Residential School Survivors Share Their Stories
THE INTERVIEWER: Art, Iíll get you to spell your first name and your last name for me.
ARTHUR FOURSTAR: A-r-t-h-u-r F-o-u-r-s-t-a-r.
Q. What school did you go to?
A. Birtle, Manitoba. And also the Prince Albert Indian Residence.
Q. How old were you when you first went to Birtle?
A. I was five years and ten months old.
Q. Do you remember what your first day was like?
A. Itís a bad memory. I was taken to Residential School on October 20th, 1944 and Iíve gotten that date from my school records.
Q. What do you remember about that day?
A. What I remember is I was at home with my mother and she was making bannock. I was playing on the floor. My father was in the Second World War so there was just my mom and me. And on that day that I mentioned, all of a sudden the door opened and an RCMP Officer and a man whom I came to know as Mr. Finlayson (ph.) came in. The RCMP Officer went over to my mother and held her from behind and Mr. Finlayson Ė it could be Mr. Findlay Ė came to me and just grabbed me and took me out to the car and threw me in the car.
I remember screaming. I remember my mom doing the same thing. But the police officer held onto her. When Mr. Findlay threw me in the car, I went out the other door and I ran. But he ran after me and caught me. I like to think of the word abducted. After he caught me he threw me into the back seat again and they tied me with my hands like this (indicating). And we drove away.
I had no idea where Birtle was. We drove through the night. I didnít know. I didnít even know it was a Residential School that I was going to. There were lots of kids there and a big building, bigger than I had ever seen in my life.
Thatís when the darkness began. They kept me over there for five years without coming home for the summer, year round, because they couldnít find my mother. I understand that today.
In the summertime they used to chase me to bed at seven oíclock in the evening in July and August when the sun was still high. And in the big dormitory that I was sleeping in I used to sit on the windowsill and just look, I guess. I didnít even know which way was home or where to go. I didnít even know where I was. Sometimes the supervisor used to catch me sitting on the windowsill and beat me up pretty good. It was terrible.
If somebody ran away from school and they caught that person, that student, whether it was a young girl or a young boy, they used to make us go into this workshop area where they had big wooden benches and they used to strip that boy or that girl and bend them over a table and whip them. They used to make us watch that.
I was really really scared. I had a lot of fear.
I also got a lot of beatings. I remember one time during the summer holidays, the summer holidays started, they used to load the students from Saskatchewan onto a big truck with canvas over it. When they loaded that truck with Saskatchewan students to go home I wanted to get on that truck, too. I was about eight then. But they wouldnít let me. When the truck drove off I chased that truck but I couldnít catch up. Those students, they had their hands out at the back. They were going to try to pull me up onto the truck, I guess, if I could have caught up, but I couldnít.
Walking back to the Residential School a goose crossed my path with little goslings behind it and I was so angry I kicked that one gosling and I killed it.
--- Speaker overcome with emotion
As a result of that Mr. Findlay took me upstairs and he filled a bathtub with cold water and he put me in it. He left me there. I donít know what my skin looked like. He would come in and let me get out of the water for a little while and then would shove me back in there again.
A month or so later I broke out in some kind of a disease and all the kids were already gone. It ended up they took me to Brandon. I was wrapped, except for here and here (indicating) where they fed me through a straw. Then from Brandon they shipped me to a place in Winnipeg. I think they called it St. Boniface.
When they first got me there they put me in this hallway just inside the door and I was in this hallway and I could move my head. Just across the hall there was a little baby, and that little baby had a huge head. I was watching that little baby and a couple came in. I guess it was the mother and father of that little baby because they stood there watching that little baby and the lady was crying and the man had his arms ---
I remember thinking to myself what a lucky little baby. At least his parents are there.
Thatís the way I fell asleep. When I woke up again the little baby was gone.
--- Speaker overcome with emotion
I didnít know where it went but wherever it went, I wanted to go with him. I never seen him again.
They put me in a room. I guess I was supposed to die. A lot of times I wished I had. I remember the doctor coming in and the doctor saying while the nurses were working on the bandages, I remember the doctor saying, ďIs he still with us?Ē I donít know how the nurses answered.
After they finished wrapping me up they gave me some juice, I donít know whether I fell asleep or what, but I seen this old lady and she had on a shawl. It was like she was floating toward me. She looked so tiny. She came to my bed and she began to ---
Those bandages, they went like this (indicating). She looked under them and she started to chew something. I was watching her. As she was chewing she was stroking me. I donít know how I felt, but it was beautiful, though. And she looked so kind. That stuff that she was chewing, she went like that (spitting) and she began to rub me. After she finished, those bandages, they closed by themselves. And then she started to move away. I wanted to go with her.
