The Republic of Poetry

Martín Espada

The Republic of Poetry
For Chile

In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic, shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.

Copyright 2006 by Martín Espada.

How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way

Martín Espada

How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way

Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over.
Walt Whitman

I see the dark-skinned bodies falling in the street as their ancestors fell before the whip and steel, the last blood pooling, the last breath spitting. I see the immigrant street vendor flashing his wallet to the cops,
shot so many times there are bullet holes in the soles of his feet.
I see the deaf woodcarver and his pocketknife, crossing the street
in front of a cop who yells, then fires. I see the drug raid, the wrong
door kicked in, the minister’s heart seizing up. I see the man hawking
a fistful of cigarettes, the cop’s chokehold that makes his wheezing lungs stop wheezing forever. I am in the crowd, at the window,
kneeling beside the body left on the asphalt for hours, covered in a sheet.
I see the suicides: the conga player handcuffed for drumming on the subway, hanged in the jail cell with his hands cuffed behind him; the suspect leaking blood from his chest in the back seat of the squad car; the 300-pound boy said to stampede barehanded into the bullets drilling his forehead.
I see the coroner nodding, the words he types in his report burrowing
into the skin like more bullets. I see the government investigations stacking, words buzzing on the page, then suffocated as bees suffocate in a jar. I see the next Black man, fleeing as the fugitive slave once fled the slave-catcher, shot in the back for a broken tail light. I see the cop handcuff the corpse.
I see the rebels marching, hands upraised before the riot squads,
faces in bandannas against the tear gas, and I walk beside them unseen.
I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder
how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves still fled and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.

Copyright 2016 by Martín Espada

Border Report

Bus of marigolds.
Caravan of peace.
Thousands of families divided
blow kisses.
Who is desperate to cross over.
Who must see his father’s grave.
And painted right across the bus,
I broke the swords and made of them sickles,
from one of their poets, who
—you’ve heard this before, I’m sure—
is also one of our poets.

Originally published in IMAGE Journal, number 59, Fall 2008. The phrase, "I broke the swords and made of them sickles" appears in italics.

Urchin Childeren of Gaza

Oh, urchin children of Gaza
who constantly disturbed me
with your yelling under my window.
You who filled every morning
with turbulence and chaos,
who broke my vase and stole
the lonely flower on my balcony,
come back! Scream all you want
and break all the vases.
Steal all the flowers. Come back.
Just come back.

Excerpt from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

“Your silence will not protect you.”

“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”

I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

Excerpt from “Survival in Auschwitz”

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home.
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud,
Who knows no peace,
Who fights for a crust of bread,
Who dies by a yes or no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter.
Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your houses be destroyed,
May illness strike you down,
May your offspring turn their faces from you.”

Excerpts from “Survivial in Auschwitz”

“Even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last — the power to refuse our consent.”

“Auschwitz is outside of us, but it is all around us, in the air. The plague has died away, but the infection still lingers and it would be foolish to deny it. Rejection of human solidarity, obtuse and cynical indifference to the suffering of others, abdication of the intellect and of moral sense to the principle of authority, and above all, at the root of everything, a sweeping tide of cowardice, a colossal cowardice which masks itself as warring virtue, love of country and faith in an idea.”

“We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”

Marjorie Flowers, Inuit, Testimony


Marjorie Flowers
Legacy of Hope Foundation | 275 Slater St, Ste 900, Ottawa, ON K1P 5H9 | Telephone: 613‐237‐4806 or 877‐553‐7177 |
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.”

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.

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 two­seater. 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 thirty­five, 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 inter­generational. 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.

This is the testimony of a survivor of Inuit residential schools in Canada.

Survivor Stories

We Were So Far Away > Marius Tungilik

Marius Tungilik

Legacy of Hope Foundation | 275 Slater St, Ste 900, Ottawa, ON K1P 5H9 | Telephone: 613‐237‐4806 or 877‐553‐7177 |

Marius attended the Chesterfield Inlet Residential School in Nunavut, then called Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School, from 1963 until 1969. He was only five years old when he was sent to live at the school.

