Angel Sampson recalls being called “heathen,” “savage,” and “evil.”
She also remembers the fear of attending school, where she experienced not only emotional abuse, but physical harm at the hands of the people entrusted with her education and care.
From 1964 to ‘67, and starting when she was six years old, Sampson attended the Tsartlip Indian Day School in Brentwood Bay. It wasn’t what people might recognize as a residential school — the site of pain and suffering by many of Canada’s Indigenous people — but the conditions Sampson says she faced were not any different.
In fact, the only difference, she said, was that the children got to go home at night.
That still didn’t prevent the abuse from happening, she said. Sampson remembers having her hair pulled, being choked and battered unconscious to the point where other students thought she’d died. As a young child, she said you were afraid to talk about it, and the nuns of the Catholic Church who ran the Day School created an environment where the children were fearful of speaking up.
The school, she said, is still standing. It’s now used as a classroom at the Leu’wel’new Tribal School.
Former students of the Tsartlip Indian Day School talk about their experiences from time to time and Sampson said she still has to convince some people that the abuse happened.
“Some people still don’t believe these things happened to us,” she said. “They did happen.”
She recalls a conversation with another former student who told her they never experienced abuse. Sampson said by being forced to watch others being abused, even those who were never physically harmed were exposed to trauma.
The silence around these schools began to lift as Canada moved into an era of reconciliation with its Indigenous people, where the abuses suffered at residential schools across the country were exposed and governments and institutions held accountable. In 2005, the federal government reached a settlement with residential school survivors and even made an apology.
For Sampson and others like her, however, their experiences were not included in that apology, nor in the legal settlement.
Simply because they were able to go home at night.
Sampson is part of a class action lawsuit, started in 2009 by Garry McLean who attended the Dog Creek Day School at the Lake Manitoba First Nation from 1957 to 1965. The action is seeking compensation for the damages and abuses suffered by all Indian Day School students — forced to attend the schools, but excluded from the residential schools settlement agreement.
At the time, media reported the class action was seeking $15 billion in compenstion. Since then, legal representation has changed, Sampson said.
“Part of why we’re working on this class action for a long time, is to just get people to take what happened seriously. We want to be heard.”
Sampson said many of the people who ran the schools have long since died and none have been to jail for what happened to her.
“The more we share, the more that comes out. It still doesn’t take away the pain.”
Their experience, Sampson continued, is often felt by the next generation as well. Her own son, Brian Sampson who performs with the rap group Paint the Town Red as YellowWolf, wrote a song called Re-Educate about the Tsartlip Indian Day School.
Day School survivors have recently been meeting with the law firm now representing them in the class action — Gowling WLG (Canada ) LLP. Sampson said their representatives were at Tsartlip earlier this year and plant to be back in August to discuss progress on the case with many people from across the Island. To do that, Sampson said she and others have started a GoFundMe page to raise enough money to get them to Vancouver Island.
“We’re not a rich people. Many of our residents do not have enough money to throw at lawyers.”
So, they’ll do what they can. And they’re hoping others in the community will support them.