The late 1950’s. That’s when my life changed. I was eight, an Ojibway boy, living with my family At least till they came along.
I was torn from their hands thrown into an environment they called school I was oppressed from my language, my culture, my family. The abuse all around me and all I could do was watch.
The winter months rolled around, that’s when I found my escape. Hockey. There was something that drew me in, the patterns, the techniques.
They let me go, joining a hockey team to express my talents. To win. I made it to the Pros. But that did not stop the ghosts of my past to always appear. Threatening, derailing everything I had grown.
I turned to my Elders, my ancestors to confront these heartaches. Beginning my journey of healing. Hoping to understand. To change.
My brothers and sisters around me were drawn to substance abuse, using it as an escape from their pain. My career, my life were meant to share my story.
I had to share my story for the boy who had died locked in a cage, starved and beaten to death. The sexual abuse I faced as a child and for the loss of culture we all endured.
You taught us how to forget, how to forget our identity, how to forget happiness, how to forget our families. You taught us that we were wards of the government. And for that I can only bare a goodbye. As I am Saul Indian Horse, and I remember what you taught us to forget.
ABOUT THE POEM:
The journey begins with you and how you interpret events that occur in your life, you control your journey. I was inspired by this perspective from the book and movie, “Indian Horse” written by Richard Wagamese and produced by Clint Eastwood. Sharing a story of a young boy named Saul Indian Horse that had been taken from his home and placed into a Residential School in Ontario. Following his life story, I wrote a poem based on the plot, adding a few key concepts that I felt needed to be expressed as well. The effects of Residential schools still occur today, and healing can only be made by the truth being exposed.
To begin, Residential schools were a form of assimilation to Indigenous people in Canada, ran by the Government and Catholic Churches. It was first introduced in the late 1870’s and many experienced, physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. They were refrained from using their language and practicing their culture, if caught they would be punished. Many communities were affected and many suffer from intergenerational trauma. The last known residential school to officially close was in 1996 in Saskatchewan. As a result, today the government is moving towards reconciliation (Sterzer 2018).
Furthermore, the movie engaged emotions and feelings I had not expected. The movie was playing in theatres for a limited time and I felt an inward push to go. Feelings of sadness, anger and shock fuelled through me as the movie continued. The plot questioned what knowledge I had and left me wondering. Wondering what my roles are and in what ways could I become an ally, how would I have to change my responsibilities to fill my role?
We learned in class the meaning of reconciliation, unity and respect between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous. To value justice and equity, to restore lands and economic self-sufficiency, to develop relationships within Canada. Everyone plays a part from within these goals of reconciliation, exposing the truth and building relationships. Previous to this course I had not heard of being an ally from the context of reconciliation, often only hearing it based off of the LGBTQ community. It was hard to understand how you can be an ally to many who suffered, but through discussion I was able to understand my role. The role of identifying the privilege settler cultures have and are often taken for granted. Challenging the barriers that are still seen by inequality. To further explain, I previously wrote a paper for my Indigenous Studies 201 course on the assimilation practices used by the Canadian Government. Using my knowledge I was able to connect the movie plot to the truths of Residential School within my poem. The poem began at the moment of being torn from their families, continuing into a brief description of the horrors. I proceeded to show how the character had grown, how he had found an escape and was able to find his identity with the use of hockey and connection to this spiritual ancestors. Challenging the barriers he had put up to ignore his past. This was a piece of identity, a piece made to voice the truths of Residential schools and how education was used to take advantage.
RESOURCES: Sterzer, Paige. Government Policies of Assimilation. April 9 2018, Regina, Saskatchewan. Essay.