“It was very strange because all throughout the year we were told that our way of life back home represented something completely different than what was actually taking place in our home town. So when you’re told over and over again that Inuktitut is a dead language, it’s a forbidden language, that our way of life is primitive, you begin to think and see your own people in a different light. You see them eating with their hands. You think, okay, primitive. And that’s brainwashing.”

The title of this exhibition, “We were so far away…”, was a quote from our interview with Marius Tungilik, a Survivor of Chesterfield Inlet’s Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School, which he attended between 1963 and 1969. Today, Marius is a father, a grandfather, a public speaker, and an active participant in contemporary Inuit politics. He has also spent many years working tirelessly towards healing the legacy of residential schools for Inuit Survivors. While he notes in his story that this healing process must take place on a number of levels, he firmly believes that for Survivors, “one of the hardest parts is just to get started.” He shares his story in part to inspire others to embark upon their own path towards healing and reconciliation. In 1993, he was the principal organizer of the Chesterfield Inlet Residential School reunion called “In the Spirit of Healing: A Special Reunion.” He is currently organizing another reunion for the summer of 2009.

I went to the Chesterfield Inlet Residential School. It was called the Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School when we were there. I was five years old. I have some very fond memories of my childhood. Before I went to school I was very carefree as far as I remember. People used to talk to me in terms of endearment all the time; cutie, or – I don’t think they ever called me by my real name: Marius. But then it was always “my wonderful son” or anikuluk. It was always something to do with something wonderful. We spoke Inuktitut of course all the time and there were times when they let me roam around freely. There wasn’t anything to be afraid of so I would take a walk out on the tundra once in a while and I would be by myself. That is where I would let my mind wander. I have very clear memories of those days, but I don’t remember ever being told that we were going to school. I just knew that we were going to meet the plane. It was always a big event when an airplane came in. So the next thing I knew I was in this plane and I had no idea why.

The first plane ride was terrifying from Repulse Bay. I just remember crying and crying and holding onto my cousin. I really had no clue as to what was going on.

I guess there were no indications that I would not be able to see my parents for such a long time. I had been with my parents all this time and I was still bottle­feeding when they sent me off to school. I don’t know what they did with my baby bottle. They gave us a hair cut, bath and new clothes, well, uniforms actually, with moccasins. I remember they were asking each one of us who we were and I couldn’t remember my name. I had to think about it because I couldn’t understand at first what they were asking “what is your name”, and I had to check with the others to see what it is they were asking. The person right in front of me was named Andre so I almost said “Andre”. I knew my name wasn’t Andre. I have some memories of that.

They would wake us up. I don’t know how we slept the first few nights because we were crying all the time. We had chores to do. Well, my chores were to sweep the stairs and do the dishes. I don’t know whether we went to Church first and did our chores first or not. Breakfast was porridge almost every day except Sundays.

We had lots of crackers in milk. Then we went to school. We would line up in the hallway and we would all sing “God Save The Queen” and “O Canada”.

The first year wasn’t too bad after a while. We settled into a routine. Sister Rocan was our kindergarten teacher. She was a nice woman. But it was difficult. I didn’t know how long we were going to stay there and it was difficult going back to our home town because things change over a period of nine months when you’re only five. You don’t know how to act towards your parents or your younger brothers and sisters.

In May, around the 19th or 20th of May we went home. Just once a year. I don’t know what that was like for my parents. I never really asked them. I know they were so happy to see us come back every time. They would shower us with love and all that. I’m sure it was hard for them. They told us to listen to our supervisors, whoever was taking care of us, because first of all they were non­Inuit. In that time we felt basically inferior to White society and secondly my parents were very religious so we took it for granted that we had to listen to the Clergy. There was no choice in the matter. So with those instructions we were sent off.

That was further reinforced by the shroud of secrecy in the Residential School. We were told not to say anything. We were threatened not to say anything. It was a Roman Catholic­run school. There were Oblate Priests there, Brothers, and Nuns. The Grey Nuns. They treated us very differently from back home. There were no signs of affection or love. It was very sterile in that environment. Everything was regimented. We had to follow the rules. We had to speak English. We had to learn, speak, write and read in English. We had to follow the clock. Time was the all­important thing it seemed, whereas back home it wasn’t a big factor at all.

