A 61-year-old aboriginal man who survived the horrors of residential school in his youth is finally celebrating his high school graduation. Now, Glenn Courchene, who is Anishinaabe from Sagkeeng First Nation located near Winnipeg, Manitoba, has his sights set on college.
"I've gone through a lot of hurt, and I respect myself for going to school. And I will never give up school because I want to keep learning,” Couchene told CBC News.
He was sent to Fort Alexander Indian Residential School in Manitoba when he was just 4 years old, in the 1960s. Residential schools in Canada were set up to help Native American students assimilate into Canadian culture, but they have a long reputation of mistreating their students. This particular school was set up by Roman Catholic missionaries and was riddled with allegations of physical and sexual abuse, according to The Eugenics Archives.
Courchene said his time in residential schooling is the reason he is not able to speak his peoples’ language, Anishinaabemowin, today.
“It was kind of hard for me," Courchene said. "We couldn't learn because of what happened to us. We were abused, physical and all that. We were there to learn, not to get hurt."
In 2008, then-Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper issued a formal apology to former students for the abuse they were subjected to during their time in residential schools.
Courchene attended the school until sixth grade, and hadn’t considered going back to get his degree until 2019. He had given it another shot in 2012, but never followed through with the courses.
“Last year he just took off,” his school work counsellor, Karen Legall, of the Empower Adult Education Centre, told CBC News. "He just started coming in every day. And then we thought, you know what, let's get your Grade 12. And he was so excited and he did it."
Coucherne said he’s thankful he went back to school, and hopes others can learn from his story.
"Now I can prove that an elder like me could graduate. If anybody like me can do it, they can do it," Courchene said.
In fact, the staff at the Empower Adult Education Centre have already learned from him.
"He really likes to share all his knowledge over the years. And we appreciate him doing that,” Legall said. “We've learned a lot from him.”