The things that happened to him at the Anglican-run La Tuque Indian Residential School were “just unspeakable,” to the extent that John Bosum said he couldn’t talk about them.
He preferred to unleash them in poem after poem, which he shared at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s Quebec national event, held April 24 to 27.
“I’ve been analyzed…ostracized, brutalized, Christianized, demonized…,” Bosum recited, his voice quavering with emotion. His wife sat beside him, squeezing his right arm in support. He was reciting his poem, “Suf fix,” short for suffering and fixing, both of which Bosum said he’s had to deal with as a result of his experiences at the school from 1963 to 1973.
For a long time, Bosum said he thought it was his fault that bad things happened to him at the school. “A little girl died…days before we happened to smile at the house of God…When she died, I somehow felt it was my fault,” said Bosum in his poem, “My Fault.”
Participants who gathered at The Queen Elizabeth Hotel’s Grand Salon, where the event was held, hung their heads; some winced as Bosum’s pained voice recited, “Wash Your Hands, Mr. Hands,” a poem dedicated to his abuser.
Bosum recalled that while in school, staff would ask students where they wanted to go on some weekends-to the lake perhaps? All he wanted to do was go home, he said. “I was longing for home, for bannock, blueberries, my mother’s paisley Hudson Bay kerchief…my grandma’s embrace.”
His parents, said Bosum, “were such beautiful, loving people,” and although he attempted to commit suicide many times, he couldn’t go through with it because “I thought of them and I couldn’t hurt them.”
In 2004 he finally told his father what had happened to him. “He cried and he said, ‘All those years, I thought you were in good hands. Now I know,’ ” said Bosum. His father then reached into his pocket and gave him a tattered prayer book that Bosum said he had opened only recently. In it was a ribbon dated July 3, 1965. “I had won third place in high jump. He kept it all those years. That’s how much I know he loves me,” said Bosum, stifling a sob.
La Tuque, located 150 km north of Trois-Rivières, opened in September 1963 and was managed by the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada.
“It was the last new church-run school to open before the government assumed management of all residential schools in 1969. There was no local Anglican mission associated with the school,” according to information compiled by the General Synod Archives. “Teaching staff at the residential school were recruited by the government, with support workers selected by the school’s Anglican principal…The majority of students were drawn from the Mistissini Band (baptized Anglicans). ”
From April 1, 1969 until the school closed on June 30, 1978, the government solely ran the school.
The school-which had fallen into disrepair after many years-was torn down in February 2006, with former students present.
Bosum wasn’t there when it happened, but he wrote a poem about it, “Came Crashing Down.” Holding a piece of brick from the debris of the school that a fellow student had given him, Bosum recited his poem in a booming voice: “…The pain came collapsing down…The horrid place, the horrid face, came crashing down.”
He has been undergoing therapy for 10 years, and Bosum told the TRC commissioners’ panel that he decided to share his experience because he was tired of fighting demons in his life. “I’ve come here to finally close the doors of hell behind me and finally live my life.”