From the heart
Chesterfield Inlet offers advice for healing to Grollier Hall residents
NNSL (Dec 21/98) - In 1966, when Marius Tungilik was just five years old, he left his loving home in Repulse Bay and started school in Chesterfield Inlet.
For the next three years, Tungilik was the victim of serious abuse at the Roman Catholic residential school.
Nearly 30 years later, he still deals with the pain and has spoken out and offered survivors of Grollier Hall some advice on how to cope with their sorrow and find closure to the legacy of abuse.
News/North: You've survived and started to heal from the years of abuse you received at the residential school in Chesterfield Inlet. Do you have any words of advice to offer people who were abused while attending Grollier Hall in Inuvik?
Marius Tungilik: There's a number of things. I don't profess to have all the answers but I think it's something that comes from within. As long as you act straight from the heart, I don't think you can go wrong. I know it can be very, very scary. I know how scary it is to come out and talk about the abuse.
News/North: How did you go through that process yourself?
Marius Tungilik: I had gone to see a number of therapists before I went public. It just didn't do it for me and no one could truly seem to appreciate what was happening.
I knew it wouldn't be easy but I had no idea just how difficult it would become to have to act publicly. I know how difficult it is to take that first step because you're paranoid... you wonder what people will think of you, how people will receive you, how your life will change.
News/North: How did your life change?
Marius Tungilik: I don't know how my life has changed. Perhaps if anything, people maybe associate me with residential schools more than I would like. But then again, I see that as a positive thing.
It's something that lingers on, many people have not brought closure to that section of their lives. People are still wondering what they can do. We tried to demonstrate to people that we don't have to wait for people out there to make the first move -- we can make the first move.
News/North: When and how did you go public with your abuse?
Marius Tungilik: I made a submission to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in November of 1992.
News/North: Was that when Tasuiqtit, the Chesterfield Inlet survivor's group, was formed?
Marius Tungilik: No. We had an ad hoc community struck shortly after the reunion in Chesterfield Inlet in July of 1993. It was formed shortly after Roman Catholic Bishop Rouleau made a statement in Igloolik that everything we said happened did happen.
News/North: Was there any one time when things started to get better for you?
Marius Tungilik: There were a number of situations. It didn't come all at once. Just before I made the statement in Rankin Inlet to the Royal Commission, when I became convinced that nothing can stop me now, that I was going to go ahead, that was calming.
I didn't think I'd feel anything when the Bishop issued his apology because we had been working on that for a number of months. But it wasn't until after the apology that it struck me that yes, it's done now, it can't be taken away, it's there. For me, it brought a lot of peace because our pain, our grief and our sorrow was finally acknowledged in a heart-felt way.
It comes in small steps.
News/North: Are you still taking those steps?
Marius Tungilik: Every now and then I do. I can't say I've brought this to a close. It hasn't happened for me yet. Personally I know I'm much happier that I ever was and healthier but there's always a few things. You know you've come so far and then something happens and you realize that's still dysfunctional behaviour. Every time you peel another layer off, although it's not as big, it's still there and you still need to work on it but it's never quite as painful as it was initially because it was so much to deal with all at once.
I had to quit drinking. It was not helping and I had to break some of my friendships because clearly I was not happy.
For me, the saving grace was that I had a really good, loving relationship with my family before I went to school. I had a good solid base. I knew I was someone special and when that was taken away from me at the residential school, I knew I was stripped of a lot of things but I was extremely lucky to have that solid base. It's not just the child sexual abuse. Yes, that did have a lot of impact on the way we saw life, the way we saw ourselves. I don't think we would have enough time today to describe all the effects but it wasn't just that. They almost robbed us of our identity as a people, saying that we can't live in the past and forget that you are an Inuk and live like a white little boy.
For about 20 years, we never spoke about it. We'd remember it but that was about the extent of the conversation. I had so many horrible memories. Once you start dealing with it, it converts you from a victim to a survivor.
News/North: Do you have any final helping words of advice for survivors of Grollier Hall?
Marius Tungilik: The answer is to think about who you are, who you might become, your true self. Life is such a precious gift.
All I can say is if you follow your heart, you can't go wrong. No one can knock you down. I know that if I didn't follow my heart, the first or second time that people challenged me, I would have regressed and said 'I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that, I don't know what I was thinking, it was never like that.' Once I resolved within myself that this was it, I decided that this would be done regardless of what happened.
A lot of horrible, horrible stuff happened and it does take a while to re-absorb it. You took everything in as a child because you didn't have a choice. As an adult, in order to deal with it, you have to absorb it all again. It's part of the process. There's so much festering inside you and brings out all kinds of emotions, all kinds of flashbacks. You can't help but cry at times, but with that comes clarity.
It was very courageous of Bishop Rouleau to do whatever he could to bring about peace of mind even though he was never personally involved in any of the things that happened at Chesterfield Inlet. I commend him very much and I think it took a lot of courage and foresight and he acted as a true human being.
News/North: Do you think the Roman Catholic Church should apologize to Grollier Hall survivors?
Marius Tungilik: I think so. I think so. It's very hard to forgive anyone anything when they keep denying or trying to deny the impact it has on people. How we deal with those mistakes gets us into a lot of problems. A lot of those who were doing the abusing were probably abused and they built their whole lives on it. That's how big problems can get if you don't deal with it.
It's a strange, confusing situation. It's basically war-time tactics in peace time. There's a lot to deal with. It's a sad legacy. It shouldn't have happened but it did. For me, I hid for a very long time and after a while, I ran out of places to hide.