We Were So Far Away > Salamiva Weetaltuk

Salamiva Weetaltuk

Salamiva was first enrolled in a French Provincial School in the community of Kuujjuaraapik, Nunavik, but was later transferred to the Indian Residential School in Fort George, Quebec. For a time she was the only Inuk at the school.

“It was hard for the parents who lost their kids, too. First they lost their children to the government, their sons taken away when they were trying to teach them how to survive. They were taken away. So, okay, my kids are gone. I’ll support my family by hunting. But then they killed the dogs, too. So it’s like they took everything.”

BIO

Salamiva Weetaltuk was first enrolled in a French provincial school in Kuujjuaraapik, Nunavik, but was later transferred to the Federal Day School in Fort George, Quebec. For a time, she was the only Inuk at the school. It was very difficult for her, but she says she only told her children good things about residential school because she didn’t want them to be afraid to get an education, now that the system is very different. Today, she is the mother of nine children and fourteen grandchildren. Salamiva believes that it is important for Survivors to overcome any fear or shame they might feel in asking for help, so that they can benefit from healing initiatives such as community gatherings, healing circles, and other social services. “To be truly at peace with yourself and to learn how to love yourself and love your culture, [you have to] let it out. That’s what I would like to see.”

TESTIMONY

I went to school first in French in Kuujjarrapik Provincial School. When the provincial government decided there were not enough students I was shipped to Fort George, from an Inuit community to a totally different culture, a Cree community. There were five of us at first and then by Christmastime, I was the only Inuk in Fort George. The other four Inuit students went home for Christmas and I didn’t get to go home for Christmas. I have no idea why. Maybe because my parents had no money to pay my ticket, so I stayed at that Catholic School.

As far as I was concerned, it was at the other end of the world because I was the only Inuk there and I was always pinched and hair-pulled and teased on because I was the only Inuk there in Fort George.

I was nine years old. I stayed there a couple of years. It was only a couple a years because I begged my mom to take me back. After I told her that I was all alone and everything, and she felt sorry for me and decided not to send me back. So I was transferred from the French school to a Federal Day School, totally different from the school environment I was used to. Here in this new school the teachers were beating up their students and hitting them with pointed sticks and strapping them. I had never seen that. So that was my first horrible day in Federal Day School, in Kuujjaraapik.

I remember that first day because the first thing the teacher did was point at the bad students and make them come to the front and show the rest of the class what was going to happen to us if we didn’t follow the teacher’s orders. I had never seen a teacher hit a student in my whole nine years of life until that day. Right after school I went home crying and can you believe it, I wanted to go back to Fort George because not only could I not speak in English, I was really good in Inuktitut and Federal Day School and students at Kuujjaraapik didn’t speak Inuktitut. Everybody who spoke Inuktitut, an eraser or chalk would be thrown at you.

We were allowed to wear our clothes but we were not allowed to speak our language. In my Provincial School we were taught to respect our culture and we had culture classes. But when I was transferred to Federal Day School there was no more culture, we were not allowed to speak Inuktitut. While I had been in the provincial school my mother had been promoting my culture and language all that time so I sort of got confused when I got to Federal Day School because we weren’t allowed to speak our language. So it’s like I went from a very peaceful school to a disastrous school. The teachers were good, yeah, and they taught us a lot. We learned a lot but they were strict and abusive. I never got abused, but I watched it. My cousin used to get hit every day by his teacher. That teacher [also] sexually assaulted a lot of boys. Boys are not supposed to be touched by men.

They were hit in front of the whole class. A friend of mine would pass by a desk and brush someone by accident. If the person he touched tells the teacher, the student will be brought in front of the class, pants down and strapped with those pointing sticks they used to have.

One time the teacher was hitting one student so hard the pointing stick snapped in half and the poor child had lines on his bum. He’s all lost, that boy, and I truly blame that teacher for that. I see him almost every day and I feel for him.

He is lost, like he cannot get a job. He has no self-confidence, no will, stripped of his dignity. Everything of him was stripped from him. It’s because our parents didn’t beat us up at home and this was the first time we were seeing all these assaults and beat-ups. It was not normal but we thought that was the White man’s way of life. We thought that was how they lived. They beat up their kids, strapped them, put them in the corner — Well, I assumed they did that to their own children because they were doing it to my friends and cousins in school. I would go home and tell my mother all about it. She would cry with me.

