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Call to Action # 29: Justice (25-42)

Project to offer Wolastoqew day school survivors in New Brunswick specific healing programs

January 22, 2024

All 6 Wolastoqey communities had a day school in operation 

An Indigenous man with shades
J.J. Bear is a Wolastoqew day school survivor and a committee member with the healing project. (submitted by J.J. Bear)

CBC Indigenous: Wolastoqew day school survivors will soon get healing programs geared to their specific needs, with a focus on intergenerational healing.

The Wolastoqey Tribal Council Inc. was recently awarded a $100,000 Bell Let’s Talk Diversity Grant to provide healing programming over the next three years, including hosting cultural events and a gathering of survivors.

The federal Indian day school and federal day school system was an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children, by removing them from their languages and culture. The institutions were often run by religious institutions and some students faced physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Nearly 700 Indian day schools operated across Canada between 1863 and 2000.

“We got to go home every night and sleep in our beds, but we still suffered a lot of the same abuses within that school system,” said J.J. Bear from Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation), about 120 kilometres west of Fredericton, a committee member with the healing project. 

“There was a lot of trauma that was inflicted upon Indigenous children.”

All six Wolastoqey communities in New Brunswick had a day school in operation. The first one opened in 1881 and the last one closed in 1985.

Bear attended the Tobique day school for eight years and experienced physical abuse at the school. He said because of it he still has trouble speaking Wolastoqey. 

He’s used culture to help him heal and hopes he can help other survivors. “It allows our people to look at and deal with those traumas and gives an opportunity to break that cycle for future generations so that they don’t have to continue to suffer those intergenerational impacts,” said Bear. 

Devon Saulis, the project lead, said the programming is based on healing walks with her dad, Kevin Saulis. The duo goes on hikes where Kevin points out objects and animals in their language as a way to heal and learn together. 

An Indigenous pair harvesting sweetgrass together.
Devon Saulis, project lead, and her father Kevin Saulis, a day school survivor, pick sweetgrass together. (submitted by Devon Saulis )

Kevin spent five years at the Tobique day school and experienced physical violence. He was also shamed from speaking Wolastoqey.  “We need the option to let people come and express themselves and understand that these things happened to us and we didn’t do it to ourselves,” said Devon. 

Devon said while working with day school survivors some expressed feelings of being left out of reconciliation discussions and the project will record their stories.  “They’ve been through so much and it hurts my soul to know that any of them feel as though they are forgotten, that their stories will die with them,” said Devon.

The McLean Day Schools Settlement Corporation was established from the 2019 day schools class action lawsuit settlement to manage a $200 million legacy fund for projects that support language and culture, healing and wellness, commemoration, and truth telling. 

Roger Augustine, a board member of the corporation, said healing projects for survivors in New Brunswick are still in the works. 

Kevin Saulis said he hopes to see a day of recognition for day school survivors. In the meantime, he said he will keep sharing his story. “If you don’t talk about it, if you don’t bring it out in the open and talk about it to people, they’re not going to know that it ever happened,” he said. 

Mental health counselling and crisis support are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.


Oscar Baker III

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe