Lorna Rope

THE INTERVIEWER: Could you please say and spell your full name for us.
LORNA ROPE: My name is Lorna Rope. And you want me to spell it?
Q. Yes, to make sure we get it perfectly right.
A. L-o-r-n-a R-o-p-e. My last name is Rope.
Q. Thank you.
And where do you live?
A. I live in Regina.
Q. Okay. Is that where you are originally from?
A. No. I’m originally from the Carry The Kettle First Nations.
Q. What school did you go to?
A. I went to the one in Lebret. At that time it was called St. Paul’s, I believe.
Q. Do you remember when you went there?
A. I believe I went there in the Fall of ’62. But there are some discrepancies around that because they are saying I went there in ’63.
Q. Okay. How long did you go?
A. Nine years.
Q. How old were you when you went?
A. I believe I was 5 when I started, and I turned 6 when I was there. I was 6 in October and I started in September.
Q. Do you remember your first day of school at all?
A. I remember my first entrance, my first day into the school, into the whole building itself. I don’t specifically remember the first day of school. But I remember this massive red brick building and my mother was taking me in, my mother and dad were taking me in.
They took me to the Play Room, down on the main floor. They just kind of said goodbye to me and kissing me. My mom was crying and I didn’t know why. I didn’t see her after for quite a while.
Q. You didn’t know that you were going to be left there?
A. No. That was the hardest part because I didn’t know why I was there and why my mom and dad would leave me in such a place. I didn’t know anybody. The Nuns weren’t very helpful. They would just tell me to shut up and be quiet. I couldn’t do anything about it. I just sat there and cried.
Q. What was a typical day like for you at school?
A. It was getting up really early. I believe we got up around 6:30, or something, and we used to go to church just about every morning at the beginning. Then at 7 o’clock or 7:30 we had to go for breakfast. And then after breakfast there were our chores to be done. After the chores were done we would have a few minutes to relax, or whatever, play around and take our minds off what was going on. Then we would all line up for school and we would all march down the hallways.
We weren’t allowed to look at the boys, even as little girls. We had the Nuns beside us marching us down the hallways, I remember, and if we looked at the boys crossing they would hit us on the head with their knuckles and tell us we were pagans. They would tell me I was a pagan, I would go to hell because I looked at this boy, and different things like that.
Q. Do you remember what kind of chores you had to do?
A. We had to sweep the Play Room and we had to dust. We wiped down the lockers, we wiped down everything and washed floors.
Q. What was life like before you went to Residential School?
A. Before I went to Residential School I was a happy kid, I believe. My parents looked after me. There wasn’t too much alcohol involvement yet. My dad was a hunter. I always remember we always ate wild food. I didn’t know what beef or chicken was, or really anything, because my dad was always hunting rabbits and deer and ducks, you know, the wild game in our area.
Q. Had your parents gone to Residential School?
A. Yes, they did. My father went to Lebret and my mom went to Brandon.
Q. Did they ever talk about that to you?
A. My mom talked about it a little bit. My dad never really mentioned it. He would just say that he went. He didn’t tell me much about his experiences there. But from the way he treated us at different times, he was abusive at times, when he would get angry he would kind of lose control and he would hit us on the head with his knuckles, and that was the same way the Nuns did to us, to me, when I was there. I remember them doing that. As I got older I correlated the two and realized that my dad had picked this training up from the school and realized it wasn’t part of himself. But yeah, he was abusive from the Residential School.
My mother was more caring, more kind. She was more loving. I don’t know where she picked that up from, but she did. She was like that with us, I remember. Me being the oldest one, I remember a lot about my mother because she would hug me and tell me she loved me. It was a rare occasion my dad would ever do that.
Q. You love them?
A. Oh yeah. I love my parents. My parents are both deceased, but there is no doubt that I still respect and honour them. They went through a lot in regard to Residential School and what it had done to them emotionally and mentally.
