Me (left) with two fellow travellers, Geraldine “Gramma” Shingoose (centre) and Chickadee Richard. (Photo credit: Vivian Ketchum)

Topics: Ethical Living | Indigenous

Residential school survivor documents ‘spiritual journey’ — and the photos are powerful

Three grandmothers — all residential school survivors — embarked on a road trip west to bring prayers and gifts to First Nations communities mourning the children whose remains were confirmed at former school sites.

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Orange ribbons flapping on the car mirrors. Indigenous drumming over the speakers. The scenery changes slowly from yellow, flat plains to towering green trees and, finally, the mountains. Our spiritual journey is upon us. I feel it is spiritual. Prayer, smudging and ceremonies. Teaching and sharing as we meet people. They see us in our orange shirts. Tears are shed along the way, but we are supporting each other.

We come not only with the Sacred Bundle and gifts; we come with our own personal stories of residential schools. That is a bond, and the thing that has brought us together. I am hearing from others who, like me, were drawn to going on this trip. It was not an “if ” or “might go” type of feeling; it was a must-go. We were each called together for this pilgrimage. We each have our gifts to share. Sweetgrass is stronger when braided together. So is this group of grandmothers and mothers on a spiritual journey to the mountains.

That’s me. Vivian Ketchum, an Anishinabe “gramma” from Kenora, Ont./Treaty 3 Territory, at a stop in Swift Current, Sask. We invited other Indigenous women to join us, becoming a group of 12 as we left Winnipeg on June 28 on our way to Kamloops, B.C., bringing solidarity to communities where unmarked graves containing children’s remains were found at former residential school sites. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

Children’s moccasins at a memorial in Kamloops. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
The Sacred Fire burns at a memorial for the children at the Manitoba legislature in May. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

Little Ones at each site. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)


More on Broadview:

4 Indigenous education courses to help fill in your knowledge gaps

Knee-jerk reactions to unmarked graves won’t further reconciliation

8 common claims of residential school deniers and how to shut them down


THE GRAMMAS ARE COMING, I SILENTLY TOLD THE LITTLE ONES.

Coming with gifts that you didn’t have a chance to play with. Prayers that you never had a chance to hear. Love from a community that is hurting. A community that shares its history with yours. 

Yes, the grandmothers are coming. Warrior grandmothers who will seek justice. We are coming, Little Ones.

On the road in Saskatchewan. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization at a ceremony in Cowessess, Sask., in June. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Truth on our rear window. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
We left our tears on the burial grounds at Cowessess (site of the Marieval residential school). We played our drums and sang children’s songs. Loud and sweet enough for the Little Ones to hear. Whispers have become truth. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

LIFT UP YOUR SMUDGE BOWLS TO THE WEST.

Lift up your prayers to the east. We are giving the Sacred Bundle to the Chief today. I dreamed of a mother crying for her child. Couldn’t shake the dream. It kept replaying in my sleep. I am sharing my story with another residential school survivor. She is over 80 years old. A knowledge-keeper of language. I am being comforted. It feels so right. Healing.

Gramma Shingoose gives the copper vessel containing the ashes from the Sacred Fire in Manitoba some extra love. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
On July 2, Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops receives the ashes and the Sacred Bundle, which we filled with things like an eagle feather, moccasins, a Métis sash and sacred medicines — sage, tobacco, sweetgrass and cedar. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Gramma Shingoose is overcome with emotion before visiting the gravesite in Cowessess. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Me holding hands with a residential school survivor. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

A DOZEN INDIGENOUS WOMEN FROM SIMILAR BACKGROUNDS.

We travel together for a week, journeying toward a spiritual purpose. To show support for a grieving community. There are no arguments or scrabbles about who is the boss. Instead we each use our individual gifts. Each barrier was overcome with a group effort. When one was weak, another took over. We achieved our purpose and finished our journey.

I think Manitoba needs an Indigenous woman Chief. We get things done. Endless black pavement. Leading home. I get to go home. I get to see my family. I get to see the sunset one more time. People know my name. I get to…

Gramma Shingoose at the residential school memorial in Kamloops, B.C. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Billy Shingoose, Gramma Shingoose’s daughter, standing strong. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Heading home to Winnipeg. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

Me in a Saskatchewan field before visiting Cowessess. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

WHEN THE WHISPERS BEGAN

Skipping rope
Double Dutch

Dandelions
Into a chain.
Yellow buttercup flower

Under the chin 

Do you like butter

The smell of the grass

Mixed with the smell of
a sewer nearby.
The shiny swing
With its long chains
The chains of the swing

That pinched the palms
Of your hands 

Beehive-shaped
Monkey bars
Always too scared to
Go to the top
My feet and hands
Were too small.
The group of trees
With its sticky sap
The green hedge with
Its thorny bushes
It went around the building

That basement window

With that odd mirror
It twisted your image
If you danced in
Front of it.
The grey stairwell that

Kids knew to avoid
Strange things
Happened up
Those stairs
In that office
Sounds picturesque
Ideal
But it was my prison
As a child
Where I learned
Where the whispering

Began

—Vivian Ketchum

***

Vivian Ketchum is a member of Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation, living in Winnipeg.

This story first appeared in Broadview’s Oct/Nov 2021 issue with the title “Survivors’ Journey.”


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