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How many spoonfuls does it take to eat a bowlful of your own vomit?
Edmund Metatawabin knows: 15.
As a young Cree lad at the notorious St. Anne’s residential school, he remembers throwing up his morning porridge into his bowl and being forced to eat it again — spoonful by disgusting spoonful.
And he counted. And he remembered.
Just as he remembers the other serial indignities and casual tortures he endured at the northern Ontario institution during the 1950s.
With Toronto author Alexandra Shimo, Metatawabin recounts many of these in Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey Through the Turbulent Waters of Native History, published this week by Knopf Canada.
He also recounts the alcoholism and depression that his boyhood trauma led him to as a man — and the traditional healing rituals and teachings he employed to reclaim his life.
The Star spoke this week to the former chief of the Fort Albany First Nation band. The is an edited version of the conversation.
You’ve gotten to a good place in your life now, a solid, happy place. What made you want to relive those horrors and make them public?
I think it’s good for young people, it’s good for people, it’s good for anybody to learn the true story about the past. And for me it was especially helpful when I read (Austrian neurologist) Victor Frankl who was a Holocaust survivor. I thought our story was bad, but here was somebody who was able to dissect everything, to explain everything, to help people understand what was happening to the children, to the women, to the men. And as a young person, it helped me understand what I was feeling about my own experience. I didn’t understand. I thought we were the only ones who went through that and I even began to feel that it was normal.
Can you briefly describe some of that experience, which you detail at length in your book?
I was slapped and strapped and made to suffer physically, sexually … A slap can happen anytime. Some of the other nuns used to pinch, but our supervisor was a slapper.
There was an electric chair … there’s a steel metal frame and we’re made to sit on that. And it’s attached to two wires going to a box where the brother would crank it up. So once the power starts you can’t let go of the chair’s arms. The power was on and kids, they were small, it would shake their whole body.
I was put in that twice. For nothing, for entertainment — entertainment on a Friday night.
What do you believe motivated the people who ran these schools? Was it simple sadism? Or did they just feel they were dealing with a lesser brand of human being?
Well they were dealing with a lesser brand of human being, that’s for sure. That’s in the history books. Duncan Campbell Scott (a Canadian poet and federal Indian Affairs bureaucrat in the early century) said that repeatedly. He said “my campaign is to get rid of the Indian problem until there’s no Indian problem left.” So I think he was talking about genocide when he was saying that. And, yeah, that was the attitude. You have to get rid of this problem any way you can. To make us frustrated was the intent. To frustrate us as much as possible.”
You write about how this kind of treatment came back to haunt you in later life. Can you talk about that and about how you came to heal yourself?
Well the memories are there, you remember everything. It’s when you see something, like a bag of oats in a store — the porridge incident would just come up. They call them triggers, and whatever you see — the colour of the strap, the colour of the ruler, the metal chair, those kind of things — effected you, making you remember.
And you do learn to hate yourself. You learn to try to harm yourself. You’re trying to hurt yourself. And alcohol was the best one. You can hurt yourself real well with alcohol. So we got carried away.
I lost everything. I lost any sense of self esteem. When I married, that’s when it sort of started to spin out of control. Me and my wife split for about six years. And it was a long process to come together.
But what brought me back were the ceremonies, the sweat lodges. Just going to the ceremonies and beginning to hear the elders talk about life experiences, life plans. And to wake up, to feel. My first sweat was physical, I had to walk out of there. My second experience in a sweat was totally, totally emotional. I couldn’t stop crying. We had a feast after. I was crying inside the lodge, I was crying outside, I recovered for the feast and I went home and cried for two more hours.
So there was a lot of stuff in my system. But after that time, then I began to think of my children and now my heart was feeling something. I began to see what I was doing, that I was hurting everybody.
Right now we are in the midst of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission that’s looking into the residential school catastrophe. Seeing it unfold, do you have confidence that it will do some good for people who suffered through experiences like yours?
Not too much. I think it’s up to each individual to find out and heal themselves. It cannot be done as a group of people and saym “I have a resolution, magic, we’re healed.” It doesn’t happen like that. It happens over years. You have to feel pain at the discovery, at a certain point in your life, that, “Hey, I better do something here.”
My hope is to talk to the Canadian people and remind them that I have a band number. This is the year 2014. Why do I have a band number? Why do I live in a reserve? Why is the minister of aboriginal affairs in charge of everything I do? Why does the bank not listen to me when I want to borrow money for a major business enterprise? Why do they shove my business plan to a native liaison officer? I am not treated as a Canadian citizen. I am an Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act. I am defined as a person that is not your average Canadian, I’m a second class person. I’m a nobody.
What I would hope … is that we gain access to the House of Commons, that our national chief is invited to sit in the House of Commons and have access to all the privileges the MPs have.
Old School Anarchists
A man in Japan claims he has made a pet of what is reputed to be the world’s most aggressive insect, the lethal Japanese giant hornet. The 2in-long insects - which can fly at up to 25 mph - are feared for their powerful, poisonous stings that are responsible for about 40 fatalities in Japan every summer. The high death rate makes them the second most lethal animal in Japan, after man. Twitter user Mikuru625 reportedly captured the hornet with a butterfly net and then held it with tweezers while he removed its sting and poison sacs. After that, he put a string lead around its thorax, and now the harmless hornet goes everywhere with him. ‘He does bite occasionally but it doesn’t really hurt,’ said its owner.
I present the most badass gifset on Tumblr.
Legitimately turned on by this
This is the best thing.
Oh my god
I don’t even know this fandom and this is cool.
Reason #999 why the cartoon will always be ONE MILLION PERCENT better than that travesty of a movie. They did so much research and put so much detail in you don’t even notice.
Bonus trivia: Toph got a unique martial arts style to match her distinct version of Earthbending (Southern Praying Mantis style, I think) which the creators found out later was (according to legend) invented by a blind woman. Totally a coincidence, but still so fucking cool.
(If you don’t watch the show, Toph is both blind from birth and the best damn Earthbender in the world. Also, GO WATCH THE SHOW.)
You don’t even understand.
it goes from like deep to girly, its so weird
I sound like a dude, but I’ll still steal your dude.
Bullshit. I be you’re voice is sexy as hell.
Mine is….higher than I would like it to be.
Naw, braaah, I talk like a dude and sometimes act like a dude.