Shirley I. Williams, Ojibway, attended St. Joseph's
Residential School in Spanish River, Ontario, at the age of 10. As a professor
in the Department of Native Studies at Trent University, Peterborough, she has
published teaching materials for Ojibway language and is working on a
contemporary language CD-ROM.
Living Healing Quilt Project
Promoting Healing – One
Stitch at a Time
This post is part of the Living
Healing Quilt Project
that honours the strength, courage, and commitment of
Indian Residential School Survivors. This quilt block is from Quilt
3 – Child Prisoners
By: Shirley Ida Williams nee Pheasant
This is my story of how I maintained my resilience while I was at St.
Joseph’s Residential School in Spanish, Ontario.
My father used to give me $2.00 at the beginning of September and that $2.00
used to keep me in money until April, then I would say that I was broke.
the school we had store hours once a month if we all behaved. The store had
candies, chocolate bars, and jelly beans. Jelly beans were the cheapest to buy
because one could buy 5 jelly beans for a penny! So I would get jelly beans for
my comfort food.
Whenever my true friends or I got sick or lonely or if we got a scolding or
strapping for speaking our language, one of the things that I did was get my bag
of jelly beans. I would get my true friends together and we would gather outside
somewhere and then we would circle around each other and share one jelly bean.
This jelly bean had to be eaten and bitten equally by us! None would bite more
than the other, but shared equally to wipe away our hurts.
After sharing our jelly bean, then we could wipe our hurts or loneliness and
we would become strong again and able to laugh and to go on functioning in the
school. We would tell ourselves that this is just for a time till we would be 16
years old and we would be free to leave here!
I used embroidery work to sew my piece. There are three girls that I remember
that I was close with, Mary Ann, Mary Elizabeth and Louise from Gchi-minising.
One of the girls has tears dripping from her face. The dresses we wore were grey
or sometimes blue. The bag that I am holding is full of jelly beans and like I
said if one of my friends got hurt or lonely we would get together to share this
candy. The lines represent the sharing of hurt, the strength we had, and how we
helped to nurture one another. From the sharing, we were able to survive and
give caring to each other.
The fence represents how we were locked up and the broken green line
represents the lack of kindness, love and emotional support that we needed in
order to grow mentally well. The yellow lines also represent the spiritual
growth we got from each other in order to go on within the institution.
The school was gutted by fire in the 70’s but the shell is still standing
including the statue of St. Joseph.
Shirley Williams Alumni, ‘79 Catharine
Parr Traill College is Professor Emeritus, retired from Trent’s
Native Studies Department and is
a member of the Bird Clan of the Ojibway and Odawa First
Nations of Canada. Shirley has
tirelessly lectured across Ontario promoting Nishnaabe language
and culture. Shirley is a consultant and sat as an
Elder at Sweetgrass First Nation Language Council for the Woodland Cultural
Centre in Brantford.
Photographer: Jeff Thomas
Trent University, Peterborough,