There were mealtimes. Back home we would eat whenever we were hungry. In Chesterfield Inlet in school we had to eat only at a certain time and we would all eat together. And we had to report our behaviour every day. Basically they would get out this Report Card and they would call out our names and we would have to say “good” or “not so good” for the way we behaved that day. And if we were “extra good” they would give us a star for good deeds, they would say. If you earned enough stars you would be able to go to a movie that weekend. That was a big deal, going to the movies. So they were strong motivators. Everybody knew the rules, basically.

In school we didn’t interact. We didn’t have any interaction with young babies or with the Elders for nine months of the year. So how did they expect us to become parents and learn parenting skills when you’re living in a complete bubble isolated from what is going on in the community? I guess my saving grace was that I knew by example what it was like to a cherished member of the family. Before I went to school that’s all I knew. I was given unconditional love. I tried to follow that.

If we hadn’t been at school, depending on our age, we would be given a lot of freedom at first and then we would be taken out on trips to learn by observing our parents or our Elders how to hunt, how to be patient, how to build igloos, everything from skinning wild game to preparing the skins for clothing or other uses. We would have learned how to make kayaks, harpoons, and kakivaks for fishing. We would have been taught by example. This is how we make these things. These are the reasons why we make them the way we do. We would have been taught the oral tradition of history. Nothing would have needed to be written down or read. We would have learned the songs, the legends – we missed out on so much of that. Over the years I have regained it to a certain extent. I still don’t know how to do many of the things and that’s something that was taken away from me. The legends – I related to them more as fairy tales or like something completely distorted from the original concept of Inuit legends. I used to fall asleep every time they were being told because it was more like a bedtime story when we went to school, or that’s the way we learned.

So in that sense our spirituality was taken away from us. Our sense of identity with babies, Elders, we had no contact with people in Chesterfield Inlet. We were not allowed to have any contact outside of the school with the residents of Chesterfield Inlet. We missed out completely on a valuable resource of knowledge and expertise that was available right in Chesterfield Inlet because they were afraid that the residents would abuse us. That is sick logic. That is the sickness behind their – they wanted to control every aspect of our lives, the Church, the school system wants to.

We were told that we were Eskimos. We did not amount to anything. The only way we could succeed was to learn the English way of life. So in that sense it was psychologically degrading as well. We were made to hate our own people, basically, our own kind. We looked down on them because they did not know how to count in English, speak English or read or any of those things that we were now able to do. That’s sick.

It was very strange because all throughout the year we were told that our way of life back home represented something completely different than what was actually taking place in our home town. So when you’re told over and over again that Inuktitut is a dead language, it’s a forbidden language, that our way of life is primitive, you begin to think and see your own people in a different light. You see them eating with their hands. You think, okay, primitive. And that’s brainwashing.

Being made to feel inferior or superior with your own kind is psychological abuse in a very bad way. None of us spoke about it. We kept it all inside. No one dared to talk. It was something we just never talked about. So for many, many years, for years, it was probably the best­kept secret of what actually happened in school, what actually happened in the hostels, you know. None of that ever came out.

You could see the manifestations of dysfunction everywhere. There were people who tried to escape reality by drinking or doing drugs, through violence, misplaced anger, confusion, crime — The signs were everywhere. But no one talked about it.

I knew there was something wrong with the way I was feeling inside and the way I saw things and the way my parents and everybody else was seeing things. They were seeing things through different eyes. We were told we’re not White and we’re no longer true Inuit. We don’t know the traditional ways so we were caught somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

We have a lot of good skills. We’re good interpreters. We are good accountants and bookkeepers. We’re good administrators. We were able to earn money in the wage economy. But that’s all on the outside. We were hurting inside and we didn’t know how to express our anger or our confusion.

