“I admired my father a lot. And I remember at one point I was looking at him, I think I was on the small hill, and he was below, he had made a hole in the ice, and he was hunting beaver with a, with a harpoon, and I was there, I was looking at him and I was singing. And I remember when I was kid I sang a lot, very often.” Thérese Niquay
“And what I remember in my childhood also was the, my mother’s songs, because we lived in tents, and there was young children, and my mother sang for the youngest, and at the same time this helped us to fall asleep. It was beneficial to everyone, my mother’s songs, and that is what I remember” Jeannette Coo Coo
“The land was all around me, the snow, the sky, the sun, and I had my parents. And we had a dog team. We were travelling, I think it was on Banks Island, and I was amazed at what I saw, just the environment, the peace, the strength, the love, the smile on my dad’s face. And when I wake up he’s singing a short song to me of love.” Albert Elias
“I was born in the bush. It was a pride for me to say that because I was born in the bush in a tent. It’s something that remains in my heart going to the woods, living in the woods. It’s in my heart.” Louise Bossum (from the Cree area of Mistissini) telling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission what her life was like before residential school. Some beautiful photos of the area where she grew up, here.
And I happened upon this cool National Geographic video (though it’s about Inuit, not Cree.)
When I first learned about residential schools, as a teen and more in college, I learned a lot of general facts. Horrible facts–beatings, molestation, crappy living conditions–but still general. Reading the Commission’s report, however, what stayed with me were the ordinary childhood experiences kids lost. Like this…
Bob Baxter, Anishinaabe: “I remember the legends at night that my dad used to tell us, stories, and how he used to show us how to trap and funny things that happened. You know there’s a lot of things that are really, that are still in my thoughts of how we were loved by our parents.”
Some of my best childhood memories are of storytelling, like my dad reciting ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee‘, a tradition passed down from my Irish great-grandmother. A lot of kids sent away to residential schools didn’t get to see their families very often, if at all, so: No more nightly stories, and less chances to pass stories down to the next generation.
Here’s what Canada’s first Prime Minister said in Parliament about residential schools:
When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. …Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
Separating children from their parents is the most heartbreaking part of all this, and the first sin of the residential school system. (Yes, I know little rich kids have been sent off to boarding school for centuries–it’s probably bad for them too.)