from Canada and the Catholic Church. The First Nations Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution to that effect earlier this month, and they called upon the United Nations to help enforce it.
Yakeleya is also demanding a Papal apology for the “stolen little ones and their families.”
Richard Hardy was one of the “stolen little ones.” He’s carried the hurt with him through childhood and into adulthood. While he went on to become a successful lawyer, others’ lives have been destroyed by the emotional wounds.
An apology from the Pope — not yet forthcoming — doesn’t seem like near enough. The Catholic Church and the federal government have much penance to do and reparations to make. Those institutions are the ones who should be angry — angry and ashamed that their ethnocentrism, negligence and culpability have caused so much lasting damage to so many innocent lives.