My Decade at Old Sun, My Lifetime of Hell
“Often fear is the only emotion that comes when we are unsure of the unknown. I took a courageous step in my approach to the unknown by writing this book in hopes that it will help me in my journey of healing and recovery from my abuse at Old Sun Residential School. Everything else I have attempted eventually led me back to myself without any resolution to rid me of my demons. My emotions still overtake me at times, and I sit and cry for myself and many others who are not here—gone, but alive in my memory. May your spirits guide me, as they did in my writing of this book. If your spirit is restless, I hope this book will give you some sense of peace. If that is the case, I too will be at peace with you.”
My Decade at Old Sun, My Lifetime of Hell is a simple and outspoken account of the sexual and psychological abuse that Arthur Bear Chief suffered during his time at Old Sun Residential school in Gleichen on the Siksika Nation. In a series of chronological vignettes, Bear Chief depicts the punishment, cruelty, abuse, and injustice that he endured at Old Sun and then later relived in the traumatic process of retelling his story at an examination for discovery in connection with a lawsuit brought against the federal government.
He returned to Gleichen late in life—to the home left to him by his mother—and it was there that he began to reconnect with Blackfoot language and culture and to write his story. Although the terrific adversity Bear Chief faced in his childhood made an indelible mark on his life, his unyielding spirit is evident throughout his story.
A courageous memoir and a must-read for everyone brave enough to learn about residential schools. It’s a tough read—triggering and horrific—but it is also laced with light and the power of culture, language, family, traditions, and learning to trust and try again. I am in awe of Arthur’s bravery and his resiliency in the sharing of his story. I have no doubt that that this book will lead to conversation, acceptance, and understanding. It is a life’s work and one to be proud of.
In straightforward prose, Arthur Bear Chief testifies to his years in an Alberta residential school and the painful legacy it imprinted on him and his loved ones. With both humour and heartbreak he calls out his abusers, the harsh reality of the claims process, and his own internalized racism. Bear Chief also speaks with pride and hope when he tells of his efforts to reclaim his Blackfoot language and culture and heal from his traumas for the sake of his grandchildren. It is important for Canadians to bear witness to all these stories of survival.
There is nothing more compelling in the work of truth and reconciliation than hearing the first-hand voices of those who lost their childhoods growing up in Canada's residential schools. Arthur Bear Chief's voice has just been added to that list…raw, graphic, and compelling. No two residential school survivor stories are the same, each one bringing us to a deeper understanding of our country and our past failings. Reading this will help you consider our present-day responsibilities and our collective opportunities to set things right.
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