We Were So Far Away > Marjorie Flowers

Marjorie Flowers

Marjorie attended school in her home community of Makkovik, Labrador until she was in the 8th grade, but from 1974 to 1977 she lived in the IGA dormitory and attended the Lake Melville High School in North West River. She could only return home twice a year.

“I lost a lot. I lost a lot of my culture and parenting and role models. I gained my education but I lost a lot of me in the process. I almost didn’t know who I was. I wanted to be someone else and it took a long time to come back and find my roots, although my parents always taught me a lot about my roots, but I lost it when I went to school. I didn’t get it back for years.”

BIO

Marjorie Flowers attended Lake Melville High School in North West River, Labrador, from 1974 until 1977, beginning in the 9th grade. She now works as a Team Leader with the Nunatsiavut Department of Heath and Social Development in Hopedale, Labrador. Marjorie says that until she began working with the Nunatsiavut Government’s Residential Schools Healing Project and speaking about her own childhood experiences, she didn’t really understand the extent to which the residential school system was still negatively impacting her adult life, and how it was affecting the way she parented her own children. “My anger was coming out, but [my children] had to point it out to me. I didn’t realize what was going on. So it made a huge difference in my life, once I acknowledged it.” She now works closely with Survivors, youth, and families who have experienced intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools.

TESTIMONY

I went to school in North West River, Lake Melville High School. The first year I went was ’74, so I was there for three years, from ’74 to ’77, from grades nine to eleven. I’m from Makkovik, originally. That’s my home. We flew on a plane. Sometimes we would go on a Cessna, which is a little small two-seater. Other times it would be a Beaver, which is a bigger float plane or skis. And then the Otter would be the biggest one.

I had eight siblings. There were nine in our family. I’m the youngest so I was the last one to go to school and I went along with my brother, my youngest brother. There’s only one of my siblings who didn’t go to Residential School. Everyone else went.

We were allowed to go home at Christmas and in the summertime. My parents were there. My siblings were there. Some of them were already gone off to university and some of them were married by that time because there’s a big age difference in our family.

I remember being very homesick. I didn’t want to be in school there. I wanted to be home. So for me it was hard. It was hard being away from home.

The first day was sad. It was sad because I was a little bit excited first because everyone was going away to school and everyone came back and it seemed like it was a lot of fun. There were things going on in my young life that I kind of wanted to leave, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be until I got on the plane.

Then I realized I was leaving my parents. So I cried the whole way. By the time I got to school at North West River my eyes were almost swollen shut. I was just sad. So I basically cried the whole first week, for sure. I was really homesick. But I think the thing that really helped me was my brother was with me. It made it easier. I think it would have been much harder if he wasn’t there. So I did have part of my family there with me.

I hated it. I really did because I felt like I was being torn away from my family. I think I was a bit rebellious. I didn’t want to go by the rules but yet I knew if I didn’t then I would be in trouble. So I would write these letters home to my parents and make little teardrops. I wanted them to see how sad I was and I thought if I did that, or if I didn’t do well in school then maybe they would let me come home. But they didn’t.

My father used to write me letters just as an encouragement to say that he was proud that I was there and I had to get an education. Things were changing in Labrador and it’s time for Labrador people to rise above everything that was happening and for me to be there. Once I had my education then no one could take it from me.

It was pretty hard for my parents. It was very, very hard. I can say that because I was the last one to leave out of all my brothers. I only had one sister. Every time they left home I would see. My mother would cry and my father would cry. He would never come down to the plane to see any of them off. It would be my mother. Instead I would see him – and I can plainly see him – running or walking real fast up the hallway in our house crying and just trying to get away so we wouldn’t see his tears.

My mother would cry and I would go along with her.

My father fought really hard to get schools on the North Coast because I think they were just tired of seeing children go away and the rest of Canada seemed to be able to have high school and stay in your home and be there as well as go to school. So I think he was one in our community, one of the leading forces of getting a high school, or a high school in Makkovik anyway.

My siblings didn’t give me advice. I think it’s a strange thing because we were a big family and I thought that we were a very close family. But I’m realizing now that there was some kind of disconnection with us. So we never really talked a whole lot about school or going away. They were so much older than what I was so I guess I just couldn’t connect properly with them. But yet when we were all together, we were together, but still there was this disconnection of some sort.

