'Horrible things happening there,' Shubenacadie residential school survivor recalls

People at Sipekne'katik First Nation say education is the key, but they also want to see more than apologies from the governments.

The recent headlines don’t surprise Becky Julian. When she heard the remains of 215 children were found at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C., she wasn’t shocked.

"You’ve heard that all your life about horrible things happening there," said Julian, who is a residential school survivor.

She’s lived them. Between the ages of four and nine years old, she went to Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. She didn’t go back because she hid from the government agents.

"By the time I was nine years old, I believed I was a bad kid because every time the kids were lined up for a strapping, I was one of them," Julian said.

In light of the unmarked burial site found in British Columbia, there’s a country-wide petition calling for a national day of mourning.

Pam Glode Desrochers of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre thinks that might be an easy way out.

"I think the commitment to the work has to happen first," Glode Desrochers said. "And then you let the communities decide what that should look like -- and not just a date on the calendar. It needs to be something concrete."

Julian doesn’t want that either — nor does she want to hear any more apologies.

"Apologies are a little late," Julian said. "They have to do something."

Many believe the priority should be to search all residential school sites for graves.

Parks Canada has named Shubenacadie’s residential school a national historic site.

A factory stands in its place, but Julian’s granddaughter wants a memorial built.

"A free and open space that’s not private territory where Indigenous people can come and lay flowers, come and do a gathering on," says Ashley Julian-Rikihana.

She’s doing her PhD in Indigenous studies and believes education is also crucial for reconciliation.

"We need to be more conscious and aware because it’s our generation, it’s my parents generation, your generation that hasn’t had the opportunity and exposure to indigenous culture and language," said Julian-Rikihana.

In Shubenacadie, ground-penetrating radar has been used to explore part of the site where the residential school once stood and nothing was found, but the community says there’s still more ground to cover.

Julian says she’s not sure anything will be found, but it’s important to do a thorough search.

The federal government has set up a crisis line. The phone number for the national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419.