The girl in the middle of this photograph—wearing a white hat with sunshine streaming onto her face—is my grandmother, Daisy. She is among a group of children from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg waiting to be taken to Kenora and Spanish Indian Residential Schools. She is happy; excited to go, eager to learn, enthused by the idea of expanding her horizons beyond the reserve where she grew up. As she told me at 65 years old, “I wanted to go to school.”
My grandmother, Daisy, has a beautiful life. She has a home, a red truck, and a robin’s nest in her flowers. She loves to pick berries, take drives, and go to the lake. She has one granddaughter (me) and four grandsons.
But, she has also suffered much loss in her life. She has lost her husband and her son at the age of 18. Of her five siblings, she is the only one still alive today. The majority of her family experienced untimely, alcohol-related deaths resulting from the impacts of colonization on the Anishinabe.
My grandmother had, and still has, a right to an education in her own language and about her own people. The government delivered education in the form of genocide via the residential school system, and continues to fail Anishinabe children today.
When my grandmother married my grandfather, her true love, she was perfectly trilingual but did not feel comfortable speaking Anishinabemowin. It was my grandfather’s first language, though he did speak broken English and even worse French. My grandfather forced my grandmother to speak her language, Anishinabemowin, at home. Sadly, it wasn’t enough still for the language to be passed onto my mom or me.
Over the past three years, my grandmother has been expanding her horizons. She took her first ride on a jet plane, to New Orleans, then cruised through the Caribbean. She takes trips from the reserve to the city nowadays to shop at Costco and catch a movie.
A few years ago at Christmas, my grandmother opened up to me about her experience at residential school. It was like a switch was flipped on, and she started on the things that happened. She talked about how mean the people were and, mostly, how horrible the food fed to the children was. It was just the tip of the iceberg. The flip switched off and she immediately drowned in a bottle of beer. The impacts of colonization, and the current struggles our people face, have never been clearer to me than in that moment. My grandmother has been sober for three years now.
I don’t know whether or not that switch will flip on again while my grandmother is here. What I do know is that I, as her granddaughter, need to know what happened. I deserve to know why I can’t speak my language. I want an explanation for why I never got to know my uncle, who died when I was two. The answers to these questions sit alongside the documents you are withholding.
Give us the truth. Allow the door to reconciliation to open.
Honour the Apology.