My earliest memory is of sitting in the backseat of a car. It is nighttime and we are following another car ahead of us. My cat, Butchie, is in the back window of the first car and I can see his eyes glowing in the glare of our headlights. We are on our way to the Reserve. My grandparents, my uncle, my mom, my four brothers, my younger sister and I have decided to leave the City of Sarnia because we hope that life will be better on the reserve. My dad has died and we are having trouble making it without him. We're happy and we do our best. As had always been our way, our extended family shares what little we've got. But money is short and there are many mouths to feed, so the entire family unit uproots itself and away we go to what we hope are greener pastures. The feeling is happiness because we are pulling together.
But happiness is short-lived and my next major memory is of residential school. We are sent to the Brantford Mohawk Institute. It seems that the house allotted to us on the reserve is too small, so the Indian Agent, in his wisdom, decides to send those in our family who are of school age to residential school. I am only five years old. That doesn't matter. The Indian Agent represents Indian Affairs and they make our decisions for us. Life is different at the Mush Hole, as we call it. We don't sit around the kitchen table anymore watching Grandma make meals (I'm too young to help, but I watch because later on, I'll know what to do.) Instead, we line up whenever the bell goes and we file into a big room with tables and chairs and eat what is given to us. It's porridge most mornings, thus, the name Mush Hole. I don't hear my family laughing and joking in Ojibway all the time. Now the only time I see my family is when I spot my brothers in the large dining room at mealtime. My mom wants to visit us, but the Mush Hole is a long way from the Reserve and she has no way to get back and forth. We all have to speak English here because it would interfere with our education if we spoke Ojibway. Sure is tough trying to learn a new language without anyone really teaching us how. Now we don't sit around the woodstove in the evenings listening to Grandpa tell tales of long ago. Instead, we line up at a certain time to use the washroom, then we have to go to bed. An older woman teacher we refer to as Cow Legs stands at the end of the hall to make sure we do this as quickly and quietly as possible. After lights out, we have to go to sleep, because if there's any noise, Cow Legs opens the door, turns on the lights and if we're caught out of bed, we get the strap. My friend, Barbara, cries herself to sleep almost every night. I want to comfort her, but I don't want to get caught out of bed. The feeling is fear because there are so many rules.