I count it a privilege to have been invited a few weeks ago to a United Church here in Ottawa where they have a program of evening events to try to develop understanding and reconciliation between the people of the church and the aboriginals who were traumatized by the residential school system. The guests this particular evening were Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (now in her 80s) and her daughter-in-law, Christy Jordan-Fenton who together have authored these two books: fatty legs & a stranger at home, Margaret’s true story of her experiences as a child that she kept secret for many, many years.
As soon as I received my invitation, I rushed out to purchase both books so I could go somewhat prepared to the event and also, to get them autographed for my niece. She’s 12 now and will learn a lot of interesting things from these books. I read them each in a day and found them good to read — nothing truly dark or sinister. They are two parts of a whole. Margaret’s older sister had been to school and knew how to read English. When Margaret was seven, her sister read to her from the collection of coloured books their father had given her for Christmas. Margaret wanted to learn to read so badly; there was so much she wanted to learn. She pestered and pestered her father to let her go to the school until he finally relented. Her sister Rosie was right. They didn’t just take her hair, they took everything.
a stranger at home is the proof. When Margaret returned home after two years, everything was different except her relationship with her father. She could no longer tolerate the rich foods of the Inuit that had been her favourites. She had forgotten her language and many of the ways of her family and people. She felt like an outcast, teased by the other children. Only her father stood by her patiently, helping her to find her way back into her community.
There are other versions of these books meant for younger children and these books could be read by older children, too, if they want know more about some of the sad injustices perpetrated on aboriginals in an attempt to assimilate them and modernize them. Usually, the motives included wanting to move them off their lands so that the oils and minerals could make white people rich.
Both the books and the evening were illuminating and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet these ladies and hear about their lives and how their books came about. The books are definitely worth reading no matter what your age and may spur you to learn more about this sad chapter in our Canadian history. * * * *