So toward the end as more children came along there was more alcohol involvement and each of them followed in sequence to the Residential School. Being the oldest I was there the longest. My one brother still admits that he was there longer than me because he kept failing his grades! But that was him.
Q. How did the Residential School experience affect you?
A. It really affected me in a lot of negative ways. But it also helped me with a lot of other leadership skills that I have learned to carry with me to a point in my life.
Being at school when I was younger I was always told what to do. I didn’t have a mind of my own. I was belittled. I was called a savage. I was told I would never amount to anything. I was just a dirty ol’ Indian. I was just a dirty Indian and I wasn’t going anywhere in life. When you’re told that long enough you come to believe that you’re nobody and I felt like a nobody.
Being in the school I had a cousin who was really fair and she had freckles and she could fit more into the White society than us. But we always had this kind of game or contest we would play with one another. We all wanted to be White. We wanted to be like my cousin. So sometimes we would wash and wash ourselves so we would think we were White and we would go to her and compare our skin. At the time we just thought this was something we did. But now that I’m older I realize that I was trying to —
I was losing my identity.
— Speaker overcome with emotion
It was a lonely place. Lots of kids, but lonely. I remember sitting in the Dormitory. I knew the direction of home. I knew which direction I came to the school. I always wished that every car that came down that hill would be my mom and dad to take me away from this place.
— Speaker overcome with emotion
But unfortunately I didn’t see my parents that often. After more and more of my siblings came, they came less often.
But I learned how to appease, I guess, the Nuns so that I wasn’t abused so much. I learned how to defend myself.
Q. How did you do it?
A. I remember when I think I was in about Grade 1 or 2, this one other girl in the Play Room was a little bit larger than myself and she was more aggressive. Why she picked on me, I couldn’t tell you why or what the purpose was for that or the meaning behind it. Only she knows. But she would always fight me all the time. It was like the Nun wouldn’t do anything.
So this one day I finally had enough of her abuse and her bullying. I was sweeping the floor with one of those long brooms. They are quite heavy. I managed with my anger and rage to pick that broom up and I hit her on the head in self-defence. I was tired of being abused. After that she left me alone, lo and behold.
So in regards to that it kind of showed me that if I was aggressive, the girls would leave me alone or try to bother me. So I kind of maintained that idea when I was a child to be more aggressive and not let people push me around.
Q. Did that carry on into your adult life?
A. Yeah. Unfortunately it did until I was twenty-five. Up until twenty-five I had a very tumultuous lifestyle.
In regards to a lot of my teachings in Residential School, I wouldn’t listen. I came to a place where I became rebellious at the Residential School, because as I got older I started realizing I could think for myself. I don’t need anybody to tell me what to do, what time I can go to school, what time I can go to bed. I can do this any time I want. I was starting to be a pretty tall girl and I was pretty active, so I wasn’t a couch potato or anything like that. I was kind of like a leader also in the games. I played basketball, baseball and volleyball.
Somehow I managed to make my way to be captain of these teams. One of the reasons I wanted to be on the teams was because we would get to leave the school. We would get to go different places. Because my parents never came for me I never had the opportunity to go anywhere. So this kind of gave me some freedom from the school.
But it also gave me some self-esteem, that I can do it. Being captain really was something in the day. So I kind of kept that in the back of my head. Part of what helped me in the school was I liked to play music. I learned how to play music, I think, when I was in Grade 5. I played music. I played the clarinet. Then I played the saxophone, musical instruments that were a little bit more difficult to manage, but I was able to do that and I enjoyed that. Those were a couple of the years that I really liked.
The music teacher, we all liked him. He was such a nice man. For me he seemed to be a nice man because it seemed like he cared about us, about me. Nothing sexual or anything like that —
He was more a fatherly type. The music that he gave to us was really good for me at the time.