I learned later that was my grandma. In one of those ceremonies we talked about this morning; shaking tent. Within a week I was out of the hospital. The doctors were amazed. They asked me what I did. I said that I didnít do nothing. But I never told them about this.
All that stuff, the beatings and stuff like that, I went through all of that.
I was just telling my friend out in the hallway. I said, ďHave you ever heard the saying if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it really fall?Ē I was telling him. You know what, I identify with that tree. My mosho (ph.) told me, she said, ďYou go find that tree because when you find that tree you will find yourself.Ē I think for a long time I somehow wanted to be heard but it seemed that nobody wanted to listen.
As a result of my Residential School I had a lot of anger. A lot of that stuff those guys are talking about, a lot of anger, revenge, hatred ---
I was charged with non-capital murder and convicted of manslaughter. I spent time in the penitentiary. Thatís a shameful part of my life. But I think itís all a part of my Residential School.
When I was working in Stoney Mountain Penitentiary Ė I have a complete pardon Ė I got a job at Stoney Mountain Penitentiary. And Birtle is just off Highway 16 there. I went there, I stopped there. I was alone and I went inside. I went upstairs to where I used to sit and I went and sat where I used to sit in those evenings of July. I went and sat there and I began to shake. I had to crawl out of there. I had a really difficult time. I was alone.
After I got outside I had to sit in one place for quite some time and smoke before I could get up and walk away from there. I donít think Iím finished with that place yet.
I told the psychologist over there Ė I forgot his name Ė he works for Native Clan, I think. Yeah. I worked for him, too, Lawrence Elderby (ph.). I told him about that. He said, ďArt, you and me have to go back there. Weíll camp there.Ē But it never happened. I wish it had to at least try to see what it was.
Sometimes I watch TV, especially when they were bombing Iraq with those smart bombs. I wished they would do that to Birtle!
--- Speaker overcome with emotion
I spent a lot of time in Dispensaries there because my ears used to freeze. Thatís why Iíve got big ears, I guess, and other things. They wouldnít let me go inside until it was time, and half the time my ears were frozen.
I would like to have a smoke break. Thereís something coming up here.
Q. Take a deep breath. Weíll turn the camera off so you can go ahead and let it out.
--- Speaker overcome with emotion
Q. Thatís all right. Take a deep breath. Youíre safe. Take a deep breath. Breathe.
--- A Short Pause
A. I didnít know this was going to happen.
Q. Take a nice deep breath. You have to remember that youíre the boss. Youíre in control.
A. I guess thatís part of it. It seems like I always have to ask for permission for this or for that.
Q. You donít have to ask for permission here. Youíre in charge here. Take that with you. Put it in your pocket.
A. Thank you.
Q. Youíre so brave. Iím so proud of you, Arthur. You did such a good job.
That poor guy.
--- Speaker leaves the room momentarily and returns.
Q. How are you feeling?
A. A little bit shaky but okay enough to continue.
Q. Do you want your water? Have a sip.
A. I had to give myself permission to breathe.
Q. Itís almost like your entire story is still inside of you and itís trying to come out. And you want to keep it there. Youíve gotta let it come out. This has happened before with some of the other survivors. You have to find a way to let it come out because you canít carry it any more.
Number one, you donít have to carry it.
A. Yeah. I guess one of the things that I learned over there in Birtle is how to withdraw and have no feelings, because sometimes when I used to get a strap it was like I was dead. No feeling. Sometimes I withdraw into a nothing world.
Q. Zoned out?
A. Yeah, I guess so. One of the things that was broken over there was family bonds. Those were severed. When my mom and my dad passed on it was like no feeling. I heard people around me say ďyouíre so strong, you stood there and you were like a warrior, manĒ. But no, I wasnít. Itís not that. Itís something else. And itís still over there. Whatever it is, itís still over there.
My brothers and sisters, Iíve got two sisters left. You know, I donít even know where they are and it seems like I donít care. My brother, he drinks in Saskatoon on 20th Street and itís like it doesnít matter. I try and pretend sometimes that it matters when thereís other people. But itís like Iím dead sometimes.