If they were in Goose Bay then they would try and come down and see me, my younger siblings. My older siblings I never ever saw them because they were much older than I was and they were off doing their own thing. But some of my younger siblings would come to visit. But I think most of the time I used to just cry because it made me lonely.

I enjoyed being around and meeting the other students. We argued and fought a lot but yet we were like one big family. So it made it much easier for when I went into the community, the other communities, because I knew someone from every community. Some of them I shared rooms with. So that part was good.

I think my parents gave me the most hope. They kept encouraging me to finish my education and to just try and stay there and do the best that I could do so that I could have my education and I would be able to get a good job and have a career when I finished. That’s really what gave me hope. Having my younger brother there was another thing. There’s lots of times when I was homesick I would go try and find him and talk to him, sometimes. A lot of times he didn’t want me around but I think it was our age. He might have been wanting to do things that I didn’t want to do.

There was a house parent there who I really became close to. She was very close with the other students as well. So she became almost like a mother to me. She kind of watched out for me, I think. She would just do little things that other house parents wouldn’t do for us. She would let us maybe get a little bit more food if we were hungry, or sometimes she would get me to come down into her apartment and she would give me ice cream or cake, or something like that. On my birthday she actually gave me a gift. Some students, when we had the phone system in, some of the older girls’ boyfriends used to call them from their hometown. And if they called late at night sometimes she would come up and actually let us use the phone and take the phone call, whereas that really wasn’t allowed at all. I think she bent the rules and she paid the price for it a lot of times. I lost touch with her for years. But she called me one day just right out of the blue. I’ve been in touch with her.

It’s a funny question to ask about how I reflect on my experience, because I think if you would have asked me that question even three or four years ago I would have had a different answer. One of the things now that I’m involved with I’m working a bit with the Residential School Project and talking about it, I actually realized how much of an impact it had on my life. It really had a big impact when I became a parent myself. I didn’t realize that until even just two years ago.

I was fine until my children became the age that I went away to school. And as they were getting almost to that age I found that I was getting really angry with them.

I feel so sorry because I think I treated them quite bad at times when they would complain about this and that. I would be angry and say, “At least you’re home, you’re home and going to school and you can be with your parents.” And I couldn’t do that so I sort of took my anger out on them. That had a big impact on their lives as well. It’s only this past year that I can actually talk to them about it because I didn’t realize before that that’s what was wrong.

So it’s a real healing journey for me to be able to acknowledge that and then to try and make amends with them. I can’t change the past. I can only go forward with them and try and have a better relationship with them. I always took care of them the best I could but there was just this anger that used to come out with them. Some of it is actually a little bit funny because one day I was —

They were trying to talk to me. I think it was close to Christmas and they were getting excited about Santa Claus coming. I was angry but I didn’t realize I was angry. My son looked at me, and my daughter, and they said, “Mom, why are you so angry?” I said, “Angry, I’m not angry.” They said, “Yeah, you are, you’re angry.” And then I realized it. My anger is coming out. But they had to point it out to me. I didn’t realize what was going on. So it has made a huge difference in my life, once I acknowledged it. I still have a long ways to go yet, but at least I’m talking about it. I did talk about being in the Dorm before, in school, and my daughter actually said one time, “I wish I would have went to Residential School, it seemed like you had so much fun.” I was just telling her some of the things that we did together. I became really angry with her because she only heard the good parts and not the parts that were hurtful to me.

Another thing that I noticed my first day going home, when I actually went home, was the smell was different. There was sealskin. We used to have sealskins on our porch. I was really ashamed of that once I came home from school. I thought that was a wrong thing for my parents to have done and their way of life, the way we used to live, I thought that was the wrong way. I thought that I was a little better than what they were. I didn’t realize all that until I started my journey here with the Residential Schools and thinking about —

I lost a lot. I lost a lot of my culture and parenting and role models. I did. I lost a lot. I gained my education but I lost a lot of me in the process. I almost didn’t know who I was. I wanted to be someone else and it took a long time to come back and find my roots, although my parents always told me —

They taught me a lot about my roots, but I lost it when I went to school. I didn’t get it back for years. It must have been almost thirty years maybe that I lost. I think just by doing things like going back on the land again and going out and doing things. Even my food that I ate —

I wouldn’t eat seal meat for years and years; I wouldn’t. I used to always grumble about it when I smelled it cooking in my parent’s house, how stinking it was. And ducks, I wouldn’t eat ducks and things like that. I lost the taste for it.

