My name is Cameron, I was born in Duluth, Mn, raised on Fond Du Lac and registered in Canada on the Big Grassy First Nation. Although I am registered in Canada and not recognized by this country as a Fond Du Lac'er I do consider myself a part of these people and community.
My family has been through much and has really been marginalized by people that lord power over us. I am sorry if this gets a bit long because I am about to tell you a little story about my mothers generation and how it has effected me and my generation even today.
My mother was born in Fort Francis Ontario. Her mother and father were strong, and did what they could within their power to take care of her. For which they did for the most part. She never went hungry even though a lot of kids did on the reserves in Canada. My grandfather was a good provider. He hunted, fished, riced and grew food for the family. Well of course when everybody else is doing this too things tend to get a little overwhelmed. Such as the area you are fishing, hunting, or ricing. So there were times they had to rely on the government for assistance.
It was this government though that was helping keep these people including my grandparents in their supposed place. They were told they could go off the reserve to find work only to be turned back by people not wanting them in "their" world. So they only thing a person could do was find work on their little plot of land. And looking at how it was set up in Canada at the time. These little plots of land were often flooded and turned into swamplands by the very government that set it aside for them.
The Boundary Water Canoe Area and Rainy Lake were never what it is today. They flooded it by damning the river flowing into it. Which killed off most of the rice in the area and forced a lot of people into starvation. Now after they did this they put into place a forced work program that often took the men out of families and put them to work in areas far away from their families. My grandfather was one of them.
After they had done this they began another program to start taking children off of these reserves who were in need of care from so called "schools". These were the Christian boarding schools. They went in under the notion that they were going to help with medical care and signed into law that anyone living on the reserve (many people say this started with the 1995 law, but it existed in various forms since the reserves were first formed) were subject to medical care whether they wanted it or not. They were forced to vaccines and such that were untested. My mother once told me about my grandmother who after getting one of these shots became very ill and could not do much to help her children.
Well it was not too long after this happened that government officials came to the door and asked if all the needs of the children were being taken care of. Well of course with the father gone and the mother in a weakened state it was only natural that not every need was taken care of.
Well my mother and the rest of her siblings were forcibly taken from their home and placed into boarding schools. There were so many that not one of the kids were placed in the same school. So spread out they were it was only after so many years did they get to see each other again. This was just the beginning of the trouble.
While in the school many terrible things happened. My mother went to the school only knowing our language. And with this every time she spoke it she would get beaten for it. While this was common, so was the practice that nobody would teach these children the English language. So they were not able to assimilate to the society as they were told they had to do. There were a few lucky ones like my mother who had kids that knew English and would help teach them.
Lucky was how she put it because often times the beatings would be so bad the child would not show up in their beds for days at a time. There were times she said that kids would not even show up ever again. And that bed would be empty until a new victim was put in their place. Now it did not just stop there.
The empty bed phenomenon was not just restricted to the beatings. There were stories of girls being subjected to sexual abuse. And if she talked or became pregnant her bed would remain empty. Now what my mom was told, that the kids went home to their families. But of course the kids were not dumb in anyway and would catch glimpses of graves being dug just off the schools property. Now this was not just happening to girls it was happening at a greater effect to the boys. My uncle to this day cannot even muster the strength to speak of it. Which is of course understandable.
After 8 years my mother was finally able to go home. By this time she was 15 years old and a whole childhood had passed her by. Sure she could speak English now and could read and write and do some math. But at what price. She said she did not know who her parents had become.
They were drinking everyday and had lost all hope. They could barely take care of themselves. Let alone her and a few other of the kids that were allowed to come back by that time. My grandparents never told her what happened while they were gone. Though there were stories told that the government kept on with the vaccines and forced medical treatment. And people were in such pain that they could barely walk some days. They would drink because there was no other pain medication available. And with this brought on the need for it each and everyday. Because it did not just dull their physical pain it helped with the mental anguish.
It was about this time my mother started to do the same. She drank her pains away that are still there to this day. And has passed a lot of this pain on to us her children. Because with her not being able to provide for her children. We were forced out of the home and placed into foster homes.
There was a problem with this. We were taken care of. While she did go out we never went hungry, never went unloved and we had a community on the reservation that took care of its own. It was only when we were forced out of the home that things started to look bleak. A series of foster homes, group homes and so forth. We were finally placed in a home where the people actually seemed like they cared. But as with a lot of people we were always someone else's kids to them. That and the fact that we had a mother out there that loved us. And we loved her. My foster parents could never come to grips with this. They asked why we still loved her after everything she had done to us. I explained to them in one of the few instances I actually opened up to them. She did not abandon us it was this system that had abandoned us.
It is not that I did not love my foster parents it was just the thought that loving them would take something away from the love I had for my mother.
After so long some people lose hope. And I was almost this person. There are some days where I still do not see a light at the end of the tunnel. But I am here and my kids are here and with this I hope to see them have a future that I could only have dreamt of having. That is pretty much why I am even posting this on this website. We need a way to ensure our kids have a future that has some tradition and culture that was once our own. But was ripped from us like so many other things….
The boarding school I was only told of some parts of a story that my mom is able to share with me. What she could not, has been filled in by various other family members accounts.
A side note, to this day our family is strong besides the a few problems that are bound to pop up in any family. My mother is sober and starting to open up about her past. My uncle is as stoic as ever… not saying a word! My brother and sisters are a part of my life.
Which is better than the alternative. The other aunts and uncles are still around and still giving me stories that I can share with my own kids.
Cameron E. Ostrander