The night after he heard the news, Richard Dixon couldn’t sleep.
On Wednesday, the 86-year-old learned St. Paul’s Hostel in Dawson had been added to the residential school national settlement list.
Lying in bed awake, Dixon kept thinking about his classmates.
“I was wondering where they all are,” he said.
“Because these people don’t know the news.”
Many of them have already died, he added.
Dixon was six-years-old when he arrived at St. Paul’s with his brother, Ollie.
Their father was heading up a hunting party and couldn’t take the young boys.
Dixon and his brother didn’t see their family again for eight years.
“We had the hell beat out of us,” said Dixon.
“Dad and Mom never beat us.
“So, we didn’t know what was happening.”
The priest (known as Johnson) would lose his temper and go on a rage, said Dixon.
“He’d hit you on the back of the head and send you flying.
“And he was a big man — 300 pounds.
“He’d take after the girls the same way — knock them down and kick them until they were black and blue.
“But he’d never beat you in front of anyone.”
Ollie was beaten so badly his hip and back were displaced.
He ended up in a wheelchair.
“Before that he was a super athlete,” said Dixon, his voice shaking.
“Ollie got the worst of it because he didn’t cry out when he was licked.
“That made Johnson really beat him.”
Dixon remembers a rubber strap with a wire running down the middle of it.
“Johnson would timber you up and down the back with it,” he said.
Last summer, after hearing about the national settlement for residential school survivors, Dixon discovered St. Paul’s wasn’t on the list.
“I was shocked,” he said.
So, Dixon jumped in his truck and started driving from community to community, searching out old classmates.
Each person filled out a card with their names, birthday, status information and how long they’d spent at St. Paul’s.
One of Dixon’s old school chums had Alzheimer’s and didn’t remember being there at all.
“I had to help her fill out her card,” he said.
Dixon sent the information to Ottawa.
But never got an answer from the government.
“Now, they’ve finally added St. Paul’s to the list,” he said.
The federal government won’t take responsibility for residential schools that were operated only by churches, said settlement negotiator and lawyer Laura Cabott.
To become part of the national settlement a school must be linked to the federal government in some way, whether through operation and maintenance, inspections or financial ties.
Since the process started, Ottawa has had more than 1,200 requests asking that an additional 310 schools be added to its list.
The Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation played a pivotal role in getting St. Paul’s recognized, said Cabott.
MP Larry Bagnell also put pressure on Ottawa, she said.
“And we had a loud, vocal group of elderly students.”
“I’m very happy that they’ve looked at it carefully and that (St. Paul’s survivors) are now on the level with friends and relatives who went to other schools,” said Bagnell.
“We don’t want anyone falling through the cracks.”
Now it’s just a matter of tracking down all the students who are still alive, to let them know about the St. Paul’s settlement, said Dixon.
The abuse there was kept quiet for years, he said.
“But I heard they finally took Johnson’s picture down from the Dawson church.”
Dixon isn’t interested in the settlement money.
After running a mink ranch, he worked for the territorial government for 30 years.
“I have a pension,” he said.
“I’ll use the money to help my grandkids.
“But the big thing is that the government has recognized this — they’ve finally admitted they were wrong.”
Students who attended St. Paul’s from 1920 to 1943 are now eligible for settlement money, said Cabott.
The change could affect as many as 75 students, said Dixon.
But there are still three Yukon schools that should be added to the national list, said Cabott, citing St. Agnes Hostel, the Whitehorse Convent and Ridgeview Home for Children.
The exclusion of these schools is affecting several hundred First Nations people, she said.
Many of the residential school survivors are already dead, said Dixon, thinking of Ollie.
“He died in my arms,” he said.
He was in his 40s.
Johnson killed him, said Dixon.
“It makes me sick — Ollie should never have been in a wheelchair all his life.”
Dixon’s sister and four of his nephews, who attended the school, are also dead.
It’s tough growing up without childhood memories, he said
“In all those years, I never once knew why they beat me.”