Iím doing some work with some guys in the penitentiary right now, with gang members. The program that we do involves a lot of the stuff that weíre hearing. We used to call it Medicine Wheel. But we discussed that word ďmedicineĒ and we found that we have too much respect for that word ďmedicineĒ, and weíve taken that word ďmedicineĒ out of it and now we call it the Life Cycle of Life. Itís still in those four stages, four directions. And those guys in there boy, theyíre going through a lot, too, we tell them.
They come in aggressive, confrontational and right in your face type of guys. By the time they leave there, they are crying. Itís a big change.
Yet I can work with other people not knowing whatís happening inside of me, like just now.
Iíve been through a number of relationships. I donít know a thing about relationships. I have four children; three daughters and one son. They are all from different women. Iím not proud of that but Iím proud of my children.
I have grandchildren. It feels so good to hear that word ďMoshoĒ (ph.). Thatís a powerful gift.
I would like to leave it there for now.
Q. Do you mind if we wrap up? I would like to know what your hope is, your hope for yourself.
A. My hope for myself is to be able to make peace with myself. Right now, like I was telling my friend, we hear a lot about that word ďsurvivorĒ. Inside the walls when I go to work with my friend, we canít always stay survivors. We have to move past that and become what we call it, any way, ďseekersĒ.
When you talked about your son going out and seeking a vision, he was a seeker, and I think youíve got so much to be proud of there.
When weíre seekers weíre seeking information, and as we gather this, in my experience, too, as Iím gathering this information I begin to have the tools to make peace with myself. Even today Iíve touched something that has remained untouched for sixty-some years, and I know where to go. I think in seeking we get direction. Because when I say that I know where to go, Iím talking about that shaking tent, and when the spirits come, Art needs to make peace with himself and step into the world of Eldership and become a peacemaker.
So my hope is that Iíll be a good one, a good peacemaker because Iíve been through so much. That stuff that Iíve been through I think is what is going to make me strong, once I get through it. And Iím going to get through it because I think itís important to the Creator. I believe in God. I want to work for God in a good way.
My Indian name is Neawatsakos (ph.), four spirits. I have a Dakota name. Iím a Dakota Indian. And I have a Dakota name: Tatayopokwana (ph.): He who opens the door. And my hope is to live up to those names the best I can. And I need to do some more work, but I know where to go.
Q. Mígwich. Thatís really good. Just take a deep breath. Take a deep breath.
A. Thank you for being here, man.
Q. You have probably one of the best tools to help yourself because your grandmother appears to you. I could only wish that our ancestors appeared to us to guide us. Right? You can only hope and wish for that.
A. Iíve seen some beautiful visions already. Itís powerful.
Like in my dream, a big huge eagle came to me and this eagle, his wingspan was from horizon to horizon and I was hanging onto a feather, just here (indicating) and the eagle was coming down and I was looking. I had long hair and when I looked down I seen a sweat lodge and I donít know what that eagle did but all of a sudden I was sitting inside that sweat and it was just like daylight. Over there, in that number one spot, was an old man sitting there, and he looked so kind.
Where the eagle landed me, I was on the east side facing west and I was sitting there. All of a sudden see-see (ph.) rattle started going around. I was watching it. It stood up right in front of me, but the pit was right in front of me. All of sudden it went right in there. I looked at that old man and he smiled.
The next thing the eagle claw started going around, same thing, over there and it went right in here (indicating). It just went right in. I looked down and there was blood coming down out of my chest here; blood. I tried to stop that blood and thatís when I woke up. I was sitting up in bed with my hand like this (indicating), and I looked around. But Iíve had many many visions.
And my grandmotherís name in Sioux, translated to English, her name is ďShe Who Wears a ShawlĒ. That was the one who came.
I believe the grandfathers have told me thereís a pipe coming to me. I already have a pipe. I already have all that stuff, but thereís another pipe coming.
Q. Your altar?
A. Yeah. Thank you for being here, my friend.
Q. Can I ask you something? Do you think this helped you? Do you think today telling your story has helped you?
A. Yes. But I do know ---
Iím one of those guys who will go through an experience and look back at it and Iíll think about it.
Q. Because I want to know that weíre doing the right thing.
A. I believe you are. I believe you are because in here Iíve touched something that had to be touched. Iíve avoided that all these years. Itís easy to act normal. Right? Nothing to it. Itís when you begin to see that truth and that honesty come, is when itís powerful.
Thank you. I really believe youíre doing a good job. Keep it up. Right.
Q. I think weíll hire you to be our spokesperson! (Laughter)
--- End of Interview