Pictures of a demonstration show a turning point in the history of an Alberni Indian Residential school that helped lead to its closure.

“A bunch of us came here and we had a bunch of old people with us and we simply walked into the school and said the games over,” said Haa’yuups. “Then we had an assembly in the auditorium and that’s when the principal said I believe today is the beginning of the end.”

Today the Tseshaht First nation hosted a celebration to mark the 45th anniversary of the school’s closure. For 80 years children sent there were separated from their parents.

The Alberni school also was the site of some of the worst sexual and physical abuse in any residential school.

“Today is going to be the day Tseshaht will celebrate the bringing home of our children,” said Martin Watts of the Tseshaht First Nation.

“I’m glad it closed,” said Dolly McRae, who attended the school for a decade. “It was like a jail.”

Charlie Thompson remembers being separated from his parents at the age of nine and not understanding what was going on.

“We were dragged away by supervisors and I tried to get away,” said Thompson. “I looked back and my parents weren’t behind me anymore and we were dragged out of the hallway upstairs and I cried all day.”

He thought perhaps his parents didn’t love him. Thompson says he will never forget the physical and mental abuse.

He says the school’s closure was crucial.

“Looking back it was very important because it ended the atrocities that happened here our future kids will never be part of that the ugly things that happened to us,” said Thompson.

Today’s ceremony had a chant sung to keep their spirits strong and to lean on when they’re having difficult times.

It’s in their Nuu-chah-nulth language that was nearly snuffed out at the Indian Residential school but it’s once again making a come back in first nation schools.

Kendall Hanson