Chuck Hume was only seven years old when he was abducted.
It was 3 a.m.
“Women were hollering,” he says. “And the next thing you know everybody was loaded on the back of a truck and taken. They basically wiped out the village.
“They used 3 o’clock in the morning because they knew all the kids were home.”
Hume was one of the lucky ones. He got perilously sick.
In 1948, when he was brought to residential school, he only stayed a year before he contracted double pneumonia.
It was caused, he assumes, by the poor food combined with sleeping by a cold wall in minus 60 with only a thin army blanket.
“It was going from good caretaking to being out on your own at a very young age,” he says.
His parents picked him up from the army hospital where he was treated, and they made sure he didn’t return to residential school, he says.
He has many cousins who weren’t as lucky.
They spent their entire school years there. Many are now in graves, he says.
Residential school has always been a part of his life. His father went. His wife went.
“You lose your connection with your lifestyle, with your family, with your language. It’s a whole learning curve,” he says.
With no children, there was no one to protect and the villages went to shambles, he says.
“The grandparents, without any grandchildren to educate or teach, left their village place to find out where their grandchildren were actually taken to and so you had a downfall of small communities,” he says mentioning his home village of Dalton Post and the nearby village of Klukshu were both recognized as “abandoned.”
Federal government lists say 1,323 Yukon First Nation people attended residential school.
But the consequences affect many more than that, says Hume.
“We’re all grandparents now and it’s something we pass on to the next generation,” he says. “We didn’t have that trust, nor did we have any relationship to the family. Our homes were totally forgotten about. Our way of life was totally taken away from us.”
In 2006, Ottawa signed the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. With it the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established.
The commission’s mandate is to gather and learn all the information about what happened in residential schools and educate the rest of Canada.
On Wednesday, it announced it was coming north.
“We know the North is home to diverse groups of peoples and mix of cultures living together with various practices and their own individual histories and we believe it’s important that we come away from the northern hearing schedule with a better understanding of the lingering impacts of residential schools in those northern communities in order to lay the groundwork that will help us move beyond the truth-telling experience to significant gestures of reconciliation,” says commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair, from Yellowknife.
This is all too late, says Joanne Henry, the executive director of the Committee of Abuse in Residential School – a drop-in centre for survivors in Whitehorse.
“We haven’t really heard from the TRC until now,” she says. “When they first started it up it’s like they forgot about the North.”
The commission’s clear push to reconciliation is emphasized by Wednesday’s announcement of a $20-million fund.
The fund is not meant to replace the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which supported Henry’s committee in Whitehorse and another in Watson Lake called the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society.
Since the foundation funding dried up, with Ottawa refusing to reinvest, LAWS has closed down and CAIRS is living on a month-to-month basis.
The commission’s fund will be distributed based on community proposals for events or memorials, says Sinclair.
This answer caused Henry to sigh.
“I’m just so tired,” she says. “It’s just tough. It’s like their saying, ‘Yes, we did this horrible thing to you but now get over it.’ It’s time that we finally are talking about it and government is telling us we talked about it enough.”
The commission’s northern tour will be in the Yukon from May 23 through 27, making stops in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Carcross and Watson Lake.
Yellowknife staff will be available upon request to visit other communities as well, the commission said Wednesday.
The tour will end in late June, or early July with a national gathering in Inuvik.
The commission’s visits are meant to gather people’s stories, meaning it is asking people to make a statement.
It is asking people to open up about something they have blacked out and tried to forget all their lives, says Henry. Horrible things like being physically and sexually abused.
Horrible things like being kidnapped at 3 a.m.
They shouldn’t rush people and they should do more followup, says Hume.
It is a common criticism given to the commission’s visits and events.
As a resolution health-support worker with the Council of Yukon First Nations, Hume is taking it upon himself to do that followup.
And he is even going one step further.
Last March, Hume arranged and facilitated an on-the-land, alcohol-free week for survivors to learn about their culture, their addictions and to talk about their experience in residential school.
Almost 100 people came, and many asked for more programming, he says.
Health Canada is helping Hume put on another on-the-land, alcohol-free week in March.
It will be out at Takhini Subdivision and will be called Understanding the Future.
This year, Hume hopes to focus on the family and the relationship survivors have – or need to make – with their grandchildren, he says.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at