But as I got older and I went back to school, into Grade 9, at that time I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be at home. I wanted to be with my parents. Yeah, I gave them a difficult time and I realized I wasn’t going to be told to do anything any more. I wanted to do it myself, do it my way, let me try it myself, my way, you know.
So eventually they got tired of my rebellion and they told me I can go home. (Laughter) They just couldn’t do anything with me. If I decided I was going to go downstairs in the middle of a classroom session and watch TV, I just did. And if the supervisor came down and shut it off, I just got up and walked outside and walked around the play yard and walked around by the lake, any place that would make me feel good. But I wouldn’t do what they wanted me to do.
So in fact they just kind of wanted to get rid of me, so they did. They let me go.
Q. You had said that you had a tumultuous time after you left Residential School. What was that like for you, up until your mid twenties?
A. I left school when I was in Grade 10. I couldn’t function in the public school, or what you would call a normal school. What was normal? I went to school with my cousins and they were okay. The bell would ring for this and that and they would go on their own. I couldn’t do that because it was like nobody was telling me what to do. Though I didn’t want anybody to tell me what to do, I couldn’t figure the system out and yet learn at the same time.
I was having to deal with some addiction problems with my parents at home and having a young brother to kind of maintain and look after who was going to day school, so I was having these problems at home, let alone not having enough food for lunch to go to school, but still trying to make it there and still trying to function in this new setting, I lost it. I just had to quit because I didn’t know how to be able to manage all of these things going around me.
And going from one classroom to the next at the beginning was horrible because I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what classroom. Nobody told me anything. After being told things for so long I was dependent on that. I had become dependent on it but I didn’t realize that.
Then I went back to the Reserve and I took an upgrading course, the GED in Grade 10, and I was seventeen. I was seventeen and I did this thing. It was like, well after that, that was kind of a success and I was happy. But at the time I still had my parents.
Then I kind of got involved with alcohol. I became an alcoholic, well not quite an alcoholic back then. I was just drinking to be with people and friends and stuff like that.
When I was nineteen my mom got killed. This guy we knew shot her and my siblings were there and I wasn’t. Fortunately for me I wasn’t there. But the trauma of that stayed with me for a number of years. I became an alcoholic after my mother got killed. I didn’t have any children. It was just me to worry about.
But there were some things that kind of stayed in my head about my mother, about a year before she got killed, I was eighteen. She told me, “Leave this Reserve. There’s nothing here for you. There’s nothing to offer you here. You can go and find a job outside of here. Find work. Do something, but don’t stay here”, she said.
How can I stay on the Reserve? I was there for a few years but I was raised in a Residential School. Because I couldn’t remember much of my younger years, very limited recall I have of that, because I believe I lost a lot of what I could remember or did remember was because I was in the Residential School for so many years. When you’re in there and feel like you’re nothing, when you’re older as an adult of eighteen, you’re supposed to be an adult and have all your faculties about you and have your goals ahead of you, I had no idea what I wanted to be, let alone go out there and work. My mom said, “Go and work.” What do I do? What am I good at?
After she gets killed, shortly after she sends me off now I have no reason to want to work. My mom is gone, a major person in my life was gone. Sure, I had my dad, but my dad was kind of distant so it wasn’t like he was there emotionally. Physically he was there but emotionally he wasn’t. I had all these younger siblings. Throughout my life at different times I had to look after them the majority of the time, so now I’m eighteen, nineteen, do I want to continue to look after them? No. Even though I loved them I couldn’t even look after myself let alone look after them now.
So I forgot I had a life. Because I missed my mother so much I went into being an alcoholic for 6 years. During those 6 years it wasn’t a journey that people make alcoholism out to be. There’s a lot of emotional stuff going on, a lot of mental stuff going on. Because during that time I had no self-esteem. I didn’t know where I was going. I had no goals, let alone an identity. Who was I? I lost me somewhere along the way.
