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Toronto Star » Aboriginal residential school survivors share stories »

Today, at 72, [Shirley] Williams is a professor at Trent University and one of a number of survivors of Canada’s notorious residential schools for native children who will tell her story Wednesday at a special panel at Queen’s Park, part of a cross-cultural dialogue hosted by Lt.-Gov. David Onley.

“It was like living in jail in a foreign land,” said Williams, who attended St. Joseph’s Girls’ School in Spanish, Ont., until she quit at 16, an act she called “liberation.” “We were always hungry and we couldn’t talk to the older girls, even our own sisters — but if parents didn’t send us they could go to jail for up to a year.”

But beyond the hardship and the homesickness, what these schools took away were the pillars of a person’s identity, she said.

“Your spirituality — the beliefs you follow — and your language. You can’t treat other people like that.

“We’re telling our stories so it will never happen again to any child.”