A frightened child sits beside you, her hand clasped tightly in yours. Silent tears stream down her face, clouding her otherwise golden brown eyes with a pool of grey. She is voiceless. Despite her heartbreaking pleas, you cannot help her. She must go.
Sitting on the damp bench, you wrap your arm around her quivering body and wince as you look at her grief-stricken face – the same sweet face that nourished your soul for the past six years. Images of her inundate your mind, cascading from one scene to another. The day she was born was your happiest ever. You planted a tree in her honour that year. Will it continue to grow in her absence? You recall how easy it was to soothe her then. You’d hold her in your arms and sing sweet lullabies, the very ones your mother once sang to you. But who will comfort her now when she’s lonely and scared? Will they care for her when she is unhappy or sick? What if she’s hurt? What if she’s hungry? You panic. You try to restrain the fear that is taking over.
You close your eyes and pray. Please take care of my baby. Oh hush, you mustn’t let her see you cry, or she will surely realize your comforting words were nothing but lies.
It will not be alright when they tell her she must abandon her birth name. It will not be alright when they cut off her braids. It will not be alright when she feels homesick and is denied her brother’s embrace. It will not be alright when she wonders why you cannot be there on her birthday or why she has to miss grandpa’s 70th. Time will surely not fly. But you do and say what you must, for the choice is not yours.
The cruel rain continues. They will come for her and you must let her go. You gave birth to her but somehow you do not know what is best for her. You raised her, nourished her, taught her, but she is not yours.
A van emerges from around the hills, slowly making its way up the road. She squeezes your hand, a final plea. In just a few moments the scent of your hands will be all she has left of you.
“Please Mommy, I don’t want to go”.
A kiss, a hug and a swift smell of her hair, your heart is in pieces, yet you pry her hands out of yours. You try to sound sensible when you know nothing you say or do will ever be so.
“I will see you in the summer, my sweet rose,” agony overwhelms you as you watch her climb aboard, sobbing and confused. Why is mommy letting this happen? What did I do wrong? Doesn’t she love me anymore?
You are numb. You wave when all you want to do is shout at the world. That is my baby disappearing into the thick mist.
You continue to stare long after the van disappears behind the hills. Surely this must be a horrible dream, a nightmare.
You look around. All is still. You pick up the discarded doll and hold it close to your body. You weep for the child they thieved from your home.
It was a few months ago that my friend and colleague, Michele Parkin, enlightened me with one of her picture books, Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campbell. I had reached out to her a few days prior when I sought an Ojibway translation for a picture book I was working on at the time. As always, she was more than happy to help and the discussion that ensued left me wanting to learn more about the Aboriginal people’s struggles. Knowing my passion for children’s literature, Michele kindly offered her book.
I brought the book home with me the same day and as I read it, a sense of rage began to build. My children happened to be playing in a nearby room and and all I remember feeling is deep sadness for those families whose children were taken away from them, stolen from their home, their culture, their life. There was something about the the way the story was told that touched me deeply. As a mother, the thought of having to endure something so horrific is beyond comprehension.
I’d like to share an article I read online, written by Erin Hanson, a researcher at The University of British Columbia. It beautifully articulates and captures the effects of the Residential school experience on the Indigenous people. You can visit the article by clicking the image below: Continue reading