For the first seven years of Theodore Fontaine’s life, he was happy.
“I enjoyed life, I was a happy child,” Fontaine said. “For seven years, I didn’t know fear.”
All that changed in September 1948, when Fontaine was enrolled in the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School in Manitoba.
“You can’t imagine the hate I had for these people,” Fontaine said during a lecture to Laurier Brantford youth and children’s studies students and members of the community on Friday afternoon.
During his talk, Fontaine shared photographs and stories from his book Broken Circle, The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir.
Fontaine’s book examines the impact of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as the loss of language, family and community, he experienced while attending residential schools.
“It’s a little story about a little indian guy who went through a legacy that was extremely dark and unforgiving,” he told the audience.
Fontaine spent 10 years at the Fort Alexander school and another two years at the Assiniboia Indian Residential School in River Heights, Manitoba. “The physical abuses, sexual abuses were rampant,” he said.
Fontaine said he was always hungry, his clothes were too small and he never washed. He said he faced harassment from both school administrators and the public.
Writing his book and speaking at more than 200 events and lectures across the country has helped Fontaine with the healing process.
“My purpose in life is education to Canadians and our own people that this is happening,” he said. “Like the Holocaust, if future generations don’t learn about it, it will happen again.”
Fontaine’s story has also been healing for many who hear him speak.
“I’ve had a couple calls from people saying ‘thank you, I thought I was alone,’” Fontaine said.
As a former residential school student, attendee Beverly Albrecht said she was honoured to have the opportunity to meet and speak with Fontaine.
“It’s healing,” she said of hearing Fontaine speak. “I can relate to what he is saying and how he is healing.”
Laurier Brantford assistant professor Tarah Brookfield, who organized Friday’s lecture, said hearing Fontaine speak was “one of the most meaningful events” of her academic career.
“I appreciate his dedication to sharing a story when it’s so difficult to be constantly speaking about a dark period in his life,” Brookfield said. “I’m honoured he came to speak here.”