‘My scariest fears’: Manitoba residential school survivor returns to school 45 years later

Manitoba residential school survivor Sue Caribou is doing something she never thought she could do.

Caribou is making the harrowing journey back to the grounds of the school she was forced to attend as a child.

She’s going to help search for unmarked graves on those grounds.

“It’s been very difficult and very emotional,” said Caribou.

Caribou was only five years old when she attended Guy Hill Residential School – the Catholic-run school that opened in the 1950s – 25 kilometres northeast of The Pas in northwestern Manitoba.

Caribou was there from 1970-1978. Forty-five years later, now a 57-year-old woman, she’s going back.

“I’m having a very difficult time facing where I was abused,” she said. “It’s very hard. It was one of my scariest fears, and that was to go back to a residential school.”

Susan Caribou at airport on her way to The Pas on June 11, 2023. (Submitted by: Susan Caribou)

Caribou’s journey to The Pas this week is about more than helping with the search to locate unmarked graves; she’s also there to continue her healing journey and move forward.

“I’m stuck in a residential school life,” she said. “I live it at home and to this day, it still affects a lot of us, the residential school life.”

Caribou says her journey is bringing back a flood of emotions and triggers.

Map showing location of Guy Hill Residential School. (CityNews)

Katherine Strongwind, the director of the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada, says it’s really powerful and courageous for Caribou and other residential school survivors to visit the schools where they were abused as children.

“This could either make or break someone, really,” said Strongwind. “I think you could really fall into some of the old patterns that you worked so hard to break over the years and reset your family life.”

Strongwind says more supports, like healing support programs, are needed to help survivors of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and their families.

“We need to listen to survivors and hear what they are saying and acknowledge that this happened,” she said. “There are many deniers in Manitoba who refuse to believe that this happened in a residential school. I think it is also important to honour residential school survivors and those who perished in residential schools.”

Caribou is making this journey with other residential school survivors, who all carry the trauma of their past.

“Being abused emotionally, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and the list goes on,” said Caribou. “The survivors are still suffering today. It’s a hard thing to face.”

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