Writing the Residential School

Posted by Daniel on May 5, 2009

Chuck Davis writes:

I’ve known Larry Loyie for more than fifty years. He and I were in the 1st Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in the early 1950s. Today he’s one of the partners in Living Traditions Writers Group, formed “to encourage writing within First Nations Communities.” Larry, whose Cree name is Oskiniko (Young Man), and his long-time partner, writer and editor Constance Brissenden, gave a reading at several Vancouver libraries in late April and early May. I attended the May 1 session at Carnegie Centre.

Larry’s latest book is Goodbye Buffalo Bay, in which he writes of life in an Indian residential school. It is published by Theytus Books. Theytus is an interesting story in its own right. Founded in 1981, it was the first book publishing company in Canada owned and operated by Aboriginal people.

You can learn more about Larry, Constance and Living Traditions here: www.firstnationswriter.com. Here is an excerpt from Goodbye Buffalo Bay.

A hush fell over the room at the sound of Sister Denise. She entered, her black robes flapping. With one hand she dragged a little boy by the hair. A cold shiver ran through Lawrence. The little boy was his cousin Jackie. It was his cousin’s first year at the school. He was a tough little guy of six years old. Not a whimper or a cry came from his mouth.

The other boys looked at the floor, looked at the ceiling, looked at their hands. They looked everywhere but not at Sister Denise and Jackie.
Sweat poured from under Sister Denise’s wimple. She shouted at Jackie, half in French and half in English. “Mon gros sauvage d’Indien. Who do you think you are, Jackie, King of the Bush? You good for nothing. Are you even too dumb to cry?”

Sister Denise shoved her thumb into Jackie’s mouth. Holding his head with both hands she shook him vigorously.

‘Cry, scream or bawl,’ Lawrence begged Jackie wordlessly. ‘All you have to do is make a noise and she will let you go.’ Still Jackie did not cry out.
Sister Denise’s face was bright red. With a powerful yank, she dragged Jackie down to the floor. One, two, three, she pounded his head on the cement floor.

“Say something, Jackie, you gros salud. All you do is eat, sleep, and go to the toilet. No wonder you don’t know nothing,” she shrieked.
The boy in her hands went limp. Eyes blazing, Sister Denise let go of his head, leaving him lying on the floor.

Lawrence, looking fearfully from the corner of his eye, watched as Sister Denise took a dozen deep breaths. She pulled her shoulders back. Looking at no one she rearranged her habit, smoothing down the black robe and straightening the rosary beads that hung from her belt. Casting her eyes around at the boys, she took her clapper out of her pocket. She banged it twice, making a loud snapping noise.

Her voice quivered when she spoke. “Sit down, all of you. You wild devils, you will learn your lessons. It’s no wonder you don’t know nothing, running around the bush like wild animals.”

She strode around the room. She did not even glance at Jackie who lay passed out on the floor. Lawrence felt sick looking at his cousin. He wanted to cry out, to scream, to jump up and punch her, but he was too afraid to make a move.