A woman takes a picture of the memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School June 6, 2021. CNS photo/Jennifer Gauthier, Reuters

Christ’s compassion creates ‘residential school conqueror’

By  Susan Korah, Catholic Register Special
  • June 2, 2022

OTTAWA -- A life that very easily could have fallen off the rails after a painful experience in Canada’s residential school system was not to be for Bill Adsit.

“The message of the Gospel is right, but it was the harsh way of delivering it that was the problem,” Bill Adsit, a self-described “conqueror” of the residential system told participants at the 57th annual National Prayer Breakfast, held as an in-person event for the first time since the pandemic. 

Adsit, who was the keynote speaker at the event, brought the audience to its feet in a moving testimony to the role played by Christ’s compassion and that compassion reflected by key people in his own healing, reconciliation and recovery process. 

Referring to the theme of the breakfast — “Christ’s Compassion — Our Compassion” — Adsit narrated the story of his life which began in the tragedy of being abandoned to the mercies of staff at a residential school at the age of five by an alcoholic and violent father. But eventually, through Christ’s intervention, he triumphed over the brutality he experienced as a child, changed his attitude of anger and bitterness and went on to help the people of the Tahltan Nation find new hope in their own lives. 

He said he was distressed by a recent social media post by a member of his own community. It referred to “that God who used churches to abuse our kids.”  

“I know that sentiment is out there, but lots of aboriginal people have embraced Christianity too,” he said. “Residential school was all that you have heard about it, and I went through it all.” 

He continued that at the age of 15, when the school shut down, he was once more completely on his own.

“I had nobody who loved me, no education, no job and no prospects.” 

After the RCMP picked him up, he moved from one foster home to another. Fortunately, his original foster mother, Carol Gates, invited him to join her at her home in Rimbey, Alta., and go to high school there. Although high school proved to be a reasonably good experience, he was still filled with anger and was drinking heavily.  

Eventually, he was arrested and put in jail in Edmonton. This proved to be the turning point of his life. 

“It was a terrifying experience for me,” he said. “For the first time, I was reflecting on my own life. I had no future, no prospects, nothing left. I asked God to forgive me and get me out of this mess. I felt forgiven, and I now had a sense of peace and calmness within me. My life did not change immediately, I still had to deal with my anger, but I was ready to work on it.”  

After Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., took him on probation, he completed a business administration certificate, then got a job with Canada Revenue Agency. One of his bosses, realizing he was the only Indigenous accountant there and seeing he had potential, paid for him to complete a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Alberta. After retiring from the government, Adsit went on to become the CEO of the Tahtlan Development Corporation where he was able to help many of his people find gainful employment.  

“I am a residential school conqueror, not a survivor,” he said. “The key to my success is JOY.”

JOY is an acronym for Jesus, Others and Yourself.

“Jesus heard my prayer and came to my help. Others did too, because you can’t go through life without the help of others. Some of the others who helped me are my foster mother, my wife, the principal at my high school, the boss at CRA and my church community. Finally, it’s up to you to be work on your own change of attitude.” 

“I am leaving you with the message that God is the Father of Compassion, and is there to help us with our troubles,” he concluded. 

Attended by several dignitaries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Members of Parliament, Senators and foreign diplomats, as well as members of the public, the National Prayer Breakfast is a non-partisan event and celebrates the country’s Christian heritage. 

“It is a source of incredible hope and strength. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to put this event together, and that despite all COVID-related uncertainties we were able to hold a physical event,“ said MP Cathay Wagantall, who chaired the event. 

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