Morning came and I gently arose from my bed feeling as though knives were piercing my back. I stumbled to the window. The sun was shining bright and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I looked at the trees and all the leaves were turned face up. It was so beautiful. Suddenly all my pain was gone and my heart was filled with joy.Read Dymond Stevens's A Message In The Leaves
oromocto first nation
I choose to write this story because this is an important part or our history that needs to be heard by everyone. This is an extremely sensitive subject not to just the victims but to all Aboriginal people. We all were and still are affected each and every day. We are a strong Nation and we will stand tall forever. We struggle to regain our language, not all will be retrieved but we will never give up.
It is time we take back what was rightfully ours as Aboriginal people and show the world just how strong we are! I am proud to be who I am as an Aboriginal youth and I would not change it for anything . Though I am only fifteen, I still see people residential school survivors every day in my community. From this day forward, I will pray to the Creator to give me strength to move forward and take back what was rightfully ours! Today I look out the window and the sun is shining bright, I look at the trees, the leaves are turned face up.
I was a young ordinary Maliseet child growing up in a Native Community. I attended school on my reservation and was taught many valuable teachings in my mother tongue. Here we were taught our Maliseet ways of survival and Elders guided us into becoming respectable hardworking members of our community. We quickly caught on to our respective designated roles which were necessary to ensure survival as Maliseet people. There was peace and a natural order of things. We all had a place in our society, a beautiful place to be. We had no knowledge of the English language, nor did we have any desire or need to learn a different culture completely foreign to us. We were Maliseet and we fluently spoke our mother tongue, after all, was that not who we were?
I grew up with my mother and father who taught my brother and I to honor our Maliseet heritage. We lived a good life filled with love, honor, respect, caring and sharing. Is that not the way intended for each and every one of us? I remember almost every day as if it were yesterday. My father would take us out to split wood and get water on a daily basis. Sometimes my father would take me along on his hunting trips so that I would learn to hunt. He was an extremely good provider for our family, and he always made sure we had plenty of everything for days to come. Loved my family, loved my life.
From time to time, my grandparents spoke of a terrible curse that someday may come our way. They warned us to prepare and to be aware of signs, signs that would change our lives forever. Then sure enough, one cold rainy day when the leaves were turned up, the world as I knew it was viciously torn from my tiny little hands forever. I was only six years old at the time and did not understand a whole lot about what was going on around us. This terrible day brought strange looking people to our village. Pale looking people like I had ever seen before, they had light hair and light eyes and wore funny clothes. The men scared me as I peeked out from behind my mom, and I remember asking her why they had hair growing on their faces. I heard a strange language as they spoke to my father and pointed to us children. I squeezed my mother’s hand tightly and closed my eyes as they approached me and tore me from her grip. At the innocent age of six, I was forced from my parents and taken away from the only life I ever knew. My home, hunting trips, peaceful swims in the river, picking medicines and berries, everything important to me…my life, everything was gone in a flash. My whole world was taken away, and I was to be taken to a place called a residential school. This was to be a place that would teach me a better way of life. How could I have a better life without my family, who was going to carry the wood in to light the fire at home? My little head was full of questions and I was so frightened that I went my pants. Leaving my family was the hardest thing I ever had to do and I vividly remember that terrible cold rainy day when the leaves were turned up.
I do not know how long I cried, but I cried myself to sleep at some point. During my short sleep, I even dreamt of the strange men and women whom escorted us. There were other children in the vehicles as well. All that could be heard were the sob of crying children and every now and again we heard one man
very sternly say “shut up” whatever that meant. I could sense fear as I looked into the eyes of the other children. Was this really happening? The feeling of my heartbeat was so weak and I think maybe I blacked out. My father always told me that when the leaves are turned up, trouble is not far away. He was so right. Little did we know what was in our future once we arrived. The worst of a child’s nightmare was soon to come true. We stopped at every train station on the way to pick up other children from different reserves. The children continued to cry, the tears were a constant flow, like the rain of severe monsoon.
When we arrived at the school, we were met by nuns and priests. I later learned that these nuns were also forced to stay as their sentence for laws they may have broken. They were deviants of society and were sentenced to be nuns at these kinds of schools. After having spent even minutes at this school we clearly understood just how deviant they could be. They deserved to be in prison. With each passing day, this place seemed more and more like a prison for “Indian Children” and the punishments were beyond harsh. How could anyone in this world really believe that children belonged here simply because of their culture and the color of their skin. We were instantly separated, boys on one side and girls on the other. As if it wasn’t bad enough being separated from my parents, they separated me from my brother too. Number forty-four was my new name. That is all I was to them was just another number. No longer did I have the name my grandmother named me. My brother was given the number twelve and even between the two of us, we were never allowed to call each other by our names given to us at birth. Still to this day, these two numbers continue to haunt me and that they did for the rest of my life. Once we were registered, immediately our hair was cut off and we were stripped and taken in to get washed. Actually, washed is putting it mildly. They scrubbed us so hard it felt like my skin was on fire. The whole idea was to try and “scrub the Indian off of us”. They told all of us that we had no parents or grandparents anymore, that we were the children of God and that we would learn what God wanted us to learn and talk and dress like the way God intended for us. They kept telling us that we needed to be “saved”! I could not understand, saved from what? I only wish it was saved from this hell on earth. All I could think about was home and when were my brother and I able to leave this place. I had a real hard time and got punished daily, was it really my fault I could not understand English? Being six years old I also had a hard time remembering my number. I tried my very best to memorize that stupid number that did not make sense to me, all I knew was what happen to another little girl when she forgot her number, was not going to happen to me. Ya Right! We were all forced to watch what happened to her as a warning what would happen when we disobeyed.