It was only probably I think when I moved to Hopedale that I started. It’s a funny thing because I think in Hopedale was where I really started my healing journey. To me, Hopedale is more my home now because that’s where I did most of my healing. It’s like coming full circle and it’s like home. It’s more of home to me.

There’s an elderly woman there, Andrea. She’s helped me a lot. She’s actually from my home but she’s married there. I didn’t know her before because she moved away, married and moved away when I was younger. And my husband’s grandfather, I learned a lot from him. And there are other people in the community that I know and I go to. And my husband himself, I learned a lot from him. It’s almost like he — He’s not an Elder but he taught me how to come back to our way of living again. It’s amazing. He brought me home, I guess I can say.

One of the things for me, and it’s about the government, that we’re not recognized as being a part of Residential Schools. The government doesn’t recognize, they don’t recognize Labradorimiut as Residential School Survivors but yet we get funding under the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to do projects in our communities. So I’m trying to come to terms with that yet. And the apology that the Prime Minister made, I think we need to acknowledge that. Labrador needs to be included in that. And I think if anything, I would really like to let people know that no matter what happens, or what has happened, we can’t change the past, we can only go forward. But you should never be ashamed of your roots and where you come from because really that makes you who you are today.

It may be a little bit hard to find the roots but I think every one of us has something inside of us, an instinct of where you came from, who you are. You just need to brush off the dust and rise above that and find it. We’re all equal. We’re all equal in value to the Creator. Not one of us is any —

We’ve all got different lives, different cultures but we’re really all the same. And it hurts me when I see so much pain and suffering continuing into my children. It can be carried into my grandchildren if we don’t acknowledge it and move on. I think that’s the thing. We can’t change what has happened. It definitely should be acknowledged but we need to move on from there and get our feet back on the ground again. Because we’re a strong breed of people and we need to let the world know that. We can’t be shaken.

I think that is my hope for the future is to move on, acknowledge what has happened and move on, rise above it and become the strong people again that we were before all this happened. I think it might be done in a little bit different way because times change so much. I don’t think we can really truly go back to how life used to be because the world has changed so much. But we can build on that, what has happened, and continue and not be ashamed of it, not be ashamed of who we are and use what we were taught. If anything, if we’ve lost it, go to people in our communities who know about how things were and to listen to them and acknowledge it and use some of it because it’s very useful. We can learn a lot. We learn a lot about who we are.

I think one of the things too that I wanted to say is I work a lot with the church. The church has done a lot of damage to us, a real lot. For me, as a younger Survivor, trying to get that spirituality back that was really damaged is hard. It’s hard to get people to acknowledge that the church is there, spirituality is there, whichever you want to choose. But I want to show people, too, that even though there’s been a lot of hurt it wasn’t the Creator who hurt, who caused that. It was humans. It was human people who didn’t do things in the right way and they caused the hurt. They destroyed a lot. But the Creator was always there just waiting for us to ask. There’s a lot of pain and suffering that’s been done by the church. But we must move on from that and take what you can and lean on the Creator.

I think we would be finished if we didn’t have hope. I think we should really always have hope. If we don’t have hope we have nothing. Without it we’d be finished so I would think that yes, there is hope. There is always hope. You just need to find that little light can guide you along and get to where you want to go.

My mom was a servant girl for the Grenfell Mission. She lost her mom when she was quite young but she went to North West River to work as a servant girl for someone who was working with the Grenfell Mission. She was there for a while until her dad wanted her to go back. So she left. But my father didn’t. There was a boarding school in Makkovik but he was from there so he just went to day school.

I took a lot of years. Probably when I hit my thirties, late thirties, probably around thirty-five, that’s when I really started to start my healing journey properly.

When I went to work with as it was then the Labrador Inuit Health Commission, that’s when I really did a lot of work and I moved to Hopedale then, so that was twelve years ago. When the Project came out I was already working with Labrador Inuit Health Commission so it became a part of our programming that we were doing. The more I read different articles about things the more I wanted to do some healing.

