The hardships of living

The hardships of living r1 ... BECOME A MEMBER The Narwhal's masthead logo SEPT. 30, 2021 Auntie Shellene, Skwét7siya, sitting by the water Content warning: This newsletter includes personal accounts and details about childrens’ experiences at Indian Residential Schools and Indian Day Schools. Support is made available to survivors and their families at the Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.

Today is the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Sept. 30 has been known as Orange Shirt Day since 2013, established by residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad, but the day is receiving broader recognition after Ottawa introduced a paid day off for federal employees in the wake of about 1,800 unmarked graves being verified at eight residential schools this year.

For many Indigenous folks, it may be a gentle day of rest or a day of advocacy, a day of family time or solitude. For non-Indigenous folks, it can be a day to take action, to become more educated or educate others and to redistribute wealth.

For me, I wanted to sit down with my auntie, Shellene Paull or Skwét7siya, who went to Indian Day School, and let her speak to what she thought was important as we remember all residential school survivors, intergenerational survivors and the relatives we lost, today and always. Auntie Shellene, Skwét7siya, posing among trees
Auntie Shellene is very protective of her family, having grown up as the big sister to my mum and uncles. There’s a fabulous picture of her as a kid in white cat eye glasses, holding my mum as a baby in her arms. Her first car was a dune buggy; she’s an avid reader and she loves gardening.

She spent four years in Indian Day School. Like residential schools, they were places of abuse and attempted assimilation, established by the Canadian government and churches.

Auntie Shellene visited Kamloops Residential School this summer. She said she was thinking of my granny, Lucille Kwináḵatemat Nicholson, and my great grandma, Eva Skwét7siya Lewis, who both went to residential school, along with many of our other relatives.

“So many of our relatives endured the hardships of the gold rush and residential school and just the hardships of living. We grew up with all this history,” she told me at her kitchen table last week.

“Grandmum taught us how to protect ourselves from the hardships she had learned.”

Did Granny talk much about going to residential school?

Because the school was just up the hill, [she and her sister] would come home on the weekends. She would start crying when she saw [the other girls] coming across the field because she knew they were going to come pick them up to go to school.

They would only say that my uncle had it really rough at boarding school. He died when he was in his 30s.

My middle name, Marie, comes from a young girl because my mum used to braid her hair. Every morning, everybody had to take care of somebody. But one day, she just didn’t show up. And nobody told my mum anything. No one ever spoke of her and Mum never knew what happened to her, but she just never came back. She always remembered her. So when I was born, she named me after the little girl she used to take care of.

What about Great Grandma?

She would have had to stay the whole time [not come home on the weekends]. I think they just chose not to talk about school.

Her perspective was that the government was going to kill off the Squamish People. The whites, as she would say, didn’t want to look at our structures, because they called us an “eyesore.”

Hunting and fishing measures were changing. A relative was charged with fishing with a traditional hook and First Nations were banned from hiring lawyers. Our family was starting to understand the oppressive measures that were taking place. Our quality of life, everything started to diminish.

My gran would say we’ve revived the language, we built the church, we did what we had to do to survive.

Auntie Shellene, Skwét7siya, posing in front of a building
I don’t know how much you want to get into it, but there was also your time at day school?

Yeah. From Grade 1 to Grade 4, I went to St. Paul’s Indian Day School. I think other people had it harder, like my brother.

I always tease people: “You want to be mean to me? I can get mean right back to you because I went to school with nuns.” You cross them, they’d get their big three-foot ruler and they’d cap you. They wouldn’t think twice about it. It was really arbitrary, really authoritarian, really irrational.

One of my cousins, he would get the strap often because he just wouldn’t back down from them. So, as I was going up [to get strapped], I was tearing up and he looked at me and he said:

“And we don’t cry.”

She made me put my hand out and I thought, “I’m not crying.” But I pulled my hand back, and she gave me extra straps for pulling my hand away. Auntie Shellene, Skwét7siya, standing outdoors among foliage Auntie Shellene, Skwét7siya, walks away fro camera among foliage
You’ve also talked about connecting to culture and land more later on. I’m wondering how your relationship with the land has evolved through your life.

My knowledge of the land came from sleeping with Grandmum. We didn’t read books, she told us stories.

Our family [member] Huxten, whose name I carry, saw the first non-Squamish man, and she died in 1940. She had so much knowledge. She passed that down to Grandmum, and Grandmum passed it down to us. I’d hear stories about protecting the land, about harvesting clay from Lost Lagoon [in Stanley Park]. Our grand-uncle used to carry deer down from Grouse Mountain down a wagon trail that went to Squamish.

We use land for community, for commercial, for residential. But we see it all as one. We don't believe in, ‘you put up a fence and it’s yours.’ We have a more communal sense of it.

We have four per cent of our land … my perspective is, we’ve got a very little base left so let’s protect it.

This is coming out on Truth and Reconciliation day. What do you want people to take away from your story?

I think respect and understanding is paramount in building stronger relations.

When people say we should just get over it … the number of people that [nuns and priests] terrorized in their lifetime, they’ve never really been held accountable for it. If it were First Nations being charged with something like this, the book would get thrown at them, big time.

It’s hard to say that there’s morality in the government’s intentions [for reconciliation]. They’re lacking in justice. They give a lot of rhetoric and lip service, but it’s empty promises.

Justice is something that, in theory, is out there. But it’s a real challenge when you try to look for justice.

*

Today and everyday, keep pursuing justice for our past and future generations.

Wa chexw yuu (take care),

Stephanie Kwetásel’wet Wood
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