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Boyce urges residential school survivors to open up

Thursday July 7, 2011
James Thom/Wawatay News
Eabametoong’s Charles Boyce looks through a scrapbook he created of photos from his trips back to the residential school he spent several years at in the late 1960s in Brantford, Ont. He called his time there the darkest of his life. But returning to the site has helped his healing process.

Returning to the site where atrocities were done to him while at residential school has proved to be therapeutic for a Thunder Bay resident.

Charles Boyce, an Eabametoong band member, has returned to the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., on seven occasions. His most recent visit two years ago included his grandchildren to show them his past and the place which led him to drugs, alcohol and years on the streets.

Boyce still wonders why he was taken so far away from home to go to residential school.

He and his brother were taken from Central Pat, near Pickle Lake, Ont. by the local Indian agent. They went to Sioux Lookout and on to Toronto before arriving in Brantford.

“It was more than five months before my parents learned where I was,” Boyce said.

His time at the school in the late 1960s was riddled with abuse: physical, sexual and cultural.

But returning to the school, which is now a cultural centre, to confront his past has proven cathartic. Talking about his past and sharing it with listeners on Wawatay Radio Network and in Wawatay News a decade ago has helped Boyce along his healing journey.

It helped him decide to return to Brantford as part of his healing process. His return trips have spanned the last decade.

“I felt the school was a dark place. I couldn’t keep it bottled up any more,” he said. “But when I arrived, I really just wanted to drive my car through the building.”

After his anger subsided, Boyce toured the building remembering the sites where his abuse took place in 1968 and 1969.

“I never thought I’d have to strength to go back. But through a lot of prayer and support, I was able to.”

His life fell apart because of addictions with drugs and alcohol. He even attempted suicide. He spent eight months in a psychiatric hospital. It was all in an effort to ease the pain he carried. Nothing helped.

“In the late 1980s and early 90s, I was very successful,” Boyce said.

He was working in television and sat on the Wawatay board of directors.

“But all of that went down the drain,” he said, when the pain became too much for him. “I tried to hide the pain but I couldn’t do it anymore.”

When his first wife died, he hit rock bottom.

“I just couldn’t live anymore,” he said. “I didn’t know where life was heading.”

But on Jan. 10, 1996, he walked off the streets and began his recovery. Boyce had found faith in God. He realized God would help take the hurt away. At that moment he was ready to change for the better.

“It was a long struggle, especially dealing with the prescription drugs,” he said.

He attended a handful of treatment centres and has now been clean and sober for more than a decade.

“I was determined to get better,” he said. “Recovery is a commitment one person decides. Only you can make it work through determination.”

Now clean, sober and healthy, Boyce works at the Muskrat Dam Treatment Centre as a family counsellor.

He and his second wife are both working to become accredited treatment counsellors as well.

“I travel a lot as well, doing community visits and sharing my story,” he said. “As hard as it was to open up about my past, sharing the story has helped me get to a better place in my life.”

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