The Gleaner
Arts & LifeSharing Our Stories

Sharing Our Stories – April 3, 2024

Story told by: Alma Ransom
Edited by: Emma McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Translation by: Karonhí:io Delaronde

Don’t back down

I grew up on Yellow island in Akwesasne and you had to row a boat to cross to the mainland. There were no schools on the island so I didn’t have to go to school till I was able to row the boat myself, along the island and then cross over where the school was. That’s just the way things were.

In the winter, we had to walk for miles and cross on the ice. I wouldn’t go to school in the spring when the ice wasn’t safe or in the fall when the ice was coming in. Just when I could row the boat or walk on the ice.

 

Children at Cornwall Island Indian day school in Akwesasne pose for a group photo in 1953 the first year of the schools operation It is currently the site of a community centre and daycare PHOTO Courtesy of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne

 

But I still wanted to go to school because of the stress from my father. He spoke no English at all, much less write. He would say, “You’ll never get out of here, you’ll be trapped here like me. You’re never gonna be able to leave unless you go to school.” The schools there were terrible, looking back. The teacher would be talking English and it would be quiet, nobody answers because we didn’t speak English.

 

Alma began attending Snye school and later transferred to St Regis Village school pictured here PHOTO Courtesy of the Akwesasne Vintage Archives

 

But now, my children don’t speak a word of Indian because it took me so long to learn English. I didn’t want them to go through that. I didn’t want them to hesitate when people talked to them.

 

Map from 1890 depicting Akwesasne what was previously named St Regis reservation PHOTO Courtesy of the Akwesasne Vintage Archives

 

They did well in school. That was my dream. Then people started realizing that several generations of people were not speaking our language. The children that returned from residential school had no touch of the Indian language at all. It was gone. They didn’t even know their names. They were just numbers at those schools.

Their children and their grandchildren were the ones that raised hell. They said, “Who’s gonna teach us?” They got tough and didn’t back down. That’s the point.

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