The boarding school was big and cold. Two lonely buildings sat in the middle a field, covered in a thick blanket of snow. I was six years old and this was my third year at school here. Three years since those two white men picked me up off my rez and took me to the town boarding school.Lisez l’histoire de Akeesha Footman
Rainy River First Nation, ON
When I asked my great-grandmother about her experience in residential school. she shared this story with me. Although my grandmother lived through the mostly terrible experience of residential school, she was still the strongest and kindest woman I ever met. My great-grandmother lived through time great change. She spoke of when the first settlers came to Northwestern Ontario, and began the construction of roads and bridges. The government relocated her family and reserve and forced the community into a farming sustenance. These monumental alterations of Anishnaabe lifestyle are changes many youth are still dealing with today. For me as an urban-Anishnaabekwe, I struggle with the balance of spiritual and contemporary life. My grandmother, Annie Wilson, lived through that same type of opposition of values and lifestyles. This story is of a headstrong girl who kept her integrity and identity throughout all the adversity she faced. Annie Wilson is my inspiration, and the memory of her challenges me to a better, more kind, and courageous woman.
The boarding school was big and cold. Two lonely buildings sat in the middle a field, covered in a thick blanket of snow. I was six years old and this was my third year at school here. Three years since those two white men picked me up off my rez and took me to the town boarding school.
Afternoons at school were dedicated to housework. The boys would do men’s work; making stuff out of wood and learning how to build. Our work would be cleaning the school, preparing meals, knitting and all that other stuff women needed to know. That Tuesday afternoon, my job was to make the bread. I loved making bread. I had watched my mom make bread, and that past summer she had taught me how to make it too. The sisters at the school would never supervise the kitchen so I got to work alone. I liked having those hours by myself in the kitchen. It reminded me of my mom, and I missed her so much.
The school could get so cold on winter days, it was nice to work in the warm kitchen with the ovens. The industrial blender was huge, and I had to stand on top of a chair to pour the ingredients in. I liked to watch the yeast bubble up in the warm water. The sour smell of the dough would bring back memories of home. I closed my eyes and took a long breath in. Suddenly, Sister Anna rushed in, and bumped me away from the mixer with her big hips. Looking up, I noticed that her facial whiskers were extra long today. She must’ve forgotten to shave in the morning. Sister Anna wore a light blue dress, and a massive wooden cross around her puffy neck. She was the biggest nun at the boarding school so we called her chi-sister, which means fat-sister. Sister Anna looked down at the ingredients I had just finished placing in the metal bowl. She let out a deep grunt and then shot up her face, fiery red. Next thing I remember she was screaming and hollering right into my face. I could taste her wet, bitter breath as she screamed, her nose touching mine. I couldn’t understand those white women when they got upset, always screeching at crazy speeds and getting angrier when we couldn’t respond. I could only make out that she didn’t like how I mixed the dough.
I protested, “I know how to make bread, Sister Anna. I always make it right. You probably ate my bread today at lunch and liked it!” I was scared, but I didn’t like the way she yelled at me. I had been making bread this entire school year, and I had never seen Sister Anna in the kitchen once.
“What do you know about making bread anyways?” I continued. She slapped my face and grabbed my arm.
“Who do you think you are speaking back to me?” Her green eyes bulged out of her face as her grip began to squeeze tighter and tighter around my arm. I didn’t want a licking from Sister Anna, she was real good at giving a licking. I remember Gertie Horton spoke back to Sister Anna once and after; Gertie had a black eye, and bruises all over her body. I twisted my arm from her fat sausage fingers and bolted out of that kitchen as quickly as my legs could take me. I knew I could out run her chi-ass, so I went for it.
Some nights when my friends and I were feeling extra bad we would sneak around the school and play hide-and-go-seek. There was a little closet for dirty dishes in the dining hall I liked to hide in. I thought it would be a good spot to stay safe, hidden from Sister Anna. I planned to stay in there until supper time. To get to the dining hall I had to run straight through the chapel where Pastor’s afternoon service was held. I darted down the church aisle at turbo speed, between the wooden pews filled with town people who came to sing the songs of God. The townspeople stopped their singing as I sprinted pass. I raced to the little door, crawled in, and locked it. My heart was racing, I could feel it pumping out of my chest as I attempted to catch my breath. I heard a knock on the door.
“Come out, young girl.” My body jumped. I could feel my stomach turn.
“Is Sister Anna out there?” I asked. I was not getting out of that smelly dish closet if she was.
“No, it’s me, Pastor John. Come out please.” I had no choice but to come out. I unlocked the door and crawled out sluggishly. I stood up and kept my eyes at his feet. He placed his hand on my shoulder, “Why did you disrupt my service young girl?”
“I got scared, Sir Sister slapped me, and I don’t want a licking from her. She got mad at me for no reason, sir.” I said, almost whispering. He gripped my chin up and pulled it up, forcing my eyes to meet with his. His face was leathery with deep lines running through his forehead.
“Is the Sister still in the kitchen?” Pastor asked. I looked back down at the floor and nodded. “Ok, let me take you back there where you belong” I kept my eyes on the floor as Pastor walked me back through the chapel. I could feel all the townspeople looking down upon me with shame. It was embarrassing; my mother would have been ashamed of my disruption of a sacred service.
We walked into the kitchen to find Sister Anna’s legs sticking out of the giant blender’s mixing bowl. Her long, blue dress was draped over her body, exposing her beefy thighs. Her chunky legs were covered with an assortment of colorful varicose veins. The blue, brown and purple splotches reminded me of Gertie Horton’s bruises after she got beaten.
There was a pool of Sister Anna’s blood around the base of the blender. “CHRIST!” Pastor rushed over to her, shaking her motionless body.
I watched him fight desperately with Sister Anna’s corpse, trying to let loose. Sister Anna’s body was tightly jammed in the mixing bowl, Pastor couldn’t get her out no matter his strength. He turned to me, “Get out of here, you don’t need to see this!”. I walked out in shock. The blender, the blood, and her body propped upside down, face first into the blender. I never got those images out of my head.
For the rest of the week we got our bread from town. They needed to clean that Sister’s blood off the blender.
A couple months later I heard a rumor of how Sister Anna died. Her cross got stuck in the blender, pulling her in and breaking her neck.
She should’ve just left my dough and me alone.