Peggy Lynn Harper and her six siblings all went to residential schools.
The Onion Lake resident, who is now a social worker, was taken from her family at the age of three. She spent seven years at the St. Anthony’s Residential School.
She struggled with feelings of uncertainty and the emotional trauma of being separated from her family. Her early years were primarily with her great grandmother, Mariah St. Clair. She said she concealed all her anxieties and went willingly. On a previous occasion, she had refused to go when the priest pulled up in the car. She was afraid that her family would experience retribution if she resisted again.
Harper describes how the present-day Chief Taylor Elementary School started off as a Day School in the Residential system.
“Chief Taylor was called Central. So here’s a residential school where we stayed as residents. Then beside was a place called day school. That was the school where I went when I was in grade three. I went there for one year, but before that, I was taught by nuns and priests.”
Residential school survivors were not allowed to show their feelings and were told not to speak their language. Harper’s voice breaks as she talks about the trauma of hiding her identity.
“I started questioning my own identity because people would ask, ‘Are you Chinese?’ I would say I am Chinese because it was too painful to be an Indian going to school.”
Harper says she had to do counselling and ground herself to take back her heritage. She has grappled with the loss of her family who would have wanted to raise her but never had the chance.
“When I look at that whole scenario, I know I was never given that chance to be a daughter to my mom and dad. Now I have two children. I’m their mother and I will do everything in my power to stay there for them.”
Harper continues to find ways to serve in her community as she reclaims her life. She works as a school guidance counsellor at the Eagleview Comprehensive High School in Onion Lake. She was one of several residential school survivors who were honoured this past Monday in the Onion Lake community.