Not all residential school survivors went to residential school.
In fact, those that didn’t sometimes suffered even more abuse, says Teslin filmmaker Duane Gastant’ Aucoin.
“One thing that made it easier for first-generation survivors is at least they were abused by strangers,” he said.
“My generation, and the generation after me, we were abused by family members and members of our community.
“So the wound is much deeper.”
Gastant’ Aucoin’s mom went to residential school.
“They programmed her quite well at Lower Post,” he said. “And she subconsciously passed that on to me.”
It took Gastant’ Aucoin years to realize he was a residential school victim, just like his mom.
“There was always something in my life, like a big shadow,” he said.
“And I couldn’t put a finger on it.”
Then, Gastant’ Aucoin wound up at a conference where he learned about all the symptoms residential school survivors exhibit.
“And I had all those symptoms, even though I never went to residential school,” he said.
“I knew my mom went, but I didn’t know much about the intergenerational effects.”
As a little boy, Gastant’ Aucoin remembers watching his father beat his mom.
“In Lower Post, she was trained to be silent and obey,” he said.
“So she found my father who continued the control she was taught.
“He became our own Lower Post.”
Although he only remembers being hit a couple times by his dad, Gastant’ Aucoin’s mom suffered regular abuse.
“I grew up most of my life not having a father,” said Gastant’ Aucoin.
“He was never there emotionally; he was more like a supervisor.
“My mom was my safety, my refuge.”
But the abuse finally “pushed her over the edge,” and she turned to alcohol when Gastant’ Aucoin was eight.
“So the safety of my mom was gone too, because I lost her to alcohol,” he said.
Gastant’ Aucoin remembers one time, when he was 12, trying to tear his father off his mom.
“I ran to the kitchen to get the frying pan, and if he was still beating her up when I got back, I was going to kill him,” he said.
“All I understood was violence—it’s all I knew—so in my 12-year-old mind, that was the solution as well.”
By the time he returned with the pan, his father had stopped hitting his mom.
Now, decades later, Gastant’ Aucoin is finally coming to terms with his family abuse.
And he’s done it with film.
His 33-minute short, My Own Private Lower Post, features a conversation between Gastant’ Aucoin and his mom.
The two sat down at a table, turned on the camera, and started to talk.
“Hearing what she survived helped me understand what she was going through,” said Gastant’ Aucoin.
“And when she heard what I went through, she apologized.”
Very few children of survivors get that apology, he said.
“And with that apology, the domino effect of abuse turned into a domino effect of healing.”
In turn, it allowed Gastant’ Aucoin to open up to the kids he had raised.
“My mom and I see this healing as a gift,” he said.
“And like any other gift, it’s our responsibility to share it.
“But it’s hard putting your life on the big screen.”
My Own Private Lower Post premiered in Toronto to an audience of 350.
But it was the next audience—an audience of one—that terrified Gastant’ Aucoin.
His father, now living in Ontario, asked to see the film.
“As he watched it my heart was pounding,” said Gastant’ Aucoin.
“And he was moved by it—he didn’t realize how much he put us through—from his own childhood, he was just continuing what he knew.”
An Acadian from Cape Breton, Gastant’ Aucoin’s father was persecuted by the English much like the First Nations were in residential school, he said.
“He lost his language and doesn’t know anything about being Acadian.”
When Gastant’ Aucoin’s mom went to residential school, all she could speak was Tlingit.
But she was forced to speak English.
“Most of her time in Lower Post she can’t remember—it’s a blank for her,” he said.
“The whole focus was to break down the family unit.”
Gastant’ Aucoin’s mom wasn’t parented—she was supervised, he said.
“She had no idea how to be a parent, or how to live.”
The brainwashing was so intense his mom spent most of her life “working in residential-schoolesque group homes where kids were taken away from their parents and raised in institutional settings.”
The group homes were different back then, said Gastant’ Aucoin.
“At least, they were run by families, so they had some resemblance to a family home—now they’re run by social workers and staff, so they’re really institutionalized.”
It’s important to make sure kids are safe, said Gastant’ Aucoin.
“But it’s also important to work with the parents and make sure they’re the parents they should be—because no one is immune to the effects of residential school.
“Right now, instead of helping the parents heal from the scourge of residential school, they just swoop in and take the children.”
It’s easy to play the victim, added Gastant’ Aucoin.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Look what they’ve done to us.’ But we also have to look at what we’ve done to ourselves and to others.”
Talking about it is the first step, he said.
“Too many times it comes out after a night of partying, when people are hammered—and then it usually comes out in a not very nice way—a violent way.”
It needs to be talked about in a healthy way, said Gastant’ Aucoin.
“Because the silence is deafening.
“And we see the effects of silence when people lash out with violence and abuse.”
But talking doesn’t solve the problem.
“I naively thought if I talked about it, poof it’d be fixed,” he said.
“But healing is slow.”
Gastant’ Aucoin’s mom quit drinking in 1982.
It was the first step on her healing journey, he said.
“And lots of people, that’s as far as they go—they’re still carrying around their baggage, but they’re sober.”
But Gastant’ Aucoin and his mom are continuing their healing.
And, he plans to start healing with his dad as well.
“Intergenerational trauma is not just a native story,” he said.
Gastant’ Aucoin is going to make a second film following his father as he searches for his lost Acadian roots.
“Hopefully we’ll talk more as father and son,” he said.
My Own Private Lower Post is screening at the Dawson City International Short Film Festival on Friday, April 10 at 7 p.m.
Contact Genesee Keevil at