I had never seen anybody get hit until I went to Federal Day School in Kuujjaraapik. He’s still a lost boy. Not just him. There are a few people. In each community there are a few lost boys and girls. The child that was hurt in there is still lost. He’s a boy that was stripped of ever becoming a man. He’s still a lost boy. I feel for him. Even if he’s hungry, even if us people know that he’s hungry he doesn’t go ask for food. He’s still a lost boy.

Nobody is making the connection. Bad Indians. Bad Inuit. Drunken Inuit. Drunken Indians. That’s all they think. But we would not be drunken Inuit or drunken Indians had we not been abused when we were children, had we not been exposed to assaults and stuff like that. Lots of people that wouldn’t be drinkers are drinkers because they have wounds in there that need healing. Because there was nowhere else to go then, I’m sure some of these guys assume it’s too late. But it’s never too late. No. We can all heal. We all have a day to heal. Yeah. I feel for them.

In school they did not want us to speak our language. They were trying to strip us of our whole culture. When I was in Kuujjaraapik for all those years since I was a baby, I was in the choir. I was an Anglican in the choir, proud of myself. My mother promoted that. Then I got transferred to Fort George. My first night there I knelt down to pray and the Sister spanked me really hard and put me on the bed and I didn’t know what I did wrong. I was not allowed to pray on my knees like the Anglicans do because now I was in a Catholic School.

I used to sit at the supper table for long hours, long after everybody else had left, because there was still food on my plate. I didn’t know what it was and I wasn’t about to eat it. Many times, many times each night my friend Linda, a cousin of mine, she used to come and quickly eat my food so the Sister would think I finished my plate finally.

They can’t cook. I don’t believe any Sister in the world can cook. I don’t. I couldn’t eat anything they cooked. I hated their porridge, too. That’s what they served every morning, a big glob of porridge. And just because I shouldn’t be late for school I wasn’t made to stay until I finished it. That was the only good thing about breakfast! I had to be on time for school so I never had to eat my porridge.

I would pass whatever food I had under the table because I was used to eating only country food, good country food, healthy food, and I’ve never seen cream style corn in my life. And those green beans. I’m almost fifty now and I’m only learning, slowly starting to take vegetables because back then when they made the potatoes they didn’t make them nice and soft. It was a big hard potato, you know. You could eat it like an apple even if it was cooked! That was the worst part of the school in Fort George: the food.

I have an uncle who used to go to school there. He learned a lot. He spoke six languages. So there are good things about these schools, too. My biological mother learned how to be a nurse and a stewardess. They are both gone now but they were the best they can be because they were taught the best they could be in the school I’m talking about. It’s only me, the spoiled one who couldn’t eat the porridge that these two had been eating years before me.

I don’t really have any good memories, not really. It was just boarding school and Church. We never went anywhere to do anything. So I don’t really have any good memories. But I looked forward to going home to my mom in the summertime. Oh, oh, oh, that’s the sound I made when I got off the plane.

I told my mom that I wanted something frozen, frozen food. So I had Caribou meat, frozen, and smoked goose, but because I hadn’t eaten those country foods in almost a year, I had pain for a while. My body had to readjust back to my country food.

When I went home, I learned things I already knew from childhood. In my first five years of life I already learned all about my culture. I knew how to write Inuktitut and everything. I missed going egg picking and picking berries and that. I used to pick berries a lot for my mother because she was stuck in bed with cancer. I missed her terribly when I was in Fort George. But I tried to be a good student. I was trying to make her proud of me.

My grandparents raised me. They didn’t really want to see me go away but they had no choice because there was no more French school in Kuujjaraapik so they had to ship me away because to them my education was important. They wanted me to get ahead the way my Uncle and biological mom had. All my classmates were taken out and put into Federal Day School. My mom didn’t want me to go to the Federal Day School so they shipped me to the next place that had a French school.

When I went to English school in Kuujjaraapik it changed me. I was a shy, timid, smart girl. In the Federal Day School of Kuujjaraapik I had to endure the abuse of other kids. They used to call me “Frenchy”, “frog”, and things like that because they were Federal English students and I’m French. I was already in Grade 5 in French and when I was transferred to English I had all the Grade 5 knowledge of Math and everything in French, but I was kindergarten in English.

