WARNING: This story contains embarrassing details.
That face that Victoria Mackintosh tried so hard to hide from her memory is Father Arthur Masse.
The retired priest is now charged with sexually abusing McIntosh more than 50 years ago when she was only 10 years old and attended Fort Alexander Boarding School in the Sagking First Nations District of eastern Manitoba.
“I remember that smile,” McIntosh said. “At first he was sweet… He was gentle in his manner, but at the same time he reminded me of a snake – he just slithered.”
McIntosh, 63, speaks for the first time about what happened to her more than 50 years ago. She says she’s tired of keeping it a secret and living with the shame of what happened.
“When I got older, I just put it away – I put it away in my mind. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to think about many of the other things I witnessed there because I felt guilty.”
Massa was charged last week with indecent assault on a child who was 10 years old at the time. The RCMP says the violence happened between 1968 and 1970.
The RCMP didn’t identify the girl, but McIntosh says it was her.
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She says she remembers Masse always waiting outside the girls’ restroom, which is one of the places in the school where she claims she was attacked.
“I thought, ‘Well, if I go to the toilet when I need to use the toilet, I hope it’s not there.’
Another boarding school survivor who contacted the RCMP after hearing about the allegation against Masse claims she, too, was attacked by the priest when he took her to the bathroom.
Since last week’s announcement, others have come forward with new assault allegations, the RCMP said. They did not say how much, nor did they specify which schools the applicants were forced to attend.
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According to records held by the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, Masse taught at three boarding schools in Manitoba: Pine Creek from 1960 to 1966, Fort Alexander from 1966 to 1969, and Brandon from 1970 to 1971.
McIntosh says that as a young woman, she didn’t understand why she was sexually abused and thought it had something to do with the fact that her abuser was a priest.
“What gave you the right? Because you… speak for God? That’s what I thought as a child – he speaks for God, and I should not say anything, ”said McIntosh.
When she was 12, she moved with her family to Red Lake, Ontario, but her time at Fort Alexander boarding school continued to haunt her.
“I had nightmares about the face, I saw the face and I woke up,” McIntosh said. “The last memory I had… was of him approaching me.”
McIntosh says she developed suicidal tendencies as a teenager and became distant from those around her. She developed an eating disorder and started cutting herself.
Massa is now 92, but his age shouldn’t be a factor, McIntosh says.
“Someone has to be responsible… Why does this 10-year-old child have to bear this?”
10 year investigation
Police arrested Masse at his Winnipeg home last week after a decade of investigation. He was released under certain conditions and will stand trial in Powerview, Maine on July 20.
The RCMP say the school sexual abuse allegations were first brought to their attention in 2010, and a year later they opened a criminal investigation.
The investigation involved more than 80 officers who spoke to more than 700 people across North America and collected 75 witness and victim statements, the RCMP said.
“You can ask the question: “Why, with all this work, one accusation was made?” Sgt. RCMP Manitoba. This Paul Manegre said at a press conference last week.
“Unfortunately, as time passes, many victims are unable to participate in the investigation, whether for mental or physical health reasons or because the victim has already died.”
- The Manitoba Indigenous Nation is open to a possible police investigation into an accused priest who worked there in the early 1960s.
McIntosh says that in addition to telling several family members about it, she mostly kept what happened to her a secret until she was approached by the police in 2013.
“I had to learn to trust them and say, ‘OK, please don’t betray me,'” she said. “Just listen to what I have to say, and that’s all I wanted to. Whatever happened… all I wanted was to be heard.”
“It only takes 1 person to make a trail”
Carrying the burden of her secret for decades, McIntosh says she is finally ready to let go of the shame of what happened to her.
“What really took the first step for me was my grandchildren, especially my granddaughters,” McIntosh said.
“I looked at her and [thought]I wouldn’t know how to react if someone did this to her.”
Mackintosh is from the Turtle clan and she says the story her grandmother told her explains why she is now telling her story.
“We were looking at this big giant tortoise crossing the road and she said in our language: “This tortoise is doing [the] path … [so] that you don’t need to be afraid anymore – you don’t need to be nervous. We’ve already gone through the hard part,” McIntosh said.
“It only takes one person to make a trail.”
Now, when McIntosh talks about her experience at Fort Alexander boarding school, she keeps the jacket she wore on the first day nearby.
But that jacket never made it to school with her.
She recalls how a nun met her at the entrance when her mother brought her to school.
“She told my mom, ‘Now we’ll take care of your kids,’ and I remember her saying, ‘Oh, wild” Macintosh said.
According to her, the nun removed the jacket from Mackintosh and threw it to her mother, who, according to her, kept it for many years. It was only when the jacket was returned to her that she told her mother what had happened.
“All I said to her was, ‘It’s not your fault,’ and all that hostility — of course, I was mad at my mom, but that went away. [away] right here,” McIntosh said.
“I said, ‘I want to get to know you again because this intergenerational trauma is real.'”
She hopes that the rest of the Sagking First Nation can start to recover, as she and her mom did.
“When I look at a photo of a boarding school… it looks like a big box of ugly secrets. That’s what I see, and now she’s falling.”
Support is available to anyone who has been affected by their boarding school experience or recent reports.
A national crisis line for Indian boarding schools has been set up to provide support to former students and victims. People can access emotional and crisis help services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.