The SAFE (Survivor and Family Empowerment) Council is a survivor-led initiative that promotes the inclusion of survivors’ and families’ voices and provides direction for the vision of how the work by the department needs to be approached. By utilizing their knowledge, lived experience, and expertise as survivors of the Indian Residential Schools, we can move forward in a good way.
Evelyn Korkmazis an Indigenous Cree survivor of the notoriously violent St. Anne’s Residential School, operated from 1903 to 1976 by the Catholic Church, in her home community of Fort Albany First Nation. She aspires to bring Canada’s hidden dark Indigenous history to the forefront through film screenings and public speaking, Evelyn brings her direct knowledge and lived experiences, of the horrors and fears suffered under the federal residential school policy. Evelyn provides valuable insights during this era of Government promises for ‘truth and reconciliation’.
Evelyn is a founding member of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), an international organization started in 2018 with members from about 28 countries. She has participated in taking significant steps to lobby the Vatican to end clergy sexual abuse of children by church officials and to hold those accountable who know about abuse but engage in cover up. Evelyn is also a founding member of Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors in Canada (ACTS), a multi-partisan coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous advocates from coast-to-coast whose goal is to ensure that those who have experienced harm within religious institutions find justice and peace.
In 2018, 2019 and 2020, Evelyn presented at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland and testified before the UN Committee on Human Rights, the UN Committee on Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture. Evelyn explained to the UN and to the international media that all Indigenous children in Canada were forced under federal law to attend these Christian operated residential schools, and there was terrible abuse of the children under the guarding-ship of the Canadian government and the Oblates missionaries. In Geneva, in 2020, Evelyn made a presentation to the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), and shared her personal story of sexual abuse and torture.
Evelyn has advocated for the St. Anne’s residential School survivors for the last ten years and continues to seek justice of clergy child sexual abuse in church run institutions around the globe.
Darlene Angeconeb is a member of the Lac Seul First Nation and lives in Sioux Lookout. Her family participated in a government Indian Relocation program to Elliot Lake in 1966. She attended Pelican Lake Indian Residential School for 5 years and Lac Seul Indian Day School for 3 years.
She later studied Fine Art at the Ontario College of Art and Political Science at Algoma University College. Darlene has worked with Equay-wuk since 1999. She worked as the Project Lead for the Nishnawbe Women and Self Government project. She is currently a Project Coordinator for the Building Indigenous Women’s Leadership and also serves as the Acting Director for Equay-wuk (Women’s Group), Chair for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee for Sioux Lookout and Chair for the Sioux Lookout Police Services Board.
Her personal projects include pursuing more on the history of the Indian Relocation Program and approaching lawyers for a possible class action. She is passionate about healing for self and has returned to painting and drawing.
“As an adult, I struggled with alcohol addiction and I have learned through workshops and gatherings what I was struggling with. It was the abuse and trauma I lived through in my formative years. Today I live a sober life, a grateful life and work towards healing.”
Victor Chapais is from Ginoogaming First Nation. He attended St. Joseph’s Residential School in Fort William, Ontario and then Confederation College and Cambrian College for his post-secondary education.
Victor worked in the forestry industry for 19 years before deciding to go back to school in the early 1980’s, as he really felt the need to change the scope of his work to help others. He believes he was guided into the social work field. He has previously worked as the manager for Child Welfare in the Longlac office for Dilico and is presently working for Ginoogaming in Education.
Volunteering has always been big part of his life. He has acted as a minor league referee, coach, assistant coach, and trainer in both Longlac and Ginoogaming since 1989.
He has sat on school boards in his community and the surrounding area of Greenstone as well as the Geraldton District Hospital for 11 years, Community Care and Access Centre for 3 years and has done volunteer work with Greenstone Victim Services. After many years of training, Victor has achieved his 2nd degree blackbelt in Shotokan Karate.
These activities are all being done with love and pride of the area he lives in.
Sam Achneepineskum is originally from Marten Falls First Nation. He has attended McIntosh Indian Residential School, St. Anne’s Indian Residential School and Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. He has worked as a bookkeeper, administrator and social worker and has been involved with the City of Thunder Bay as the former Aboriginal Liaison Officer.