I didn’t even know myself as a First Nations person. It was difficult because I always wanted to be a success in something. At that time I only could dream. And one of my dreams was to go to university. But I thought that was impossible because I was an Indian. How do I function as an Indian in a White society? I only knew how through alcohol and to numb the pain.
When I seen a White person all I wanted to do was “What are you going to tell me to do now?” Because I couldn’t think for myself. I was always thinking they had to think for me.
There are days even now that I kind of get to that place. But because I have self-awareness now and I recognize those times, I can bring myself back immediately from an episode if I kind of go there.
Residential School issues don’t really leave you. You work through them. You cry through them. You forgive and you let go. But sometimes automatically situations will come up.
I have 2 little girls now. When they were small I had it in my head that these kids knew. I just caught myself one day saying, “I told you once and once is good enough. I don’t need to tell you any more.” Then I looked at my girls. They were like little babies. One is 2 and the other one is 6. They are just kids learning. I had to remind myself. I told myself I can’t go there any more. I told my girls and I grabbed them and I cried because I remember being in Residential School.
We were always told once and we were never to be told again because there were repercussions and we didn’t want those repercussions. They would discipline us through straps, through hitting us with rulers, leather straps, put us in the corner, isolate us from the rest of the kids and make us sit there and watch them play —
It’s hard on a kid when you want to play. It’s torture.
— Speaker overcome with emotion
I couldn’t bring my kids up like that.
Q. How did you find it within yourself that you were able to bring your kids up the way you wanted to bring them up?
A. I’m an older lady who had her children later in life. I had my first daughter when I was thirty-seven. My daughter is thirteen now. I had my baby when I was forty-one. But in between twenty-five and thirty-seven I was able to work through a lot of issues in regard to Residential School, my life and my self-esteem. I wanted children and I didn’t have any until later in life.
Being able to look back on my raising and how other people raised their children outside of a First Nations community, I was able to realize that the way we were raised was not normal. You see my first husband —
I was married twice. That’s another issue. I find that a lot of Residential School survivors and children have multiple relationships because we don’t know how to function as a normal individual. What is normal?
My first husband was a White man. I met him here and we moved to BC. I loved him greatly, but I didn’t know how to love him. He loved me. The way he loved me was different than I had ever seen in my whole life. He cared for me. He brought me flowers. He had gifts for me. When I would get home from work he would have a card and flowers on the table, or a little gift. Sometimes he would have dinner for me. Sometimes he would take me out to dinner.
I thought there was absolutely something wrong with this man. He’s not normal. I was always trying to make him fit into my normal. And my normal was more abusive.
Unfortunately that relationship came to an end because I was so confused. I didn’t know who I was, and I guess his patience ran out. He became my friend after, but he still is kind of like a milestone in my life because that’s where I had a lot of encouragement. Finally after the relationship ended I had to figure out who I was and where I was going.
We didn’t have any children and then I met my second husband and I have 2 children from him. That relationship was what I was looking for in my first husband, and that was horrible! There’s no pleasing me in any relationship. Right?
Finally I took a program in Vancouver in regards to family community counseling. I wanted to be a family community counselor, so I took this program and the instructor had her Master’s in Social Work, and many other degrees. She was an older lady. She said, “some of you here are going to drop out, for some of you your relationships are going to end.” And I looked at her and I said, “What are you talking about?” I was determined to find out what that was. And I did.
My relationship ended with my second husband, because a lot of that was experiential training where I had to take a look at myself. That’s where I worked through a lot of Residential School abuse as well, especially with the Nun in the Play Room. I didn’t realize I held so much anger and bitterness toward her, and unforgiveness.
It just kind of evolved one day. There was an older lady in my classroom. She had this way about her, these mannerisms were so particular and so peculiar. I can remember. Why does she stick out to me? Why is it I don’t like her? This lady comes from the coast and I had no clue who she was and I didn’t like her. I had no reason not to like her. I just didn’t know who she was. But the way she was carrying herself and the way she would talk, it would be so curt and to the point and so directive, I guess. There was no emotion behind it. And her facial expressions kind of matched her attitude and the way she was.
