Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Letting go of residential schools

by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people.
We need to deal with horrible festering wound in the psyche of the nations. We need to ask and to answer a lot of questions – openly and honestly. We need to get beyond "workshops" that are a little more than "crying and bitching" sessions.
Human beings of any race generally learn their behaviours through observing theirs parents, peers and role models. Whatever happened to Indian children where the natural process was broken? What happened to Indian children who were taken away at a young age – four or five years- and raised in alien hostile environments, completely separated from their parents, peer groups, language, culture,role models, familiar surroundings....?
What happened to Indian boys and girls who were raised by childless nuns and priests?Were these children raised in a good healthy manner, ready to bring up the next generation – in an equally good and healthy manner?
How do such children get to learn the history of their own people when it was viewed through the biased account of another culture? How do essential human characteristics like self-respect and self-esteem come to school children who are painfully aware that their ancestors were regarded -by the dominant society- as little more than "red-skinned" savages, filthy lice infected, bead-coveted, canoe-toting, horse stealing, buffalo eating, root gathering, berry picking band of brigands holding up civilization in the New World.
What happened to the parents who were forced to stand by and watch their children being taken away from them? How did they rationalize their apathy? How did they justify nothing to stop the theft of their children? What happened to their relationships that normally exist between them and their children? What happened to relationships of brothers and sisters who were allowed hour long"visits' with each other – once a year?
When the residential schools were finished with their "education" thousands of children returned to hundreds of different villages, minus their language, ignorant of their cultures... lost between two different worlds. At the whistle stops to greet them were parents, grandparents and a motley assortment of "cousins" who managed to sober up long enough to ridicule them for becoming "little brown white people who couldn't talk "Indian" anymore". What do you think that mindless put down did for the relationships and their accusers?
This is unfinished business in Indian country. We need to settle these old accounts – one way or another- and get on with the business of life.
- Gilbert Oskaboose, journalist from the Serpent River First Nation. ON. d.2000

Alice Was Her Name

They’ve given her a number,
And taken away her name.
Does anyone remember?
It was Alice.
Alice was her name.

Little Alice arrived.
At five years old,
They stripped her naked
And they doused her
And they de-loused her.

They burned her clothes.
The ones grandma made.
They shaved her head,
And took away her identity,
And took away her dignity.

Removed from family esteem,
They gave her humiliation.
Removed from family love,
They gave her fear and terror,
And they took away her smile.

Don’t let tears fall,
They give Sister gall.
Don’t let laughter come,
A stiff cane and a strap,
Teaches silence, the golden rule.

She sees her brother,
But she may not call.
She sees a friend,
But is forbidden to speak,
A language foreign to them.

She walks in silence,
Nowhere to run.
Nowhere to hide.
No one to speak to.
No one to touch.

In search of sanctuary,
She sneaks up the stairs.
Furtively, to the third level.
But Sister climbs behind,
Silently following her prey.

Into a room.
Into a closet.
Close the door.
Crouch to the floor,
So no one can find.

With a jerk of the door,
With the grasp of a hand,
Sister reveals herself.
With a cuff to the head,
Little child slams against the wall.

Hand grabs the face.
Thumb rams down the throat.
Bright white teeth clamp down,
As hard as they may,
To bring blood into the fray.

Hell hath no fury like Sister scorned.
With a punch to the head,
And a kick to the ribs,
She picks up her quarry,
Hurls her through the window.

Down the sweet little child tumbles,
Head first to a rock.
Children silently watch.
There is no more movement,
From the child who has no name.

With a viscous sneer, Sister gazes down.
Children stand in awe and fear.
Grasping her thumb, Sister smiles.
She’s thrown down one and she knows,
There is no need to throw down two.

Two lay-brothers in black,
Cover the child with loose dirt.
One defiantly spits and mumbles,
Better for me this, I want no more,
No more tossing into pigs’ swill.

They’ve given her a number,
And taken away her name.
Does anyone remember?
It was Alice.
Alice was her name.

Wayne Douglas Weedon, Excerpt from the novel, Victim No More © 2013
This is a painful reality that all First Nations people know in one way or another. There is thankfully another side to the Indian Residential School survivor story. There is the healing side, the respect and honor I choose to remember. I saw the difference between my grandmother's life and that of a nun. and I love my mother despite her alcoholism. Our relatives went through more than we did. That I know now and for that reason I have compassion for my people. We can heal from all our loss and build for our children, heal our injuries and tend to the wounds of our past when we remember who we are. Oyate. My People.
You're right on the mark there. There are always more than 2 sides to every story, and no matter how many sides there are, none of them are totally truth. Going forward is often hard but always worth it. Nobody had a crystal ball then, and nobody has one now. We all do the best we can with what we have.
I gave you a thumbs up with one caveat: There is only one side to the story of residential schools. To understand what it is I mean, please read John S. Milloy's "A NATIONAL CRIME" and, Sidney L. Harring's "WHITE MAN'S LAW."
Eye openers in every way.

Yes, I agree with you, moving forward is always best IF....we do NOT forget the pain and the lessons of the past. This experience will, in time, make us a better and stronger people.

They took our lands, pride, identity, our traditional way and our languages BUT, they never destroyed our spirit and THAT is what will take us into the future.....intact. The spirit of the Red Man is something they never thought to take into account. Our spirit was never broken. We are definitely on the way back.

I am beginning to think we will never see the end of this journey, the healing and strength and truth journey that we have been forced into because of the residential schools. Even though I never attended, I lived through the stories, the pain, the tears, the anger, the alcoholism, of my parents. They left this world with their stories and pain still strong within them and my heart still cries for them.
Enter your name Thursday, 01 May 2014
For those of us who survived the Residential School system, yes survived, still to this day we are still surviving and will continue surviving. Some in the depths of addictions and some on a never-ending healing journey. For you can never completely heal from the wretched place of isolation. The journey that took me from a close knitted family, warm embraces, surrounded by love, and filled with happiness to a cold, heartless, terrorizing, tormenting, and uncaring people disguise as devil's matrons and Satan's Sires. The compartmentalization of a young mind, taking the very beliefs instilled early in childhood to be destroyed all in the name of Christianization and Civilization. Family ties forever severed, becoming an alien in the very community you were born and raised. Lost is the language, tradition, and culture. As a survivor, the Federal Government's and the Churches' apology are hollow and meaningless. There is no way I will ever regain what was I lost. It's long gone.
@ Enter your name - Don't despair friend. You may never recover all that you lost but, you can walk back to the blanket in your own way. Learn as much as you can before you leave this place and join the old ones who went before.

I have been learning since 1991 and will continue to learn as much as I can until my time comes. I can tell you that, this journey is bringing me great joy. I will never know all that I should but I will do the best I can and I know this one thing, Creator will recognize me by what is in my red heart.

Go! Find peace in the traditional way of your own people. You will never regret it.


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Letting go of residential schools

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by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people. Read more...


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