N.1, October 1995
Revisited: An Introduction to Six Voices
for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction
University of British Columbia
Not flying scattered
into a dustblown sky
A pale petal drifts
The wind whistles
I am not alone.
Could it be merry music
Or that coyote yip
Half a continent
Half a life-time
away? Or breath?
Formed the pearl rose
In fragrant mist
To make of this
Third shadow from the red sky
Of river's song.
Too soon to tell?
In the spiral happily
The eagle dipped its
wings and floated
My tears thank you
My heart, unfettered now
Circles west, north, east
Whose Voice is This?
From Children's Novel to Graduate Seminar
An Introduction by gary william rasberry
from down the hall --
(not alone, not flying scattered ...)
from the Creative Writing Department's
tiny reading room at the University of British Columbia.
was a small voice, a steady voice, a sing-song
voice. A voice
that drew me to the open doorway where she stood
(Into a dustblown sky ...)
reading to a small group:
I looked at the name in the corner. J. Stone. My brother Jimmy. I
smiled. Jimmy must have wrapped the parcel in the kitchen with my mum
helping. Imagine. Just a few days ago this parcel was at home. My mum
must have touched it. Maybe she put something in it and said, "Seepeetza
will need this."
I pulled off the brown paper. Opened the little skinny box. The intermediate
girls crowded in closer. "Oh," we all said together.
The voice was an easy voice
to listen to:
Formed the pearl rose
In fragrant mist...
The voice was not an easy voice
to listen to:
"Yes Sister," I said. That's all we're allowed to say to the Sisters,
yes Sister or no Sister.
Whose voice is this?
Too soon to tell?
I heard the voice again:
It is through this process of writing critically
that I am examining the issues.
The questions of language, and
history, of voice and representation and
appropriation, of institutional racism, of
re-socialization programs, and genocide
It's almost unbearable.
I was sitting next to the voice,
this time in the Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction.
It was in this room that Shirley Stirling and I dreamed
theory and poetry and story together,
both trying on voices,
both stretching long, fine lines
of words together to make patterns,
sentences, theoretical frameworks:
pulled back taut,
the west coast cedars always a promise
out the window.
Shirley was many voices.
Troubling. At least it could be, never
quite knowing how to rest lightly on each branch
without demanding the release of every tiny bead
of water nested there:
The questions of language
Of river's song ...
Maybe it was easier for me --
already floating in some cloud of unknowing --
to recognize that there was room
for all of these voices
Half a continent
Half a life-time
away? Or breath?
And so I invited Shirley to follow those voices
(The wind whistl/I>)es ...)
she might stumble upon
(Third shadow from the red sky ...)
Name is Seepeetza
October 23, 1958. Kalamak Indian Residential School.
morning I got a parcel from home. I was so happy when Sister Theo
came into the recreation room and called my name. My white name, that
is. Not Seepeetza anymore, or Tootie, or McSpoot which only my dad
Stone, you have a parcel," she said. Sister handed the brown package
to me and said I could take only one thing from my parcel every day
at recess. The rest she would keep in the closet with the other parcels.
Sister," I said. That's all we're allowed to say to the Sisters, yes
Sister or no Sister.
took my parcel over to a bench to open it. A bunch of girls followed
me to see what I got.
it from? Who's it from?" they asked.
looked at the name in the corner. J. Stone. My brother Jimmy. I smiled.
Jimmy must have wrapped the parcel in the kitchen with my mum helping.
Imagine. Just a few days ago this parcel was at home. My mum must
have touched it. Maybe she put something in it and said, "Seepeetza
will need this."
pulled off the brown paper. Opened the little skinny box. The intermediate
girls crowded in closer.
we all said together.
was a bag of marshmallows, a package of cookies with coconut over
marshmallow, fancy ones. My mum and dad never buy these kind. They
cost too much. There was a bag of toffees in shiny wrap and colourful
wax paper, some peanuts and peppermints. A treasure.
one thing and bring the rest back, miss," yelled Sister. Her face
tore open the marshmallow bag. I took two. I sneaked one to the biggest
of the girls around me.