I tried talking to psychologists as far back as the seventies about the problem, into the eighties. No one took it seriously. No one knew what I was talking about. They said, “Pray”. Pray. What does prayer have to do with anything? “Ask for forgiveness”, they said. Forgiveness for what? The way I am? For what was done to me?

It became clear to me that no one in the professional field knew what it was like to be in an institutionalized situation and to have dealt with physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse of that magnitude. It became very clear that there was a great gap between knowledge and what was actually taking place; the trauma. No one had the language. Healing was not part of our vocabulary until all this came out.

In many ways many things have changed since then. I remember the first time I spoke about Residential Schools in a public forum. I was one of the first so it was very, very hard for me. I was really undecided as to whether I should openly speak about it because it was not done. I was tormented inside because I knew it was the right thing to do and I felt I did not have the courage or the strength. I felt I was going to die if I said anything publicly. But luckily I was able to spend some time out on the land, not by choice. I got lost out on the land for three days just by myself. I was okay. It was in the late fall, November. But those three days alone gave me enough time to make up my mind. Yes, I’m going to do this no matter what.

A week after I was found I made my submission to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Rankin Inlet. We organized the Reunion in Chesterfield in 1993. I had to field questions from everyone. No one actually believed that this could actually happen. I was getting calls from people all over the North who did understand and who knew exactly what I was talking about and they supported me. We worked together on many different issues.

Now when you go to conferences you can listen to people talking about their experiences more openly. They are talking about the need to heal, the need to move forward and the benefits of not keeping things bottled up inside. So many things have changed.

But at the same time it has been a rough adjustment. I’ve always known that healing consisted of many different components. One was an apology, a validation of what actually took place, and criminal justice. People have to be held accountable for their actions by spending time in jail, paying fines, and so on. There’s compensation for damages. There’s treatment and counseling. So there are many components to moving forward in the process of healing oneself. And it takes the whole community to do that. We can’t do it alone. You can but it would be much more difficult.

The hardest thing I believe is to acknowledge and to admit that, yes, it did happen to me. This is what happened to me. This is how it affected me. And when we started all this we couldn’t tell our story without crying, without bursting into tears at some point. It was that difficult. So that’s one of the hardest parts is just to get started and to acknowledge that there is something definitely very wrong in our lives that is making us the way we are. And we need to find a way to get past that and to move forward.

It can be very confusing because you get the sense that once you get it out everything is going to be okay now. But it doesn’t work that way. Everything is not okay. But you’ve taken the first step. And you have to be willing to work with others to get to where you want to be.

Reclaiming the past, what we have lost, is going to take a long time. The isolation from our community extended for many years so you can’t expect to resolve all of the complex issues, all of the complexities of being sent away to school in a time frame. We can’t say by 2010 “Thy shall be healed”, you know. It doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot longer than that. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of resources. And some people are more ready than others so you have to make sure no one is left behind. If we leave some people out, the cycle is going to continue for as long as we allow it to.

I’m hoping we will all be able to stand up and say “I am worthy”. “I deserve the best of what life has to offer.” “Life doesn’t owe me a living.” I think we ought to be thinking that way but at the same time we will have better tools to cope with whatever comes our way and not be stuck in thinking that we’re inferior in any way, that we ought to be asking for permission in any way. Am I permitted to be happy, you know, that seems to be our mindset. Am I allowed to be happy? So if we can accomplish that and get people involved in determining their own futures I think we’ve done our job.

Equality is going to continue to be something that needs to be addressed; equality in terms of having access to resources, having access to services and programs that are available to the rest of Canada. We deserve that, too. We’re Canadians. We pay taxes. We went through the same experiences. We’ve been working on this for a long time, myself and so many others as well, my brothers and sisters, my cousins —

I filed a Notice of Objection. When the Common Experience Payment was being proposed we had no chance to object or to submit an Objection, but I did, on the basis that once again we were up north. We would not be getting our buying power from the compensation process simply because something down here that you can buy will cost twenty times more when you finally get it in the north. That was not taken into consideration.

