This article is Part Two of a series that chronicles the life of Lower Kootenay Band Elder Anne Jimmie. The purpose of this series is to preserve the lived experiences of a residential school survivor and to create more awareness in the community around this dark chapter in Canada’s history.
Before she left for Cranbrook’s St. Eugene Indian Residential School in 1953, Anne Jimmie remembers her grandfather telling her in Ktunaxa that she was going to be able to read him articles in the newspaper once she finished school.
“My grandfather was blind and couldn’t speak English, so I got excited,” said Jimmie.
But when she went back home to the Columbia Lake Reserve in Windermere eight years later at the age of 13, she said that excitement was gone.
“By the time I left the residential school, I wasn’t who I was when I left home to go to school. I went home, and I remember grandpa talking to me,” she said. “I knew what he was saying in Ktunaxa, but I said ‘I don’t understand you, speak English.’ I remember I said that because it was beaten out of me.”
Jimmie was born into the Ktunaxa language, the oldest of Lucien and Christine’s seven children. Her grandparents lived under the same roof as them, and Lucien worked at a farm near the reserve while Christine stayed at home to care for her children — five of whom would end up in the residential school system.
“She was a really good mom. She took care of us because our dad was in jail a lot. He died of alcoholism when I was only 14. He was a World War Two veteran, and it wasn’t until many years later when we had chats and had an understanding of the war and what the war did to the soldiers,” said Jimmie. “My mom told me before he went to war, he didn’t drink. He drank, but not never got drunk. He was a good man. When he came back, he started drinking more.”
While she loved her parents, she said that she began to feel ashamed of herself and her family when she started grade nine at Invermere’s David Thompson High School in the fall of 1961.
“I was sitting by the window one day and I saw my mother walking by, and I just hid. I looked around because I saw the other kids looking — because our high school was at the top of a hill — and I remember I was ashamed because she was mom,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to know she was my mom.”
This sense of shame, she said, was because she believed that she was God’s worst creation.
“I deserved all these things that happened to me. I deserved to be beaten up by someone. I deserved all these things because I really believed I was God’s worst creation,” she explained. “It’s just the way things were. It’s probably because it was told to me that way.”
Throughout her freshman year, Jimmie struggled with adapting to the public high school environment. The routine of moving from class-to-class was something she could not grasp, and she ended up leaving David Thompson High School in the spring of 1962.
“I just couldn’t get into learning there. At the residential school, you’re in the same class every day from morning until the afternoon. You have lunch then you go back to the class,” she said. “At high school, you’re not in one class. You’re moving around from class-to-class. I couldn’t get into that.”
At 14-years-old, Jimmie had already fallen down a path of alcoholism by this time.
“That was my lifestyle. I struggled with alcoholism for the longest time. I drank from that time on, just to numb out the pain. I didn’t have to think about the things I had gone through.”
Her father died later that year in November, and Jimmie witnessed the murder of her cousin at the hands of her uncle in December.
“During the holidays, an Indian Agent came by and he said to me I have to go back-to-school, that I was too young to be out of school,” she said.
She was presented with two options: go to an all girl’s school, or return to St. Eugene Indian Residential School.
“I went back to the same residential school in January of 1963. I went back there but I didn’t last long. I left in April. I couldn’t get into school, I just didn’t have an interest,” she said.
After leaving the residential school system for the second time, Jimmie said she spent the next two years at home, doing nothing except drinking.
“I go back to when I believed that I was God’s worst creation … At the residential school, when I was punished by the nun, she said I deserved it,” she said. “I deserve to be punished for what I did, and I lived that for the longest time.”
Part Three of ‘Saving the Inner Child’ will explore Jimmie’s path to overcoming her traumas. In particular, the focus will be on her experience as a mother, her battle with alcohol abuse and saving her inner-child.
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