Author and residential school survivor speak to Victoria Park students

By Garrett Simmons

Lethbridge School District No. 51

Communications Officer

Fatty Legs - A True Story, depicts the story of eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak, who set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic.

During the height of the residential school system in Canada, Pokiak is forced to spend two years at the school, away from friends and family. For two long years, she is isolated from her culture, and stripped of her language. Pokiak endured long hours of chores and labour, and after two years, she returned home a changed person.

“Her mom didn’t recognize her,” said Fatty Legs author Christy Jordan-Fenton, who along with Pokiak, spoke with Victoria Park High School Thursday via a videoconference. “When she left she was a chubby, eight year old with long hair, and now she was 10, really skinny and was very dark from being outside all the time doing chores.”

Her long hair had been cut, and she knew very little of her traditional language, which meant communicating with her own mother was very difficult.

“Some kids were in residential school from age four to 14,” said Jordan-Fenton. “Imagine the disconnect they would have had with their families, having never learned their language or having been taught the traditional skills they needed to survive.”

Jordan-Fenton and Poliak explained this meant that many residential school survivors eventually left home, unable to fit in with the communities they were born in. It resulted in a generational divide that has impacted communities and families for decades, they explained.

Pokiak has now learned her grandmother’s language, and through the telling of her story, embarked on a journey of healing.

It is a journey many in the First Nations community have taken, and while Jordan-Fenton added it often takes seven generations to heal, there are signs of a renaissance in Indigenous culture.

She pointed to her son, who upon being the subject of an insult at home, came home and expressed confusion.

“He couldn’t understand why someone would be ashamed to be Indigenous, and how this kid didn’t understand how cool it was to be Indigenous.”

We now have a generation of Indigenous youth who are coming of age, according to Jordan-Fenton, youth who have not been directly impacted by residential schools. That is why we are experiencing a resurgent Indigenous culture she added, a trend she hopes will continue.

Date posted: Sept. 28, 2017