I whispered. I put the other marshmallow in my pocket. Every once
in a while I take a tiny bite and keep it in my mouth for a long time.
That way I'll still have a piece in my hand when I go to sleep tonight.
I'll fall asleep thinking of home.
Voice is This?
Children's Novel to Graduate Seminar
Stone, a twelve year old Nlakapamux girl, writes a secret journal
for one year, from September 1958 to August 1959, at the Kalamak Indian
Residential School. The work is "fictionalized" because Martha could
not remember exactly what she did on Thursday, October 23, 1958, but
the incidents are based on real experiences. The brown parcel is real.
Martha Stone is real. The voice is mine.
a number of reasons the residential schools are a topic of discussion:
the quintcentennary in 1992, of Columbus stumbling upon what is now
called America has sparked discussion of imperialism and its high
cost to First Nations; incidents of child abuse and child sex abuse
by Catholic clergy at many residential schools have been brought to
court; the RCMP has announced an inquiry into child abuse at residential
does a children's novel, like My Name is Seepeetza, tell us
about residential schools?
many ways, writing the novel was a process of discovery for me. Some
of the incidents surprised me as did the new point of view I gained
as a result. For instance, I realized that my father, by giving me
my real name before the rite of passage would have allowed it, gave
me a lasting sense of my cultural identity. It was something that
could not be taken from me.
I would like to do is introduce some of the possible ways that as
an adult, I might examine the experiences of the child, Seepeetza.
I will call those ways six voices. They speak from varying contexts
and yet remain interconnected as traditional native, as author, as
child, as adult, as researcher, and as educator.
real name is actually Seepeetza.
people are the Nlakapamux, part of the Interior Salish in Brit/I>)ish
Columbia. We have been called the Couteau, or Knife People by the
fur traders, who probably could not pronounce our name. Later we were
known as the Thompson River Indians and then the Thompson People or
Thompson Indians. The Nlakapamux dwell along the banks of the Fraser
and Thompson Rivers, in the Nicola Valley, and in some parts of Washington.
Our people are hunters, gatherers, and fishers, well-known for our
cedar root basketry and for the high number of consonant sounds in
our language. Among pre-contact trading groups we were known for our
finely crafted bone needles.
the Nlakapamux we are known as the Scawaxmux, the Mountain Creek People.
We live in the hills and valleys and mountainous areas of the Nicola
Valley. The Nicola River and Coldwater River in our valley, are tributaries
which flow into the Thompson River at Spense's Bridge.
immediate family lives at Joyaska Indian Reserve #2, a small family
ranch. I was born to Albert and Sophie Sterling, in Merritt, B.C.
the fifth of seven children. The number five is very special to me.
We have five seasons; winter; spring; summer; early autumn and late
fall. The Nlakapamux year ends after the twelfth moon, and flows into
the new year in November. It is then that the seasons and moons merge.
think of myself this way, a place where different worlds merge, part
of a traditional time and yet part of a contemporary one; part Caucasian,
part Nlakapamux; the youngest of the older children in my family and
the oldest of the younger group. Being the oldest of the "kids" in
my family has given me a role as elder sister in my Nlakapamux family,
and in the world family.
I was five and a half years old I lived on Joyaska Ranch with my family.
Then I was sent to the Kamloops Indian Residential School. I graduated
from there and took grade thirteen at Kamloops. The following year
I took classical dance training at the Mara McBirney School of Dance
in Vancouver. I met my (now) ex-husband and we were married in 1968.
I have three children; Bobby, Eric and Haike.
my children graduated and moved away from home I decided to get a
teaching degree though the Native Indian Teacher Education Program.
