An award-winning reporter from Okanese, east of Regina, is now telling stories even closer to her heart.
Connie Walker, award-winning Cree journalist and creator of Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo, now creates podcasts for Gimlet Media and Spotify.
Recently, she has focused on residential school survivor stories. Walker said her brother Hal Cameron approached her and shared a story about their father that she had never heard before.
Stolen Season 2: Surviving St. Michael’s premieres next week and features a story about Walker’s father, Howard Cameron. She recently joined CBC’s Sam Maciag for an interview on the upcoming podcast.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Maciag: What was it like coming home to Saskatchewan to do this story? How was it different from previous visits to just visit family?
Connie Walker: You know, I’ve always loved coming home. I’ve lived away from Saskatchewan for over 20 years now, but I still feel like home. I often come home, you know, I’m very close to my family in Okanese, but my dad’s family is in Beardy’s. [and Okemasis Cree Nation]so it was honestly amazing to be able to reconnect with them and visit them for an extended period of time.
Every time you come home, it’s never long enough, is it? There are always people that you didn’t get to see this time around that you wish you had spent more time with, something else that you wish you had done – and to have that dedicated time that I could spend with my family, really, honestly, felt like a gift.
In all the conversations we had, we were visiting and sharing and talking and laughing and sometimes crying, but also, I felt like I could feel the generosity in everything they shared with me and how much they were incredibly open and generous with telling me about their own stories, but also those of my father.
It really meant so much to me.
Since last summer I have been working on a story about my late father Howard Cameron & his time at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School. It has been a difficult story to tell, but I am so grateful to my family for helping me tell my father’s story. 🧡 https://t.co/PbhDsPUrWC
So tell me how this story [about your father] appeared first?
Last May, after the horrific discovery at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, it seemed many survivors had begun to come forward and share their stories of what they had endured at the residential school, many of them for the first time. .
It was around this time that my brother shared a story about our father, our late father, Howard Cameron, that I had never heard before. It was about how when our father was in the RCMP in the late 1970s, he was patrolling rural Saskatchewan and he stopped a vehicle that was swerving down the highway because he suspected that the driver was intoxicated.
When he got to the driver’s side window, he recognized the driver as a priest who had abused him at boarding school.
He shared this story with my brother, that he beat the priest that night on the side of the road – and then expected there to be a complaint or he was in trouble or , you know, maybe even losing his job.
But nothing happened and it ended up being this story he told my brother that I first heard last year.
When I heard this story about my father, it made me realize how little I knew about his experience at boarding school and how little I knew about what he had endured there- down at that school, and how it affected him and how it affected me in my life.
It made me want to learn more about his experience and also see if I could try to find the priest he arrested that night.
Where did your research take you?
I spent most of my time at Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, just outside of Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.
This is where my father was from and where he and his 15 siblings lived. They all attended St. Michael’s Indian Residential School. So this podcast is really an in-depth look at this only boarding school in Canada.
It’s not just to learn more about my father’s experience. This is where we start in the podcast.
St. Michael’s had been in operation for over 100 years in this community, and the impacts on Beardy’s and Okemasis – but also on surrounding First Nations – have been so extensive, and to really get a feel for it, we spoke to dozens of survivors. From Beardy’s but also from surrounding First Nations.
[We] really tired of having an idea of what life was like for the students of this school.
You’ve spoken to a lot of survivors, but I’m curious who else do we hear from in this podcast?
In the beginning, it was narrowly centered around me and my family, and I have a very large family…talking to a lot of my aunts and uncles, and then talking to their classmates and contemporaries who were at boarding school.
[For] a lot of this podcast I was really trying to find the priest my dad arrested that night, the priest who abused him at boarding school.
I also think, [we] explored people who were alleged abusers at boarding school, what happened to them? Really trying to find out that part of the story as well, and asking questions about accountability, and asking about options for survivors who seek justice and accountability.