By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Vivian Ketchum still lives with the horrible memories of being abused at a residential school when she was just a young girl and having no one to turn to for help.
So when she heard the news of the arrest of a former Catholic Priest who worked at residential schools, she said she hoped it would be a step towards vindication of the stories of abuse that she said survivors have been telling for years, but which have often been ignored or dismissed.
“It was a feeling of relief,” 58-year-old Ketchum of Winnipeg said on Wednesday, reacting to the June 17 RCMP announcement that prosecutors have charged 92-year-old retired residential school priest Arthur Masse with sexually assaulting a child more than 50 years ago.
Masse is now accused of indecent assault on a 10-year-old girl between 1968 and 1970 at Fort Alexander Residential School on the Sagkeeng First Nation, as the result of an investigation that RCMP said started in 2011, and involved 80 investigators who had contact with more than 700 people, and recorded 75 witness and victim statements. Charges against Masse have yet to be tested in court.
The arrest marks the first time abuse charges have been laid in Manitoba for incidents involving a former residential school employee.
Ketchum said she was first forced to attend the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in Northern Ontario when she was just five years old and she experienced abuse at the hands of some of the adults who were working there.
“I have bad memories of being there,” Ketchum said. “I had my finger broken from abuse, and I was hit when I was just a child.”
She also remembers having no one to turn to for help at the school, even though her older sisters were in the same building as her.
“I was separated from family most of the year, and when I was there, my sisters weren’t even allowed to see me,” Ketchum said.
“I was the youngest, and they were supposed to look after me, but they weren’t able to. They would see me getting hit, and they couldn’t come over or help, or do anything.”
Ketchum said she is also relieved to hear about the arrest of Masse, because she said so many residential school survivors have had to fight for years against “systems” that she said have held them back in their quest for justice, or even just to be believed.
“The system was against us for years, police took statements but nothing happened, so many did not believe us,” she said. “We’ve had to fight against the systems that were trying to keep us quiet for years, and we’ve had to fight so hard, because we felt so ignored.”
RCMP confirmed to the Winnipeg Sun on Wednesday, that there have been “further reports” made to RCMP regarding Masse since their June 17 announcement of his arrest, but would not say how many complaints have been made since that announcement, or give any further information about any complaints received.
RCMP spokesperson Paul Manaigre said on Wednesday that all reports brought to police regarding Masse will be investigated.
“We will look into every report received,” Manaigre said.
As well on Wednesday, the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) announced they now plan to undertake an “independent investigation” into the actions of Masse, because, according to MMF, Masse “spent time in many communities in Manitoba, including the Red River Metis villages of Duck Bay and Camperville.”
“In his time, Mr. Masse spent an estimated 20 years in our community churches, presiding over services and ceremonies. During this time, Citizens in these communities would have received both group and one-on-one tutoring and teaching from this individual,” MMF president David Chartrand said in a Wednesday statement.
“In light of these allegations against Mr. Masse, it is critical that we undertake an independent investigation to understand if Mr.
Masse’s activities in our communities resulted in any incidents related to his alleged misconduct.”
And as Ketchum deals with the news of the arrest, and of further complaints now being levelled against Masse, she said she also wants anyone who is struggling with the news to reach out for help, and not to suffer alone.
“I know there are survivors who are going to be triggered and have those bad memories coming back, so please talk to someone, or know there is a hotline you can call,” Ketchum said.
“Please get help, and please don’t walk with those memories by yourself.”
An Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week in Canada for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience, or the experience of someone they know. The crisis line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.