For her project "Signs of Your Identity," photographer Daniella Zalcman juxtaposed her subjects against the former residential schools they once attended in Saskatchewan. In 2008, the Canadian government apologized for the residential school system, which a commission officially labeled "cultural genocide" last year. "It was the worst 10 years of my life," said Mike Pinay, pictured against the residential school he attended from 1953 to 1963. "I was away from my family from the age of 6 to 16. How do you learn about family? I didn't know what love was. We weren't even known by names back then. I was a number."
Like Pinay, Rick Pelletier attended the Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School. "My parents came to visit, and I told them I was being beaten," Pelletier told Zalcman. "My teachers said that I had an active imagination, so they didn't believe me at first. But after summer break they tried to take me back, and I cried and cried and cried. I ran away the first night, and when my grandparents went to take me back, I told them I'd keep running away, that I'd walk back to Regina if I had to. They believed me then."
"I ran away 27 times," said Marcel Ellery, who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School from 1987-1990. "But the (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) always found us eventually. When I got out, I turned to booze because of the abuse. I drank to suppress what had happened to me, to deal with my anger, to deal with my pain, to forget. Ending up in jail was easy, because I'd already been there."
"After I'd had enough of that place, one day I jumped the 8-foot-high fence and I took off down the highway," said Stuart Bitternose, who attended the Gordon Indian Residential School from 1946-1954. "I found a farm, and I asked if I could work, and I stayed there for two and a half years on a salary of a dollar a day. I told the farmer I'd run away (from residential school), and he said he didn't care -- and if anyone came looking for me he'd chase them off for trespassing. He saved me."
"When I was 8, Mormons swept across Saskatchewan. So I was taken out of residential school and sent to a Mormon foster home for five years," said Deedee Lerat. "I've been told I'm going to hell so many times and in so many ways. Now I'm just scared of God."
"I've spent half my life incarcerated, and I blame residential school for that," Jimmy Kevin Sayer said. "But I also know I have to give up my hate because I'm responsible for myself. I have three adult daughters, and I was in jail for the duration of their childhoods. I have a 2-year-old son now, and I need to be there for him. I have to be different."
"I was brought up believing in the nature ways, burning sweetgrass, speaking Cree. And then I went to residential school and all that was taken away from me," Valerie Ewenin said. "And then later on I forgot it, too, and that was even worse."
"I used to be able to speak my language when I was little. But now, because of residential school, I only know how to say hello and count to 10," Angela Rose said. "I turn on the native radio station, and I just like to sit and listen. I can't understand what they're saying, but everyone once in a while a word will pop out at me and it'll jog some small memory. I've lost a lot of things, but I think that's one of the ones I miss most."
"It's hard for me to really love my children," said Joseph Gordon Edechanchyonce. "I grapple with the word 'love.' By the time I got out of school, I'd started drinking heavily. I went to a center for alcohol abuse and it was like a prison, but it felt like home. I knew how to live in that environment. ... I got caught in the wrong place and time in history. I don't think we can ever heal from this. We're just going to have to die with all the pain."