A Residential School Experience, by Valerie Conrad
from a Capilano College1-based web site, by Valerie Conrad
"We have to change our clothes right away, and give everything we brought from home to the sisters. [I'm six.] They are going to take care of us. They don't look too friendly. They are nuns, but we have to call them sisters. All of them wear grey dresses. Some of them are fat, others skinny. They even give us numbers. I'm number ten. Number ten is written on all the clothes they gave me. Our numbers are like our names, so if they want a certain kid, they just call that number. All the kids dress the same.
"I wonder how my brother is doing. He's five years old. We were separated when we got off the bus. Boys on one side. Girls on the other. At least I have my sister. She's the oldest of us. She's seven.
"The cafeteria is the biggest room I've ever seen. Hey, there's my brother. I'll go sit beside him. These food trays are heavy. I have to balance my tray. The girl ahead of me drops hers, and the nun yells at her. Can't wait to talk to my brother. He's the smallest boy. An angry voice calls for me to sit in the junior girls' section. My brother has tears in his eyes.
"There are six girls in my dorm. I don't know why my sister and I are in different dorms. I ask if we could be together, but the nun gives me an unfriendly stare, and doesn't say a word. I don't understand.
"It's bedtime. All the girls get a rosary. We have to say our thirty "Hail Mary's," four "Our Father's," and a couple of others. Am I ever going to learn all these prayers? I hear some girls in my dorm say we have to learn them, because if we don't, the nun says we'll go to hell. Yikes! I better learn all those prayers.
"The rosary isn't helping me fall asleep. I begin thinking about my granny. What am I going to do without her? I'll miss her. I loved sleeping at her and grandpa's house. They used to make a bed for me on the floor close to them. I slept on top of a caribou fur. Warm and cozy. In the morning my grandpa lit the fire, and I got up when it was nice and warm...
"It's morning. We dress and go for breakfast. I'm number ten, so I have to be tenth every time we line up. My sister is number eight. She's close by. In the cafeteria, we are happy to see my brother.
"Something odd happens this morning. The nun inspects the way we make our bed. If it's not done right, she strips it, and we have to start over. It takes a long time to make a bed. One corner is out, so she strips my bed. I am angry. I feel like crying, but I don't. She also gives me extra chores to do because my bed wasn't perfect.
"In the afternoon, we get playtime. I'm playing jacks by the stairs. Another little girl is sliding down the stairs. She is having fun and laughing. Then the nun comes. She starts yelling at us, and starts getting upset with me. She squeezes me by the arm, and I have a hard time keeping my feet on the floor. She is hurting me. She yells as she takes me to her room, and I feel terrible because all the other girls are staring at me. That room scares me. Sometimes I hear other girls screaming from there. In her room, she begins beating me with my own runner. In my whole life, I have never felt such pain, but I don't cry. Finally I realize if I don't cry, she is going to keep hurting me. That's when I begin crying. I have never cried so hard in my life. I want my mommy."
1 Capilano College, Vancouver, BC, Canada.