I kept questioning myself. Why don’t I like her? What’s going on here? Finally one day it just dawned on me. She reminded me of a Nun. Later on the program I found out she was raised in a Residential School for a number of years.
Q. Wow.
A. But that day I sat down and the Instructor said, “Don’t go home, Lorna, stay here. I think it’s time you started dealing with some of this stuff. I’ll give you some art therapy right here in the classroom. While the rest of the students work you can sit along here and do your art therapy.”
So I did. I challenged myself to do it because I didn’t want to be the way I was and I wanted to figure out why I didn’t like this woman. You know, it was so strange because I started drawing and I drew a scene of Lebret, this big school, along with the way of the cross going up to this little church, you know, and different things.
All of a sudden I went back to when I was a little girl there and I remembered that Nun. I started drawing that Nun and then all of a sudden I just grabbed the black crayon and I started scribbling all over her. I started doing that and as I started doing that, I could just feel the release of the anger that was pent up in me. I kind of lost it for a bit. I had a blackout.
When I came to I was just going like this (indicating) really hard on the paper. And then I just sat there and I cried. I was able to forgive that Nun and let it go. Then the lady became my friend.
Q. Wow.
A. But those kinds of things that have happened in the school, different places will trigger different things. If I was willing to let go of them then I have to work through them right away. I can’t stuff it any more.
I walked away from that program a lighter person. Mind you, my relationship ended, but that was good for me and my children.
And my dream has come true. I am in my last semester of my BSW at the U of R.
Q. Wow.
A. So with a lot of counseling for myself, but not only counseling but also for my beliefs, I’m not a traditional person, I’m a Christian believer, and personalizing that and having a relationship with the Lord, with Jesus, the way I see it —
— End of Part 1
…brought me back to the school. Because they always deemed me the leader, I was the one who got the most severe punishment.
I got ten straps on each hand until I cried. I mean, like I wouldn’t cry. For the life of me I didn’t want to cry. But because the priest wouldn’t let go, wouldn’t quit until I cried, I cried. And the strap was about that thick (indicating) and it was a huge long leather strap. I always kind of think of it as what they used to use on harnesses for horses, quite sturdy straps. Yeah, that’s what he used. Because he deemed me as the leader I got the worst punishment out of it all.
But I said, “One day I’ll get you!” (Laughter) And that one day came when I became rebellious and I wouldn’t listen.
Q. Do you ever think of that day today when you’re sitting here and you’re in your last semester of school and you are having your dreams come true and you’re really somebody and in your heart you know how great you are? I hope you do.
A. Well, it took me a while to get to feel —
Well, I don’t even know if I feel like a somebody. But I’m a person who had to deal with all of those issues. Because not having your identity for a number of years, I only found my identity about 5 or 6 years ago. And being able to function in a society where you don’t have an identity is horrible because you are always trying to fit in.
In Vancouver I could be riding around on the bus, I could be riding around anywhere and because some people think I look Asian, or Korean or Chinese, you know, go down to Chinatown and walk into a store and they start talking oriental to me, or Mandarin, whatever. I would just be smiling at them and I would say, “I don’t understand you, I’m not…”
But then if I’m in the Italian area, depending on how I was dressed, I would fit in. But I would never admit to be a First Nations person for a long time.
Q. Wow.
A. Even though I went to First Nation functions and schools and stuff to get my education, when I left there I just kind of became somebody else. After I have done all that, I am proud to be who I am. I’m proud to be a First Nations from Carry The Kettle. I did research. I did history on that to find out my roots. Yeah, it was really awesome. It’s been a journey.
Q. Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I feel lucky to meet you.
A. Thank you.
Q. Thank you. Okay, we’re done, unless you want to say anything else.
A. No.
— End of Interview