DITIDAHT, British Columbia — Vancouver Island is home to many seemingly idyllic Native Canadian villages like this one, where bald eagles swirl overhead, deep fir and cedar forests scent the air and windy Nitinat Lake offers plenty of wild salmon, crab and trout for the 200 residents.
But among the island's forests and sheltered coves, Clarence Dennis drifted — drinking, robbing and hurting his children. Daisy Edwards spent years in a stupor, working as a prostitute after being raped by her father. Jack George Thompson beat his family, stuck a pistol in his mouth and nearly pulled the trigger.
Their stories, like so many others here, have a common thread: a childhood spent at one of the more than 100 residential schools for Native Canadians financed for more than a century by the government to force assimilation. The abuses at the schools, the last of which was closed in 1986 and which were run by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, are well documented. Lawsuits have been filed against the churches and the Canadian government.