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'Grandmother's spirit' helped Passamaquoddy medicine man survive residential school

Other New England residential school survivors sought for settlement

PLEASANT POINT, Maine - Passamaquoddy medicine man Fredda Paul says traditional medicines can cure just about any physical ailment, but nothing can heal the invisible wounds of an abusive childhood.

Paul, 62, who lives with his wife, Leslie, at the Passamaquoddy Tribe's Pleasant Point community, still wrestles with the demons from 13 years of his childhood at the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Paul is among an estimated 80,000 people in Canada and New England who survived the brutality of the system that took Indian children from their homes and installed them in Canadian boarding schools where they were often beaten, sexually abused and stripped of their language, their culture, their families, and sometimes their lives.

The survivors will share in a $1.9 billion settlement from the Canadian government and churches that was approved March 22 after 10 years of negotiations.

No such settlement has been reached in the United States for abuses experienced at Indian residential schools in America.

Paul, and other Maine tribal members who attended Shubenacadie, were contacted by the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs, a nonprofit research and advocacy group representing First Nations in Canada's Atlantic provinces and New England. APC is seeking other Shubenacadie survivors among New England tribal members to share in the settlement.

APC and other groups sued the Canadian government and the Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches, and the United Church of Canada on behalf of the survivors of more than 80 Canadian residential schools that operated from 1920 to as late 1997.

Paul, who received an honorary degree in environmental science from Unity College this year for his work as a traditional medicine man, said the settlement money will not assuage his residential school experience.

Kidnapped by their father, Paul and his brother were sent to Shubenacadie when they were very young.

Paul said he was sexually abused by Catholic priests and some of the nuns who ran the school. He also witnessed physical abuse of other children, and the death of a child who was beaten and tied to a tree for two nights.

When Paul came home, he was emotionally frozen and terrified of what might be coming next.

''It took a long time. I got to know my grandmother before I did my mom and one day she told me, 'grandson, that's your mother, don't ignore her, go up and give her a hug.' I was afraid to and she pushed me and when I came close to my mother this spiritual bond just made like a magnet and I collided with my mom and gave her the hug of my life, and then after that I started learning medicine from my grandmother,'' Paul said.

Paul attributes his survival at Shubenacadie to his grandmother and a Penobscot shaman who also taught him traditional medicine.

''I'll tell you something. Kids without parents didn't live. They died, because they [the school administrators] knew they could do anything to them. I dug up bones of young boys and girls that were buried there, and others did, too.

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''They knew I had a father, but they also knew he wasn't coming back for me. I was taught by the spirits of my grandmother and the shaman even though I didn't know it until I came home. It was something that was spiritual inside of me. I can't explain it, but it helped me to survive in that school,'' Paul said.

Paul's grandmother, who died healthy at almost 100 years old, predicting the day and time of her passing, continues to teach him even now, Paul said.

The medicine she taught is ''more powerful than any man or any machine on the face of this Earth,'' he said.

The financial settlement can't compensate for the lost years, he said.

''It won't mean anything to me, because no amount of money in the world can heal it,'' Paul said.

But Paul said he is healing through doing the work he loves and carrying on the tradition his grandmother first taught him.

The APC does not have an accurate number of New England Native survivors of Shubenacadie, said the organization's senior analyst, Violet Paul (no relation to Fredda Paul).

The APC team will return to the United States in the fall for a meeting hosted by Houlton Band of Maliseets Chief Brenda Commander to find other settlement applicants.

''We want to make sure that everyone we can possibly find can be included,'' Violet Paul said.

The settlement will provide a ''common experience'' compensation of $10,000 plus $3,000 for each year spent at the school for loss of language, loss of culture and loss of family life. Claimants for sexual, physical and psychological abuse damages will go through an additional process involving a hearing and may receive between $5,000 and $275,000 or more.

But the settlement goes deeper than money, Violet Paul said.

''When you're institutionalized at such a young age, you don't know how to parent. What you learn is sexual abuse and beating,'' Violet Paul said.

The experience creates a cycle of abuse in which in residential school survivors abuse their own children, who in turn abuse and lose their children to social services, Violet Paul said.

''Residential schools along with colonialism have brought us to where we are today. You have a negative view of education, you have family violence, you have so many social issues, drug abuse - those are the issues we have to fix,'' Violet Paul said.

Survivors can call Violet Paul at (902) 435-8021 or visit the Assembly of First Nations Web site at www.apcfnc.ca for more information and settlement applications. Deadline to apply is Sept. 19, 2013.