Throughout his life he has learned from living in the bush. Living in this way has given him a distinct perspective on life and its issues.
Sam has gained knowledge and experience by being involved with issues that affect Indigenous lives. He has worked extensively with residential school survivors and correctional facilities. He believes that an important part of working with residential school survivors and corrections is using ceremonies and teachings to enhance the good way of life, as intended by the Creator.
His personal projects include learning about First Nations history, maintaining his language and keeping our land and water safe for future generations.
He has been on his most important journey as a husband for 50 years, a father to 6 children and grandfather and great grandfather to many little ones.
“I spent the first 12 years of my life in the bush with my parents, grandparents and community elders who were my first teachers. They gave me a foundation that carried me for the rest of my life. They instilled in me teachings and the understanding for those teachings. For that, I am eternally grateful.”
Peter Sackaney is a survivor of St. Anne’s Residential School located in Fort Albany and at St. Joseph’s Residential School, formally in the town of Fort William, which in now known as Thunder Bay. He is also an intergenerational survivor as his parents and grandparents attended St. Anne’s IRS. Peter has lived a challenging life dealing with his personal demons from being a victim of abuse. He found escape with alcohol and drugs which in later years almost claimed his life. Realizing the substances he used were just an escape, he addressed his addictions and sought help to deal his problems.
Finding himself on a different journey, he returned to his education and attended therapy for many years to confront his painful history. While in therapy, he found his way to walking a spiritual path to maintain his continued wellness. He has dedicated his career to addressing addictions, substance abuse, anger, family violence, family breakdown and community breakdown. He has worked in places of incarceration and within the justice system. Through his work with correctional institutions, he came to realize that they are comparable to the conditions at Indian Residential Schools. He found that the only difference is that the children were innocent and they were incarcerated for being Indigenous.
Today he acts as a voice for the silent Indian Residential School survivors and advocates for them. He has attended many institutions of higher learning to share and educate people on the history of Indian Residential Schools.
“There are times I find it difficult because healing is a consistent process. I don’t think I will be fully healed within this lifetime. There is so much damage, but I do walk with it the best I can and that is enough to grow daily. Trauma is such a monster to deal with. Healing creates my own awareness of what I need to be personally addressing.”
Mary Stella Schimmens is an elder from Moose Cree First Nation. She was born on the land on Hurricanaw River in the Hannah Bay Area. She started school at Bishop Horden Hall in Moose Factory at 6 years old. At 10 years, she was sent to Shingwauk Indian Residential School.
Mary Stella continued her education in the Social Services field but has worked various jobs including store clerk, administrative assistant, and teacher’s aide. Her longest employment was with Weeneebayko Area Health Authority / Health Canada for approximately 30+ years in Medical Transportation/NIHB. Mary Stella has worked with Health Canada/WAHA, the Indian Residential Health Support Services, providing cultural and traditional mental health support to residential school survivors and their families. This worked included supporting the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
One highlight was travelling with CAMH, Centre for Addictions and Mental Health to Peru, where she had the opportunity to meet with a group of international Elders and traditional practitioners that use ceremonies and local herbs to aid in detoxing the addict.
She is serving her third term as a councillor for Moose Cree First Nation and works various portfolios including Health, Education, Children/Youth, Advocacy, Employment and Community Elder Engagement.
She has 7 siblings; 4 who have passed. She is an auntie to many, a mother of 4 and a very proud Kookom of 12 grand children and 2 jabans (great grandsons). She is wife to Bruce.
“Reclaiming our traditions is very important to me.”
Wally McKay is from Sachigo Lake First Nation, a NAN Territory Oji-Cree community. He is a former Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation and former Regional Chief at Chiefs of Ontario and a runner up on Election for National Chief. He is also former Chair/CEO of Windigo First Nations Council and has worked as a Senior Political Advisor to Grand Chief Derek Nepinak at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. In 1954, at the age of five, he was taken from his home and sent to Pelican Lake Indian Residential School in Sioux Lookout, over 400 kilometres away. When he was about twelve and thirteen he was sent to Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie. Wally is a proud language speaker and seasoned advocate for First Nations issues.