For the longest time when I left school I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. Even now before this interview I was feeling very uncomfortable about speaking about the school because we weren’t allowed to say bad things. We shouldn’t. And some people may disagree that it wasn’t like that but that’s their opinion. I’m just telling you what my story is. I know what I went through. So it’s hard to talk about school and to be honest and not feel like you’re doing anything wrong. I feel a lot of times when I’m speaking out that people maybe are saying that I shouldn’t be, I shouldn’t be saying what I’m saying, but I’m not going to be quiet any longer. I’m going to speak because it empowers me as a person. I think if I don’t do that then I won’t be able to do my work properly which I think I’ve been put in this world to help others. It’s a gift. It’s my gift that I have and I need to heal myself and work through my issues so that my life can be balanced. Otherwise I’ll just break. And I’m tired of being broken so I want to be fixed.

Everyone knows so many people especially from Hopedale who have been affected by Residential Schools. In the type of work that I’m doing and even working with the church there’s so much hurt and pain that people are carrying with them because of their experiences, it’s really hard to work with. Sometimes it can become very, very overwhelming. That’s why I want to heal myself, or at least try.

I think that’s a part of what I’m supposed to do. I really do. I think it’s a part of what I’m supposed to do as a person. Marjorie is put in this world to help. All the experiences that I’ve had I think are better enabling me to work with people.

The parenting part especially is hard to deal with. When we’re trying to run programs from a White society’s point of view, they just don’t work. The parenting, I can honestly say, the parenting part is because we’ve lost a lot. A lot of the kids have been away a lot longer than I was. Some left at ten years old. Some were even there right from young. Each year when I was there, there were other buildings coming up. There was an orphanage built there. So there were some children who went into the orphanage, from the orphanage they would go to the Junior Dorm, from the Junior Dorm they went to the Senior Dorm so their whole life —

If you can imagine being right from a baby up to when you finish school being in that system what it has to do to you as a person and how you’re going to function when you get out and get on your own, it’s hard.

But it can be fixed, I think. It can be fixed. It’s just going to take a lot of work and we need our own people to be able to get the strength and get well enough to be able to help the others. Then I think that’s when we’re going to see our communities flourish and become healthy.

I think that Nunatsiavut is trying to make some changes and to me I’ve seen a lot happening with Residential Schools in the communities. Some communities are not ready yet I don’t think to do the work. There will come a time when it will happen. A lot of times what I found was I didn’t realize – I think I mentioned before – that there was anything wrong. I thought everything was okay. Yet my whole life wasn’t happy. I mean, I was happy on the surface but inside I was like a little child and I acted like a little child in my adult life.

So it’s really strange how these kinds of things work. You think you’re doing so well but your actions are speaking much louder than what your words are. But I think we’re getting there and what needs to happen is I believe people need to do like what we’re doing today. We need to tell our story and acknowledge it and get support if that’s what you want and to move forward.

But it really needs to be acknowledged that it did take place, whether people want to or not, they need to start becoming vocal about it because there is so much trauma and there are so many things that happened because of the Residential School and they’re not all good. Some of them are good. It wasn’t all bad. There were lots of positives but sometimes I see the negative outweighs the positive. We need to fix that part and that’s where we are now.

I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. We’re going to try to take small steps and do things to build up, build people up. That’s what we need to do, I think.

There’s a cycle and it’s inter-generational. It speaks volumes in the communities; volumes. Sometimes we’re just falling apart and we don’t know why. That is why, it’s because of our experiences and we buried them for years. I don’t think just because we talk about it one time it fixes everything. It doesn’t because some people have a lot trauma they are carrying and we need to be careful of that and go slow. Otherwise if we go too fast and do everything all at once that’s going to have a bad effect, too.

We’re doing some work with the children now, the youth in Hopedale. We have a Youth Support Group, so they’re doing different activities. One of the programs I wanted to start is called Empowering Youth Through Art and Drama. That sort of thing is what I’d like to do and for them to do videos and draw pictures of how everything is affecting them as youth.

Hopedale is one of the communities I think that really seems to want to open up and do some work so things are happening there. I’ve seen a big difference from twelve years ago. When I went there twelve years ago it seemed to me that people were really quite closed and didn’t really want to talk about things. Now they’re speaking out. There are lots of things happening with family violence and women are speaking out. They are not accepting things that were acceptable in the past so I think it’s a wonderful thing that they’re making changes. They’re slow and there are still a lot of things happening, but they are making changes and they are getting a voice.

 

Survivor Stories

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