My mom always told me she would protect me. She isn’t by my side now when I need her the most. My hands clench in fear, eyes wide as I wait for the bishop to come. The knob turns and the bishop comes in, cross and robes, eyes that pierce through me. He stands before me, my head tilting upwards so that I can see him, and he smiles. It isn’t the kind of smile my dad would give me that would make feel as though I am safe. This is the complete opposite. My skin crawls and a shiver goes down my spine. I’m scared of how he will punish me.Read Anonda Canadien's Damage
Fort Providence, NT
Deh Gah Gotíé
I am Dene and I speak a little of my language, Dene k’e. The aboriginal people who have lived around residential areas for years know stories about the residential schools and how it has had an impact on us. Even though there are other languages and nations, I think everybody knows stories of what the government did to us in the residential schools.
Before the residential schools were built and the children were forced to go to school, the aboriginal people were happy. Once the schools were built, children between the ages of four to sixteen had to go to school where they were taught to speak either French or English and were forced to do labor.
In my story, I write about a young girl’s life in residential school. Her story speaks for the thousands of unheard voices who also attended the residential schools around the country. There were no hearts in this school, but only cold eyes. You read about how she is treated in a first person’s view, which tells you first hand of this terrifying experience.
The topics and events I wrote about were told to me by elders and teachers. It took a lot of research to get everything down to make the story come to life. When I wrote this story, I made sure to include the aftermath and what it does to people even though they aren’t in residential school anymore. These traumas continue to affect us. They tried to steal our cultures, but we didn’t let them succeed.
I hope my story will let other people who don’t know much about our history understand what was going on. Residential schools were a terrible time and those experiences damaged a lot of people, but they made it through.
My mom always told me she would protect me. She isn’t by my side now when I need her the most. My hands clench in fear, eyes wide as I wait for the bishop to come. The knob turns and the bishop comes in, cross and robes, eyes that pierce through me. He stands before me, my head tilting upwards so that I can see him, and he smiles. It isn’t the kind of smile my dad would give me that would make feel as though I am safe. This is the complete opposite. My skin crawls and a shiver goes down my spine. I’m scared of how he will punish me.
“I heard you did a bad thing, Maria.” He clasps his hands.
I gulp, “I…I only wanted another piece of b-bread.”
He shakes his head, “you only eat what you’re given. You know that.”
I don’t say anything, but nod my head. Before I know what is happening, his hand is raising and lands on my cheek. I flinch from the harsh contact and tears slip from the corner of my eyes.
“Go back to class.”
I stand; my legs wobble as I walk out. My whole body shakes as I walk out of the room, my tears falling fast.
I walk into the classroom with tears streaming down my face and a desire for home. The nun looks at me before telling me to sit down. The other children are staring at me. I don’t glance at them as I sit down. My eyes focus on the scratches in the plain wood from previous children.
“Are you a bad person?”
I don’t say anything.
She sighs, “Maria, Are. You. A. Bad. Person?” She looks me in the eyes; dull and cold eyes that make me shiver.
“I-I do-don’t kn-know.” I stutter, not used to speaking their language.
She raises her hand and for the second time in one day I get slapped. I flinch. I clench my hands, digging my nails into my skin, anything to rid me of the pain.
“Are you a bad person?”
I nod my head weakly. “I am a bad person.” The words that came out don’t sound like me, but I believe the words.
“Go to your room.”
I open my eyes and walk out, my legs shaky and my heart pounding so hard it hurts.
The time to go home comes. Two months is not long enough. When my parents see me, only my mom breaks into tears. My dad only stares at me with pursed lips before hugging me. I feel his warmth and his strength, and that’s enough for me to break into tears. I go to my room where I undress and sit in a bath of warm water. I scrub my skin wanting to get rid of the bishop’s scent and his touch.
It’s when I’m laying in bed that my dad comes to sit next to me.
“You know why I named you Golía?” His shaky hands run through my hair.
I shake my head.
“I named you Golía because in Dene K’e it means butterfly. A butterfly is strong and has faith. Golía, you are strong. I know what you are going through. You might break sometimes, but always have faith.”
I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have taken the cheese for her, even though she is my cousin. Now I’m paying the price. I stand in the nun’s office, my hands on the brown desk. I squeeze my eyes shut. The door opens behind me with a creak and I all I can think is that I’ve done something bad.
“I thought you learned your lesson. Looks like I’m going to be teaching you another lesson.”
I don’t say anything, don’t turn. When she comes into my view, she holds a brown stick.
“This should do it,” she says before telling me to stand up a little.
I gasp as she raps my knuckles. I choke back a sob from the pain. She continues until I am a crying mess. She sends me outside to go back to work. I hold my hands to myself, my sleeves covering them. I weep as I walk outside.
Our job is to plant food. My hands hurt. It hurts to lift a finger. I don’t think I can do this. I look at every girl and see some have scars on their faces and blood stained bandages around their hands. I pick a seed up and throw it in the small hole created by my foot before covering it with dirt with my foot. I move to the next spot, where I repeat my steps.
The sun is setting by the time I have emptied my bag. My hands are in pain. I walk across the field, but stop when I see an orange flicker to my right. I walk towards it: a butterfly. I am instantly flooded with what my dad told me. I hold out my hand and it lands on it. Soft, too soft, so I let it go. I watch the butterfly fly away. I squeeze my eyes, turn away and continue to walk.
My hands are shaking as I walk up the steps. That night I toss and turn, my dad’s words going through my head.
Ten months have passed. It is time to return home. I’m not coming back though, never again. I am sixteen with scars and memories.
The ride home isn’t long, but it isn’t fast either. I walk up the shore, my legs already aching from lack of food and strength. When I open the door to our house, the smell of food causes my mouth to water. It also wakes up my dad who was sleeping on the couch. He stands and walks towards me, eyes glassy.
He hugs me before calling out for my mom. She cries into my hair and holds me tighter than my dad did. She pulls away and looks at my face, only crying harder. My eyes have bags and my face looks sunken in, my skin pale.
After a scrub and dinner, I go outside and stand in the field. My dad soon comes. He doesn’t say anything, but that’s okay. His presence is all I need.
“Did I survive?” I whisper.
“Golía, you made it. You are not you from the start, but you will change. The impact will be hard like it was for me, but don’t let it get to you. Don’t let it run deep into your skin. Now is the time for forgiveness.”
His words wrap around me, and his voice is smooth and warm. I hadn’t heard him speak like that for almost two year. I have missed it. I let the sun warm me and that’s when the tears come. I sit on the grass and cry with my dad’s arms around me. When he smooths my hair, it triggers something inside of me because suddenly I’m crawling away from him, eyes wide. He brings me back into his arms and holds me even though I thrash against him when memories come back.
There was an announcement, but I was too busy to go listen. When my mom comes running to me with tears running down her face, I wish I had heard it myself. The year is 1960 and I am twenty-six. The school I used to go to has been boarded up and shut down. I cry, shaking with anger and relief. Why couldn’t they have done this earlier?
I cry harder and my dad wraps his arms around me. My mom was young when she had me so she couldn’t go. My dad was taken and brought to the school, like me.
I’m relieved because no more children will have to go there, go through all those horrible things and be haunted forever. Just like me.
My skin crawls with disgust when I see him again. Standing in front of everybody as he marries a couple. He shouldn’t be here; he doesn’t belong standing there. Instead of saying something, I walk out.
My stomach turns, and once I’m outside I throw up. My body shakes with fear.
They ruined me. I hate to admit it, but it still affects me. The memories and scars will forever stay. I am ruined.