There were other changes. Dog killings. My mom cried big time when these red-suited guys were killing the dogs. I asked her why she was crying because I had never seen her cry in all my life. She said, “Our life is being killed.” I didn’t understand that. “Our life is being killed.” She meant our culture, the very existence of our culture was being killed by the way they were killing our dogs. After that the community turned – turned like a big cloud went over the community. It turned dark and all these people we used to trust and love and who we had never seen drunk or anything, started drinking and fighting and all the abuses started. It’s because they were stuck in the community. They had no more dogs. They had no means to go hunting, no means to survive, so all our confused older siblings or young parents, us younger generation from that are totally affected because our parents lost a big thing, and in their loss we lost a lot. It seems like as soon as the dogs were killed the abuses and alcohol and drinking started.

We weren’t going camping until ice break any more. We were stuck in the community. Losing the dogs means no more country food. No more country food means we were getting sick. We were getting sicker because we’re not eating our diet, our food. Our country food is the best food in the world and that was practically stripped away from us when they killed our parents’ means of survival; our dogs.

As a small child I remember a lot of people crying that day. Because I went next door and my friend’s mother and father were crying, too. So I went home and I said, “Mom, they’re crying too. Why is everybody crying?” “Because our life is stripped away”, she said it again. And because I was small I only understand it today what it truly meant.

It was hard for the parents who lost their kids, too. First they lost their children to the government, their sons taken away when they were trying to teach them how to survive. They were taken away. So, okay, my kids are gone. I’ll support my family by hunting. But then they killed the dogs, too. So it’s like they took everything.

I think we were trying to be stripped off the earth but it didn’t work because most Inuit believe in God and we pray and we have a very high protector up there. No man can wipe us off the earth because we have a helper up there.

I don’t like it sometimes when some snob will say, “that damn drunk Indian.” It’s the government’s fault they’re drunk because of Federal Day School. They are victims. They have never been exposed to violence and stuff like that and it’s because of that they’re hurting. They were taken away from their mom’s love, from their mom, not to see them again until next summer. That’s why some people are lost. We had no support, no Social Services, nowhere, no student counselors or nothing.

The healings and stuff are finally coming up and most of the people that were mostly affected are six feet under now. The important Survivors, too, the ones that achieved something, they are six feet under now too. I’m sure my Uncle — he’s written a book called From the Tundra to the Battlefield: Memories of the First Known Canadian Inuit Soldier — he achieved a lot so I believe it would be him who should be sitting here telling you his achievements through his survival. Because Inuit are Survivors. Natives are Survivors, lots of Inuit Natives.

It helps to let it out. We have a hard time letting it out because we never had the Social Workers and Student Counselors and people concerned about us, concerned about how we feel. There was never anybody there. It was like do, do, do, do. You’re going to be this, that and that, and that’s it. No crying. Even if you’re hurt don’t cry. You can’t talk about it.

Inuit are raised to be forgiving people, not to hold a grudge against somebody, not to go to bed still mad at someone because you don’t know if you’re going to wake up tomorrow morning. That was stripped from us, too.

They took the best part of our life. It may have been poor but we were Survivors. Look, that’s how the Crees lived and us lived in igloos. We didn’t need houses.

I have nine kids, seven boys and two girls and fourteen grandchildren. But now they’re eight because two months ago my son froze.

You know what, in school we were taught to abuse our children by being abused by our teachers. Myself, I don’t abuse my kids because I wasn’t abused personally and I don’t want to do something that I don’t want anybody to do to me. But some parents, they’re going to slap their kids silly the way they discipline them. Me, I don’t discipline them in a beat up way, just mouth language. Yeah, I think that’s why they started beating up their children because that’s what they were taught in school. We never saw violence until we had violent teachers, strict violent teachers.

I told my children about the good things, yeah, I don’t want to tell them about the bad things. I don’t want them to be scared to go to school. It was a totally different school. I wouldn’t have sent any of my kids to Fort George. No way! I would have rather taught them at home, their own culture and language.

I don’t know why they were trying to strip us of our culture and language because the only way you can achieve the best you can be is to be who you are; your culture, to know everything about your culture and then it will be easier to learn a second language. So by trying to take away our culture they made it harder for us to learn. Once you know everything — If I know how to say it in Inuktitut, it’s no problem; I’ll know how to say it in English.

The schools are too lenient now. From a totally strict to a too lenient school I don’t think is good, either. I think the strictness would have been okay if they had not used violence because you can just raise your voice and, okay, I’ll do everything you ask. If you want me to comb my hair, if you raise your voice and yell “comb your hair”, I’ll comb my hair right away!