Days went by that turned into weeks which turned into month. The seasons were changing so I knew I was there for a real long time. One day as I was on kitchen duty, I glanced out the window and saw that it was a cold rainy day once again with the leaves turned up. We did kitchen duty, laundry, scrubbing floors, knitting mittens and socks for the army, school work and the praying to no end. I had been abused every way imaginable. That was it, I was broken, I had enough. My language, my culture, my life was be stripped away more and more with each passing day. I had a plan. I was angry and sad at the same time and I just wanted to leave. I did the unspeakable, I ran away. Sadly to say I did not get very far, they soon caught up to me in the car. All I could think was what was coming next, escaping was one of the worst punishments.
We pulled into the schoolyard and I was dragged by the hair into the school. All I can remember is seeing the priest come towards me with a thick piece of wood resembling a 2” x 4”. He hit me across my lower back and the back of my legs. The pain was excruciating! I collapsed to the ground, and it felt like my whole back was shattered. I was taken back to the school, back to some sort of recovery room. Number forty-four was back, but for how long this time? My spirit has been broken and I knew at this point it would never heal. That night I tried a ceremony in my dreams that I was taught by my grandmother. I connected to my grandmother in my dream, she took my hand, and we laughed and played til morning when the sun shining in my eyes woke me up. In my dream I told her about all the pain, the hard labor working in the kitchen and the laundry room where one of the girls lost their hand in one of the giant wringer washers. I told her about the nuns and priests sneaking into our dorms at night and taking children from our beds. They did things to us children that children our age should not even know about. That is how most of us lost our innocence. As I said, my spirit had been broken and in my case, was beyond healing. I was detached mentally, physically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually from my culture and language. The hate that was running through my veins was taking over my body. I was numb from head to toe and inside, my heart n soul was lost forever. It was then that I knew, I was one of the children that would never leave this horrific place. My bones hurt, my head hurt, but most of all my heart ached for my family and the life I once knew and would never know again.
Morning came and I gently arose from my bed feeling as though knives were piercing my back. I stumbled to the window. The sun was shining bright and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I looked at the trees and all the leaves were turned face up. It was so beautiful. Suddenly all my pain was gone and my heart was filled with joy. My grandmother stood in front of me holding her hands out and I went to her. The burden on my shoulders was gone, the hate I felt was gone, the pain from the vicious beating was gone. Was it true? Was I free from this place? I will remember this day forever. It was not like an ordinary feeling, everything was calm and peaceful, no pain. I was a bit scared at first but then felt a light as if I was floating. I walk outside and I had a different feeling in my body, a beautiful feeling. I took my grandmother’s hand and we walked into the sky. The sky was bursting with the brightest of colors, they were so beautiful? I had no idea what was happening but I knew it was something good. At some point I stopped and looked behind me, the school was gone. Everything surrounding me was loving and peaceful, the most wonderful feeling in the world. Once again my whole body was numb. I finally figured out what was happening to me, my spirit was passing over into a beautiful world. I was worried for my brother so I visited him often even though he could not see me I was sure he could feel me. It was not until the day he left the school that he found out that I passed away of an illness. It was not the truth but how would anyone know otherwise. He looked at the rows and rows of wooden crosses and they could not even tell him which one was mine. Though he felt alone and sad, he knew at that point that I was by his side and it was me who had helped him survive his ordeal in this place. I was right by his side the moment the Creator set me free.
The memories lingered with him throughout his entire life and absolutely nothing could take that pain away. He became an alcoholic and drank himself to a point where he did not want to live another day. The sacred teachings of our culture and the guidance of an Elder was what brought his spirit back home. As the years passed, he became a father of two boys, my two nephews whom I watch over day and night. He was finally happy but never forgot that day when it was cold and rainy and the leaves were turned up.
The creator has a plan
Every plan has a purpose
It gets tough
If you lose a loved one, but remember
it was their time to leave
Do not waste your time trying to forget what has happened in the past .
Move on and remember what is important
Get rid of all the pain that lingers from that place
Yes it still hurts but do not let it get the best of you
It is time we get back to our Maliseet ways
Rebuild our native communities and show the strength in our Culture
It is time to make a change
For ourselves and for our generations to come.
Sorry is not enough, money is not enough
Remember what you did to us because
We will never forget.