FOR MY DEAREST FRIEND
Looking at her, she is beautiful, small, yet strong. Don’t make assumptions because you never know what is weighing on one’s soul.
Taken from her home, away from her family, the only people she has ever known. Ripped away like a plant firmly rooted in the Earth.
The scissors raggedly cutting her beautiful dark hair, falling in clumps to the floor around her feet. Attempting to strip away all of her connections to the Earth, to her people, to her family. Treated like an insect, a nuisance, being squished into the dirt beneath your shoe, trying to eliminate any resistance, any life that is left. Her cold naked body shaking, as she is being scrubbed roughly from head to toe. Her clothing was numbered, everything that was given to her had her number. She was a number.
If she did not fall in line, she would be tortured. Torture took many forms at this cold, dark, and unfeeling prison. Make sure that you don’t speak your language, the only language she knows, because she would pay dearly, this 5 year old, sweet little girl. Don’t fight back little one.
Just for a minute, imagine your 5 year old self. Home was a safe place for most of us, surrounded by our parents, and siblings, the people we love most. Being 5 meant storybooks, imagination, toys, bubble baths, and not having a care in the world. It meant feeling the warmth of a hug that let us know that everything was right in the world. It meant birthday parties, and just about as much fun as our imaginations would allow. It meant family traditions, meals together, and creating everlasting memories.
This little beautiful girl was not so fortunate. She was ripped away from her family at 5 years old. She was severely punished if she spoke her language. There were no lullabies, hugs or bedtime stories. She grew up fast. Too fast.
Her first year away at school her Mother died. For 10 years she lived this life. She saw her friends go missing, run away, be tortured, humiliated and raped. Her cousin became pregnant after being raped by a priest. She was sent away, which became a common occurrence at schools like this. What do you think she learned after 10 years of living a life like this, if you can call it a life. The whole purpose was to assimilate these onkwehonwe children, at any cost.
This is Canada. This happened in Canada, not very long ago. This great country that was built on stolen land. That treated its original people who, by the way, helped the immigrants to survive on our land. We were rewarded with broken promises, disease, reservations, death, rape and imposed with a foreign government and language.
Then, our children were targeted. Our future, our everything were stolen and sent to these prison schools in an attempt to strip them of any identity, hope, love, language and culture (way of life). They were broken, assaulted, malnourished, molested, and abused. But despite these heinous crimes, our people carried on, and continue to carry on.
Do you know that incarceration rates, and children in the custody of Children’s Aid, as well as drug/alcohol abuse are higher among Indigenous people. We don’t need to reference statistics because that is common knowledge, and it is clear why.
Back to this beautiful 5 year old girl. She is one of the wisest, kindest, and funniest women I know. She is my mentor. I have learned so much from her. She has survived a life and experiences that would easily break an ordinary person. She is one of the best teachers that I have come to know in my career. She is dedicated to her students, and to seeing that each of them achieve their personal best. To me, she is a hero. A fighter of our people, and a perfect example of a resilient Indigenous woman. Do you know that she has made mistakes? Do you know that sometimes she has had a lapse in judgement? We are all human. But don’t for a minute think that a mistake will define who she is. After all, look at how far she has come despite the odds, despite the abuse she has endured. Our past is simply experience, and although it is not easy to leave behind, we most certainly always learn. Save your judgement, until you have walked a day in her shoes. I will be there standing beside her, no matter what because to me she embodies the strength of our people, and the perseverance to continue on in a life that has not been easy by any means. It is an honour to call her my friend.
Bringing it home, most recently I became aware that I had attended an Indian Day School before 1990 at Quinte Mohawk School here in Tyendinaga. What I remember most as being different is that we had a religion class. My family was longhouse and my parents were pissed off, for lack of a better word to describe it. Pastor Bob would come in from the local church and would host religion classes in our school. I was sent out into the hall, like a few other longhouse children just left by myself without supervision. Can you imagine what that was like? Finding this out has made me feel absolutely disgusted, but also shocked that only 19 years ago, the little school down the road was actually an Indian Day School. Hardly anyone is talking about it. We weren’t raped or abused, or had our hair cut off, so that makes it okay I guess. It is taboo to talk about. Maybe it’s just easier to sweep it under the rug and try and assimilate ourselves as Canadian. Many people don’t understand why I do not consider myself Canadian. If you look at the history of my people, and the immigrants that arrived from Europe, the mistreatment of my people, and continued mistreatment of my people, then it really shouldn’t be a difficult thing to understand. How can I stand for an anthem, for a country, that seeks to snuff out Indigenous people, voices and rights at any cost. If you are a happy Canadian, chances are it’s because you cannot relate to the violence, assimilation and mistreatment that has happened and continues to happen in this country.
Don’t forget where you came from, or what you stand for. Every voice counts and can make a difference. We are aware. We are resilient. We are strong.