WARNING: This story may contain details that are upsetting for survivors of Canada’s residential schools and their families.
Charles Williams from Gilford Island spent another day walking down Highway 19 Tuesday. Destination: Campbell River.
“My legs are sore, I’ve got a couple of blisters and my knees are swelled up but I gotta do what I gotta do, I’m going with my heart,” Williams told CHEK News at a rest stop south of Woss.
But the blisters and sore knees are nothing in comparison to the nine years he spent at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay, arriving just before he turned six years old in 1967.
“Every day was different. No matter what you did you got in trouble for something because they always wanted to show that they were in charge and you know that’s how they did it. They put fear in our hearts with beatings and straps, slaps, whatever eh?” added Williams.
He says he remembers school officials telling his parents there would be roof over head, a warm bed and an education.
But as history has shown, residential schools were anything but safe places for many of the children who attended them.
He remembers the morning of the very first day. His stomach was sick with the nervousness of a five-year-old and he vomited in his breakfast bowl. He was slapped so hard on the back of the head that his face hit the table. He was then forced to sit at the table until he had eaten everything in his bowl, vomit and all.
He said he was also raped numerous times between the ages of 7 and 9.
He has carried the burden for decades ever since.
“In my heart right now it’s a walk of letting go and it’s a walk of empowerment for others to see the strength we do have after the residential school because they tried to take our power away, they tried to wipe us out as First Nations people, they tried to kill our spirit but we’re still here,” he declared.
His wife and nephew are accompanying him on the walk as support crew.
“I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” said Sharlote K. Williams. “I support him in everything he does. I find it very inspiring because it’s helping him release what’s going on in his life. You know he didn’t know how to love for a long time and now it’s coming and it’s beautiful.”
“You know I’m 61 and I’m doing this,” Charles added. “I have health issues (including 11 strokes and ongoing heart trouble) but all that aside that’s secondary to me. Right now what’s so important is that we get this out to our youth, our elders, or anybody who doesn’t know about the residential schools.”
Charles is walking to Campbell River and hopes to arrive on Friday.