I can clearly recall my first day at Cecilia Jeffrey and the long steps leading to the main doorway, people speaking only English, and then my mom leaving and my sister and I being dragged down a long hallway. Our hair was cut, we were checked for lice, and a solution was put on our heads for delousing, and then we were showered. All of this in spite of the fact that my mom kept us clean and our home was always immaculate. We were then taken to the sewing room to be given our new clothes, and then to the dormitory and shown our cubbies and our beds.
From then on, everything happened according to the ringing of a bell. If you didn’t follow the routine, you would be punished. I can remember standing, looking out the window, and through my tears hoping to see something or someone familiar and wishing I was back at home with my mom. We were sent to bed early and siblings were not allowed to communicate, nor were other students. My older sister was determined to go home to look after our baby sister because she knew that our mom was struggling with an illness. My sister was a “runner” and she would run every chance that she got, and she was finally told to stay at home.
I stayed, and I suppose that I was one of the lucky ones who was never punished as severely as the others because my father was the chief at the time, and my grandparents were prominent in the community. They were commercial fishermen and so had the money to come and take us home almost every weekend.
A soul-destroying experience
By the time that I was in grade 4, Cecilia Jeffrey became a public school and accepted other students from the surrounding communities. Later all the CJ students were allowed to attend the public school system in Kenora.
As a child and then when getting into my teens, I encountered a lot of racism at school. Being Indian was not seen as a good thing; another bad seed that was planted into our heads. These years destroyed my pride and self-esteem. I became fearful. The school buildings were frightening, even in how they were constructed. I was introverted and shy. The whispered comments of others stayed in my mind. I had no trust and I looked for the negative. I watched everyone and questioned everything. I still do today. I think if I had known about my own history and that of my people, I could have spoken up for myself when people would say we got everything for free.