Again, there were so many shortcomings all throughout the process. In the criminal justice system no one was charged. No one spent any time in jail. The criminal justice system thought that what happened to us was minor in nature, as the prosecutor argued. Every step along the way we have been knocked down. People still knock us down. People still think of us as second­class citizens. We’re still being treated in a way that makes us feel we deserve better. We don’t feel superior to them. We just want to feel equal and – we have so much to offer Canada if they would just let us in and let us be part of the family. We could make this into a much better country to live in.

We have a lot of challenges ahead of us. At least we’re not going backwards any more. We’re holding our ground, if anything, and in some cases we’re moving forward. Sometimes we go back a little bit, we transgress, but that’s human nature. I think we give a voice to the voiceless, people who cannot express themselves, you know, who have all these fears of what people will think of them if they say anything. I think it’s them we speak for when we talk, as well. It is not only our needs that we are fighting for, it’s the needs of others in our communities, in our families, in our circle of friends. We see what is going on. We know what is going on. We can see it every day, day after day.

Our people are so generous, so giving, so caring, so sharing and they are so trusting. They can’t help but try to help the situation. We can’t let them down: ever. Our children will have to carry on the work that we do in some way.

It’s very confusing at times, though. Many times you’re wondering, is this a result of what happened in Residential School or is this a result of something else? You can’t put everything into one basket and say everything that goes wrong is a result of our time in Residential School, or the system. There are so many other things that come into play and you have to be able to differentiate between what happened in Residential Schools and what was happening all around us, whether it was Inuit politics, our way of thinking about the spiritual world, our belief systems, our mind set about legends and the powers of nature, the supernatural, the taboos, the curses.

So we have to be able to separate the issues. What is it that we need to do to ensure that our children will be able to become good leaders, to lead the next generation into a healthier lifestyle, in all aspects of life; spiritually, physically and emotionally? They will have to take ownership of all that. We have a duty as parents to lay the groundwork, to do the best that we can to make sure that our children will be able to carry on the work.

Our hands were tied, basically, behind our backs for so long that we couldn’t do a very good job of laying down the groundwork with tied hands. A lot of us suffered from alcoholism, drug addiction, and addiction to gambling and a life of crime. That’s not really laying down a very good groundwork or blueprint for the future. Those are things we don’t want our children to go through. And yet that’s all we knew, basically.

I know we still have a lot of work to do. The journey hasn’t ended. It continues. I can’t see us abandoning the work in a year and a half or two years, after having done all of this without blueprints for the future. Like I said, we can’t say “They shall be healed in 2010”. It’s just not the way things work.

It’s not that I want people to continue to suffer. That’s not the point. What we’re saying is the need will continue to exist because some people will have just started their journey. They will need to go through for a long period of time and some people want to wait until they see how we turn out once we started the journey, and as leaders we play that role.

I’m back home now, after being away for so long I’m finally home, and I do not mean only geographically, I’m back to where I was born and raised after being away for about thirty years. I guess everywhere I went I felt at home in some way no matter where I was because I could live with myself to a certain extent. But back home I feel completely whole. There’s family; my brothers and sisters are there. My nieces and my friends are there, and people who understand me and people I understand are there.

We weren’t home in Residential School. We were far away from home, very far away, emotionally, geographically and spiritually. We were so far away. Sometimes we thought we were never going home again.

Also the inter­generational impact issue is going to have to be addressed in a very meaningful way. There needs to be involvement of our children and their children to make sure, number one, this type of thing never happens again. And I’m not just talking about Residential Schools because it’s something that’s probably never going to happen again. But the concept, the situation where we allow others to take control of our lives and where others force their belief systems on us and made us feel inferior and made us feel what we were not and try to change us into something we were not, that is what we mean by not allowing this type of thing to happen again.

Secondly, we need to ensure that they understand the full impact of what happened to us, the consequences of disclosure, the consequences of having to deal with all of this and the consequences of dealing with life’s difficulties in a very dysfunctional manner. They have to grasp all of those and move forward and be involved. Once that’s done then they can take over. They can do the work. We can help them along. We can guide them along. But that work has to be done. That’s all I can say.

This is a testimony of a survivor of the Canadian residential schools for Inuits.