Fort Albany member to launch book on abuse suffered at St. Anne’s, and healing journey
A memoir chronicling a Fort Albany member’s abuse suffered at St. Anne’s Residential School and undergoing his healing process later in life will be launched on Aug. 26.
Up Ghost River details Edmund Metatawabin’s first-hand experience of being sent to the infamous residential school as a seven-year-old and the abuse he suffered at hands of the Catholic school administrators.
Among the horrific abuses suffered, which Metatawabin has previously described in the media, is being put in an electric chair and being forced to eat his own vomit.
Metatawabin survived St. Anne’s and later graduated from a Kirkland Lake high school in 1968.
However, by the time he was 16, Metatawabin never had a chance to live at home and experience his community, culture, or the land.
“Within that time, I was getting further and further away from who I was and getting pretty depressed and fearful about everything,” he said.
Metatawabin later developed a career – which included being the chief of his community – and had a family. But he continued to be tormented by the memories and turned to alcohol.
In his healing journey, Metatawabin read Man’s Search for Meaning, a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl chronicling his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II.
In reading the book, Metatawabin started to learn words like “marginalization” and “institutionalization” and how those apply to First Nations people whether it is through residential schools or the reservation system.
In 1992, Metatawabin helped to organize a conference and reunion for St. Anne’s survivors.
“We talked about and expressed the reasons for our mild adjustment to life,” he said. “Why we were self-destructing, experiencing anger, depression, and all those feelings defined as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”
Also as part of his healing, Metatawabin travelled to southern Alberta, where he learned from Elders, participated in Native cultural training workshops that emphasize the holistic approach to personhood at the heart of Cree culture, and finally faced his alcoholism and PTSD.
The title Up Ghost River alludes to the name of a river in the region, but also holds meaning for the theme of the book.
“Our culture can be considered a ghost right now,” he said, but added the meaning will be clearer after one reads the book.
Up Ghost River is the third book published by Metatawabin. In 2004, he released Hanaway, a fictionalized account of a young boy going to residential school. Two years later, he released Harvesters, another fictional story. This time the main character is distanced from his culture and turns to an Elder to teach him the traditional ways.
Both books are based on Metatawabin’s story. In those cases, he said he needed to distance himself from the accounts.
But with Up Ghost River, he felt now was the time to tell his story.
“This one was a little bit more work,” he said.
Metatawabin is trying to encourage other survivors to tell their story.
“They are a walking book,” he said. “Tell your story, get published. It’s not easy but get some help and do that.”
The book launch will be held at the Toronto Council Native Cultural Centre on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.
Metatawabin will also be on hand for book signings at various venues in southern Ontario in late-September, followed by signings in Calgary and Winnipeg in October.
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