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Residential school survivors share their stories in Vancouver

Margaret Commodore remembers the beatings.

Whenever students did something wrong, or staff said they did something wrong, the strap was brought out.

“You learned to show them that they weren’t hurting you,” the residential school survivor from Chilliwack said on Wednesday.

Commodore, 80, was attending the first of four days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event held at the PNE in Vancouver.

Commodore attended Coqualeetza Institute, a residential school in Chilliwack, for one year in 1939 before moving to the residential school in Port Alberni in 1940.

She spent seven years on the Island and remembers the beatings and the abuse, both physical and sexual, that went on behind closed doors.

Commodore, along with several others, reported the sexual abuse to a staff member but nothing was done.

She said it wasn’t until she was older and working in the Yukon that she was able to realize the impact the experience had on her and her family.

To help overcome the grief and anger, Commodore went to the Tsow-Tun Le Lum healing centre on Vancouver Island.

She was able to talk to counsellors and share the experience of what happened to her.

Family members admit that they knew little of Commodore’s experience while growing up.

“She’s just so strong. She’s going through her healing process but she doesn’t know how awesome she is,” said Trace Joe, one of Commodore’s three daughters.

Despite the trauma, Commodore raised three children while putting herself through nursing school and eventually became a provincial politician from 1982 to 1996.

Commodore praised the healing centre in helping her.

“There’s a program at Tsow-Tun Le Lum called “Moving beyond the traumas of our past”, and that’s exactly what we’re looking to do. We have to move on,” she said.

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