CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
At St. Bernard Mission residential school, Lawrence heard a nun say "Stop looking so dumb" and "You will not speak your heathen language in here again." He saw his six-year-old cousin's head being beaten against the cement floor by Sister Denise. For the six years he was there, he wasn't allowed to speak to any girls, not even his sisters, and he couldn't escape. When he tried, he was caught and then punched in the body by the Father Superior. At night in the Boys Dormitory, he would hear many boys (including his little brother) cry because they missed home, and he would shiver because the room was so cold. During the day, he would be working on chores (such as piling wood or washing floors) or learning how to serve mass, say the rosary, or sing and pray in English and Latin. He was never to speak Cree. If he did, he would be punished. There was only one teacher at the school whom Lawrence trusted. Sister Theresa didn't treat Lawrence like a nobody, and she encouraged him to read, learn, and travel. Sister Theresa's kind words helped Lawrence survive his six years at the residential school, but when he finished the school at the age of 13, he would have to learn how to survive in a world in which he felt invisible, angry, and confused.
Like many of the tens of thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children who were taken from their families and sent to residential school for years, Lawrence felt like a stranger in his community when he returned, questioning both his place and his role in the world. But with the help of his grandmother and grandfather and the experiences he had while working at his first jobs, Lawrence gets stronger, takes pride in himself, and learns to feel like a part of his family and community again.
Tanya Boudreau is a librarian in the Cold Lake Public Library in Cold Lake, AB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.