Dear Canada: A step back in time

BOOKS

These Are My Words

These Are My Words
The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens
Northern Ontario, 1966

By Ruby Slipperjack

ISBN: 978-1-4431-3318-0 Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4431-3319-7 Ebook
200 pages | Ages 9-12 | 5 1⁄4" x 7 5/8"

Violet Pesheens is struggling to adjust to her new life at Residential School. She has run-ins with the other girls, she misses her Grandma, and everything she brought has been taken from her, including her name — she is now just a number. But worst of all, she has a fear. A fear of forgetting the things she treasures most: her Anishnabe language, the names of those she knew before, and her traditional customs. A fear of forgetting who she is.

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From Violet's diary:

We entered the girls’ dorm. It was empty. There were three rows of beds. Light green curved metal head frames with three metal bars in between, and the same-coloured curved foot frames. There were metal night tables between the beds, of the same colour. The floor had smeared green tiles going one way, and the next row another way. Like a checkerboard.

I was directed to the first row and to a bed that was the third from the end. There was a pile of stuff on the bed and there were lockers right across from the beds and that one was to be mine. I put the things that were on the bed into the locker. All the clothes had the number 75 written in black marker at the back of the neck, or on the tags at the back of the skirts. I was now #75. I wondered how many other girls had worn the #75 clothes.

As I closed the locker door, I turned and saw a girl in the tall mirror at the end of the room. She moved when I did and that was when I felt a shock go through me. That was me! I had never seen myself look like that before, and I began to shake and panic until I saw my eyes. There were my mother’s eyes looking back at me. I was still me. They could do anything they wanted to me, but I would still be me!

All my own things are gone. Now I have to wear strange clothes and aprons with the number 75 on them. I am now just a number.

The Supervisor came in and directed us to follow her. We went down the stairs and stopped at a door and she led us in a prayer that we had to repeat after her. I never heard that prayer before. Then we entered the dining room, where all the girls were already eating. We were directed to empty chairs, and plates of food were put before us. I was very hungry. I just put my head down and began to eat. I can’t even remember what we had for supper. The other new girl and I had to eat fast because the others couldn’t leave until we were done. Then we had to say a thank-you prayer all together before we could leave the dining room. I didn’t know this prayer either, so I had to just repeat what they were saying.

From Dear Canada: These Are My Words, copyright © 2016 by Ruby Slipperjack.

Read other stories by Ruby Slipperjack in:

  • Hoping for Home
  • A Time for Giving