Friday, February 12, 2016

Escape from a Residential School

Wanda secretly planned a summer trip home. It was a trip she and her family had been promised 3 years beforehand when she was taken from her village. All the children, in fact, were taken from the village and brought to St. Michael's Indian Residential School to live. There they would be educated in the Anglo-Saxon and Christian traditions.

They were told it was for the good of their people. Through religious indoctrination of their young, the savages would be assimilated into civilized society and their heathen souls redeemed. Youngsters were thus plunged into an ironically savage world of government sanctioned abductions and punitively run religious boarding schools.

Emily Carr, Gitwangak (1912), Oil on Canvas

Such traumatic circumstances wore down most of the children. Wanda, however, was not easily broken. She was beautiful, the daughter of a Haida princess and warrior chief, and drew great strength from knowing her heritage. This did not sit well with the staff. The Sisters of St. Michael’s and their priest, Father Fredrick, did all they could, in the name of Jesus Christ, to break the child.

The things they did to break her would have made hardened men – men under the very shield of a patriarchal God, beg for mercy and pledge allegiance to the Enemy. 

But no matter what they did, her spirit would not be broken. 

The Guardians

She seemed protected by an invisible shield and the guardian eagles of her ancient ancestors who flew overhead. They left warning feathers as evidence of their presence -- witnesses to the atrocities inflicted under the guise of a manmade god.

Under such tutelage, Wanda's soul was emboldened to stand strong and resolute no matter what was done to her. She continued to whisper in her native language to the other students. When the Sisters heard, they stabbed her tongue with knitting needles as punishment for speaking Satan's words. Wanda grew accustomed to such tortuous lessons and dealt with the beatings, starvation, solitary confinement and sexual assaults as the stoics taught, transforming adversity into mental and spiritual triumph.

She was sure if her people found out what was really happening at St. Michael's, she and the other children would be rescued. It was this belief that fueled Wanda's resolve to escape during the warm summer months in search of help. 

She told the other children she'd soon be back for them. And true to her word, Wanda was indeed returned to the children. She was returned by the Sisters who had caught her trying to leave in the middle of the night. They tortured her until the wee morning hours and intended to use her barely alive body as an example for the rest of the children. 

There is no greater teacher than fear.

But under the shield of Wanda's invisible guardians, she felt no pain and endured the last hours of her current incarnation without so much as a whimper, until her spirit was finally delivered home.

With her soul safely back in the womb of creation, the men and women of St. Michael's had to make due with the girl's lifeless body. They took her prepubescent corpse, naked and bruised, and hung it by a rope from the grand oak overlooking the school. The rest of the terrorized students were assembled in front of the body as it swayed along with a mighty wind in the hot early sun. 

A murder of crows swirled overhead as eagles stood guard.

Father Fredrick took his position of honor before the grand oak and began his hellfire and brimstone sermon. But as his preaching gained a terrible momentum and his voice shrilled, rather than instill abject fear in the children, they were comforted with a great calm. And there in front of their innocent eyes, a pair of almighty eagles descended from on high, converging with talons drawn on Father Fredrick's jugular.