- Opening WordsAn Eleven-Year Journey of Indoctrination
There are approximately 121 pictures in my collection about various Indian residential school sports teams. I want to talk about one picture in particular because, as some people may know, those who know parts of my story may remember, I do not travel alone. The children in the picture I carry with me are my classmates from St. Michael's Indian Residential School (Duck Lake) in 1958–59, and they have been traveling with me for about twelve years. There was only one First Nations teacher at the school. Her name was Miss Peggy; she was one of my guardian angels, and she was from Canoe Lake Cree Nation. I had a chance to go to her community in November 2017 with my wife Lorna. We presented Elder Peggy with a blanket because of the efforts she took to make sure the picture was taken. She broke all the all the rules of the residential school. Miss Peggy told her superiors that she was taking the kids out for a walk to pick leaves and grass for our science project, but her real plan was to take the picture.
On a cold day in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, about twelve years ago, I washed my vehicle and parked it in an underground mall parking lot so it would dry. I had not seen Elder Peggy for about ten years, and as I came up the stairs, she was standing at the top. She said, "Eugene, I've been looking for you." Elder Peggy gave me the picture and said, "You make sure the rest get this picture." There are thirty-two children in the picture. It was probably taken around the third week of September because the boys have about one month of hair growth, and the girls have really short hair. One of the young girls in the picture is Yvonne, who is my age now. Yvonne came forward in the spring when I gave a speech in Edmonton, Alberta. Another young man in the picture is the late Robin Ermine. He is still an unsolved [End Page 157] murder case in Saskatoon. Another child in the picture, Ernie, was my best buddy. He is still my best buddy. Ernie showed up last week when I led a Survivors group in Elkridge, Saskatchewan. We visit one another all the time. It is a blessing that I happened to be at that mall in Saskatoon twelve years ago to receive the picture from Peggy. It is part of my journey. In its original form, it was a small picture, which I had blown up and have carried around in my pocket for all these years. I could not have made this journey without my classmates.
I am from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory. Three things have saved my life: one of them is sports; another one is my wife, who has put up with me for forty-five years; and the final one is re-engaging with my culture and language. I give thanks to the Creator. It is important to begin in this way because, at one point in my life, I was brainwashed to believe that I had lost my culture and language. As a young child, I understood my language. I attended Indian residential school from 1958 to 1969. When I came out of residential school, I no longer spoke my language. I only knew the swear words, same as everyone else, but I always somewhat understood, however, not to the extent that I know my language today. Years ago, when I was the director of the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre, one of my mentors, the late Hilliard Ermine, came to visit me in my office. We were talking about a sweat we were going to be holding and about his journey. Hilliard asked in Cree, "Eugene, do you speak Cree?" I said "apisis," which means "a little bit." He asked, "Why?" and I said, "I was in one of those schools, and I lost it." Hilliard said, "Don't you ever say that again. You never lost anything...