Carefree summer days by the lake
Playing from sun up to sun down
Baptized in smouldering pine smoke
From traditional smokehouses
Red Salmon hanging for winter’s food
Elders growl for getting under foot
As small children can.
In evening calm, bellies full,
They drift off to dreamland.
Faintly hearing soft drums and
Chanting voices of tribal members.
One fall morning a cattle truck
Rolled into the sleepy village
Indian agents and RCMP officers
Rounded up scared children
And put them in back
Of the unclean vehicle
I clung to grandmother’s apron
Crying, trying to hide,
Like a frightened kitten
Indian agents tore us apart.
Looking between the weathered boards
Our eyes locked until grandmother
Went out of sight, tears froze to my face.
I heard someone say:
“they’re taking us to residential school .”
The smell of cow dung and trauma
Caused me to faint.
Retreating into dreamland, smelling campfire smoke
Hearing drums and grandmother’s voice.
The merciless truck finally halted
Before a dark and foreboding building
Between worn grey boards, up high,
I saw a white cross, a symbol that would
Terrorize me forever more,
A sign of pain, not peace!
Stern nuns and priests
Shouted orders in a foreign language
We began to cry,
Boys and girls separated
Deloused, showered, and stripped
Of traditional clothes
Exchanged for European ones
Precious hair cut short
Soon put into sleeping rooms
Slowly slipping into the safety of my mind
Campfire smoke drifts, grandmother lulls
Me to sleep, soft drums beat gently.
I never saw grandmother again
Abuse received from the holy ones
Left me spiritually dead
My pain now dulled by drugs
Becoming homeless and lost
Sleeping in urine soaked ally-ways
Lamenting my stolen childhood
Crying myself to sleep
Curled up in a cardboard box
Slipping away to our fishing camp
Cuddling up to grandmother
Listening to her sweet voice
Lulling me off to eternal sleep.
Never shall I leave her side again
Morning will find my body
Never my soul…
For it is playing with children
From our village, as we did,
Before the cattle truck arrived.
Grandmother, sing another song
And rock me gently, oh so gently,
Into this good night…