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Memories of the Kamloops Indian Residential School

Residential School Transport Truck

– as experieinced by Irene Billy

I was raised on the Adams Lake reserve. This story is about when I was at the KIRS. The first time I went to school, I was taken there with Larry Celesta, Melie, Cecile, my mother and father. I was very young. When I was growing up we only spoke Secwepemctsin, no English.

When I got to the school, the priest and the nuns were there. The school as very big; it looked very big because I was small. 300 children were there. I heard before I went to the school that I couldn’t speak Secwepemctsin anymore; that we would have to learn to speak English. But I only spoke Secwepemctsin at home. When the nuns heard me speaking Secwepemctsin, they took us and we were whipped with a strap and ruler. We had to stand in the corner.

We were told to pray and kneel down for one hour.

I never forgot how I was whipped, it was the first time I spoke Secwepemctsin because it was the only language I knew. I was whipped on my hands.

My hands swollen and were hurting. There was a priest there named Father Walter who knew how to speak Secwepemctsin. I saw Father Walter and I told him what happened. I guess that is what the white people call “break through the line”. I told Father Walter, “go and get my grandfather and father, look at my hands, the Nuns whipped me on my hands because I spoke Secwepemctsin”...

Not long after, my grandfather, Uncle Wilfred, my mother, and my father came to the school. My grandfather was a Chief and my father was a policeman. He was a policeman for a long time. His name was Nels Leon Kenoras.

The nuns came in and said, “Irene is not here, she is sick”, but I was in the playroom. My hands were really hurting.

They went into the parlor; it was a small room, that’s where we went when we had visitors.

When I saw them come in, I ran to them. I showed them my hands and they were very mad that the Nuns did that to me,

The nuns thought they should just have to tell us once not to speak our language. But Secwepemctsin was the only language we knew since we were babies.

I never forgot the language. But now I don’t really understand the higher level of Secwpemctsin. I was very young when I left home for the residential school. My father, mother, and grandfather were very smart in Secwepemctsin. Today, I am lucky I didn’t forget the language.

Edith and Ida Paul were seniors and intermediates. Cecile and Cecile Celesta helped me and Roseanna helped me speak English. The nuns gave them the job of helping me. From then now I enjoyed school. I was able to speak English.

After that, the Nuns didn’t whip me again, only that one time. I couldn’t forget it because I hurt so much, being hit with a big stick

At the school they only fed us a little bit of the food in them morning; a little of bit of milk and porridge and one piece of bread. At lunch we only got a little bit of food. There were big chucks of meat mixed in. They didn’t cut it up into small pieces.

They fed us some kind of soup with big chunks of potatoes, carrots, and meat in there. We were always hungry. If someone was able to steal something; they would. If someone had a friend working in the kitchen, he/she would steal carrots, turnips, or any kind of food, like a piece of bread. The little children were always hungry.

Only at Christmas, we had cornflakes. We didn’t have cornflakes at home. It was a good food although they didn’t feed us much. The poor children were hungry all the time.

I went to the school when I was young. My grandfather and grandmother were making Native medicines. They made moccasins and other things. I used to watch them but I never learned how to do this kind of work. I knew how to dry foods like apples and berries. We used to dry everything.We had a huge garden with lots of potatoes and other things. We had a cellar with apples and lots of food stored there. It was lots of work.

Today, I do not know how to tan hides. I never did that kind of work. But I used to watch my grandmother make buckskin. My grandfather and father used to hunt deer and that is what was used to make the buckskin for moccasins. They used to make snowshoes.

I was very young when I went to the residential school.

 

 

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