Gloria was the Community Capacity Development Coordinator for the Indigenous church in Manitoba prior to her retirement in fall 2021, and continues to be an Elder and leader in our church and the community. She shared some of her story with the Prairie to Pine Regional Council annual meeting in the spring of 2021 and we were honoured to participate and to bear witness.
She generously gave us this reflection to share, and gave permission for this to be shared wherever it can help the learning journey. Please make sure you include the full credit if you share any of this reflection in whole or part, spoken or written.
She writes, ” Here’s a writing piece I wrote in 2003 in honor of our Indigenous Residential School Survivors and some of the stories I heard. I have kept this writing piece and wondered if I would ever share it. I was never in residential school however both my parents were, and so they brought home what they had learned and experienced. I never got to talk to my mom before she died about her experience in residential school. She passed away at the age of 66 (just 4 days after she turned 66).
I did however have the chance to talk to my dad and he shared that he was in Elkhorn ‘Industrial’ School where he went to ‘school’ half a day and ‘worked’ half a day. He referred it to as ‘bad boys’ school’. I wonder who said that to him eh? My mom was in Brandon Residential School.
I entitled this writing piece ‘How Did I Get Here’ because this what I heard between the lines as they shared their story.” Gloria A. Cook, Fisher River Cree Nation – June 26, 2021.
HOW DID I GET HERE?
Why do I have to be responsible for all my hurts, anger, sadness and fears that seem to follow me wherever I go? I didn’t ask to leave my family when I was so little…to go to that school, so far away…to go live with strangers. I am only five years old. How did I get here?
I was so scared…I remember when they cut my shiny ebony hair. Grandma was so proud of my braids, she loved combing my hair as she hummed a song to me. I didn’t ask to come here!
I don’t mean to cry but it is so lonely at night. It feels so strange here…these sheets are so cold and no one is here to comfort me…no one to kiss me good night. That so called ‘caregiver’ was supposed to take care of me, not abuse me. I didn’t ask to come here!
I don’t understand what you are trying to teach me. Even though I am forced to speak a strange language, I still think in Cree because it is my mother’s tongue. I am afraid to ask for help because you already said I am stupid. I didn’t ask to come here!
Why can’t I sit with my big brother in church and why am I called a sinner and no good? I thought our Creator was the same as your God? I want to go home and pray with my elders. I am only eight…I didn’t ask to come here!
I am so angry, one of the other kids told me that my mom died. She heard the adults talking. I want to go home to say good-bye but they won’t let me. I am too young they said…I am only ten. I think I am going to run away, who cares if I get punished, but which way is home? I didn’t ask to come here!
Home, home at last! Why did you wait so long to send for me? Why are you looking at me so strangely? It’s me, remember me? I am your family. I am not different…I feel the same inside. Mom, dad, why do you seem so distant? I am home, please someone give me a hug, after all it’s been ten years since I left home. I didn’t ask to go there!
Who are all these strange people in our house? What is in that bottle that is making you act so strangely…it’s not funny! I am confused and feel so lost. I want to go back. Don’t fight, please. I can’t sleep, I feel so cold…grannie is gone, no one to hug me or to sing to me. I don’t want to be here!
Why do I have to become someone else to work here? What do you mean, who I am is not important? But I am an Indian and my name is… Look at you? But my elders said it is rude and disrespectful to stare at someone so boldly. I can do the job, never mind, thanks anyway. I think I’ll go back home. I am not welcome here.
If I go back home, at least I can pretend to fit in but how will I get home when I only have five dollars in my pocket? I can’t ask anyone for money. Come and join you, you say? I’ve never slept in a cardboard box before, but I suppose it would be like sleeping in the open air. But I can’t even see the stars! It feels like the cold sheets I used to sleep on at that awful school. I didn’t ask to be here. How did I get here?
© Gloria A. Cook March 18, 2003 (Dedicated to the Residential School Survivors)