And I think they were trying to make us hate our food. Blah, you eat raw, blah, like that, because I was the only Inuk and all the other students were Cree and they never eat anything raw. So my nickname was “raw eater”. In Cree I don’t know how to say it, though! I’m glad I forgot it! I didn’t make any friends at all. I was always by myself.

Each person is important, your culture is important, no one can take your culture away from you no matter how much or how hard they try, and if you know your culture you can learn and achieve anything in the world. To know your culture is to know yourself and when you know yourself then you can achieve anything.

I don’t like [other people] pointing fingers at the Native people and putting them down because they can never walk in their shoes; never. But we have to let it out. Don’t keep it in there because it’s still going to affect you all the way. The pain in there, the child inside you has to come out and heal. Therefore you can heal.

Now they have all kinds of help that they didn’t have before, toll free numbers even, confidential. Before, there was no confidentiality. If you tried to talk to a teacher they would just talk behind you and then you would be branded a little troublemaker, you know. No. There was no where to go and no one to turn to.

I find it is getting better. And I know it can get even better. Because they’re just lenient right now. They can get better and better. Start healing sessions in different communities and talk shows and stuff like that. Because most of us are raised to forgive and forget, but some things are not so easy to forgive and forget. You have to let them out because they are going to affect your life all the way, and if you’re affected then the people around you are affected too.

We don’t have healing sessions and stuff like that in our communities. There’s a group that travels and they’re helping a lot but there’s so much more people that need healing and lots of people, even if they hear that these healing sessions are available, they are too ashamed or it’s been too long or I’ve been okay so far so I can still survive. That’s how some people think. To be truly at peace with yourself and to learn how to love yourself and love your culture let it out. That’s what I would like to see.

I have hope for everybody to heal, to let it out. Don’t keep it bottled up any more because although you don’t think so, it is still affecting your life. Let it out because it is still affecting your life and those that are around you. I think it helped me because now I can talk without crying. Before I couldn’t even talk. I would just burst into tears.

I was going to pinch one person when I grew up. “I’m going to go and pinch that person!” Instead, I just shook her hand. I said, “You know what, you used to pinch me every day, every day, in the back, eh!” She remembered. Then she said, “I’m scared of you now because you’re bigger than me!” I said, “I don’t fight back.” Just don’t have your kids pinching my kids!

(Speaking Inuktitut)

I talked to the kids and also the teachers. In my language. I just told them to come and let it out. I can repeat it because I was talking to the teachers and the students right now, not the former ones. I told them to keep going to school. They can achieve anything they want and be anything they want to be. I also told the teachers: don’t put your students down, don’t abuse them; give them confidence, encourage them. The child in there has to come out. The abused child.

Me, I had parents until they died when I was twelve. But for twelve years I was very well protected. But some of these kids I’m calling the lost boys, they didn’t have parents so they couldn’t even go home to their mom and say “I got spanked by mister ‘this’ today”.

And there have been a lot of suicides. Because, not only was physical assault introduced, but sexual assault too. There’s this teacher that used to —

We used to take showers in school. He would just leave the girls alone and hang around with the boys, the teacher. Well, he was a teacher first. And when he was the principal he started going to their homes, going inside the house, go to their bedrooms and touch them, you know. There are a few homeless people in Montreal because of that teacher, that principal. I’m sure if he sees this he’ll know I’m talking about him. You, you ruined a lot of students. I hate you. I hate that man.

My cousin is homeless because of him. He’s too ashamed to go up north now, so he’s homeless in Montreal because of that teacher, that teacher who came to our community to give us education, to better our lives, he ruined lots of boys.

I still hurt over my cousin, and a few other people. These boys are ashamed because boys are not supposed to be touched by a man and they’re ashamed to come forward. I can see that it affects their lives, their way of life, their way of raising their children.

I do want them to come forward, or even if they don’t come forward, they can heal. There are lots of places now, Natives, Inuit and Cree, you have places to heal now, places to talk, people to call, confidentially. There are caring people out there now.

Survivor Stories

holder
holder
holder
holder
holder
holder
holder
holder
Warning - This website contains subject matter that may be disturbing to some viewers, particularly Survivors of the Residential School System.

Avec le soutien généreux de :

With the generous support of:

>