I completed a Bachelor of Education, then joined Ts'`kel, the First
Nations graduate program at the University of British Columbia to
do a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction. After a year of course
work, I was transferred by my department to the doctoral program where
I am now completing a PhD in education.
voice of introductions is the traditional voice. As is customary among
my people, I have introduced myself. Seepeetza is one of my names,
and, I hope, it tells a little of who I am and where I have come from.
book about residential school would have been the last thing I would
have considered writing. I could not and did not want to remember
school, and having written the book I certainly did not want to have
it published. It was too close to me. People knowing all those awful
things: Welcome to the tub room where a supervisor tries to bully
an eight-year-old into undressing completely.
I wrote to publish I would have wanted to express something with dignity
and brilliance and wit; a book of moonlight poems; a philosophical
work; something like Treasure Island, full of adventure. Something
from that safe storybook place where I live a lot of the time.
book came into existence by way of a creative writing course in Children's
Literature. People ask me what motivated me to write the book and
I reply, "Six university credits."
day the instructor asked us to write a journal entry from when we
were nine years old. The only thing I could remember from that year
was the day I got a parcel from home. I wrote that entry and handed
it in. My instructor, Sue Alderson, told me to drop everything else
I was working on and write more entries. I told her I couldn't remember
any more. She said to try. She sa/I>)id the entry was a good read.
That was the one thing that would touch my heart. From my own ostracized
childhood I remembered what it meant to have a good read; sometimes
went home and sat at my computer and decided to write whatever came
to mind, the way it came to mind, regardless of how stupid it sounded,
regardless of what the subject matter was. The concept of the first
draft was crucial in this process as was the technology afforded by
the computer. I needed to be able to go back and change, delete, cut
and paste, update and save. The computer allowed the story to grow
from the middle. The entry about St. Joseph came next, then the antics
of that big, ribald horse, Baldy...
the end of April I finished fifty pages and got my six credits. In
the spring semester I took a tutorial with Sue and completed another
fifty pages. She suggested I send the manuscript to a publisher. I
was reluctant to do so because I didn't think any publisher in Canada
would take the manuscript and besides I didn't really want this particular
work published. My daughter has a degree in English literature. I
asked her what she thought. She told me my manuscript had a message
the world needs to hear. I sent it off in June 1991. It was in the
book stores by December 1992.
remember what it was like to open the box the publisher (Groundwood
Press) sent me, and to see the first twelve books. Beautiful royal
blue, and the little girls in Irish costumes, and the child's script,
and two of my names, right there on the cover. "Ohhh," I said.
delightful experience I had was walking into a book Store on 4th avenue
and seeing My Name is Seepeetza next to Robert Louis Stevenson's
Treasure Island. We are forever listed with great people, I
thought, feeling staggered. And unborn generations of Nlakapamux children
will read this book, and they will know who Yaya' was and Baldy and
was astonished when the book won the B.C. Book Award in 1993. Authors
and playwrights and artists and poets are supposed to tell the "truth."
Shouldn't the truth have made everybody mad at me? Something seemed
wrong with the way it was so well received, by children, by First
Nations, by Canadians. Whose voice is this?
ask me if I had written the dairy as a child. I did keep journals
on and off all my life. In 1991 I wrote the book as it came to me,
in a child's voice with a child's perceptions and interpretations
because it was the only way I could recall the experiences.
age twelve, in the 1950's and 60's had no idea of the larger issues.
She knew that more than anything in the world she wanted to go home,
and that it would not be possible. She knew her dad didn't like the
residential school either but he respected the law. He believed in
the value of an education.
remember the tremendous happiness of getting the parcel from home.
It wasn't just the goodies. In fact, I think the supervising nun either
distributed the cookies and candies to the other nuns and staff or
to other children. Maybe she ate them herself. The parcel was missing
the next day. What was so precious to me was that my brother had put
the package together. For me. It was magical to think that my mum
may have put things into the box and thought about me. In my mind
I could see my brothers and my mum and dad in the kitchen putting
it all together, and for one shining moment I was home again.
child, I think, does not want to see evil in the people who surround
her, especially "God's people." I remember thinking of myself as the
evil one for having such rebellious attitudes. But there was something
I admired about my evil side, as though it were a special secret I
shared with no one. It was the force that allowed me to be disobedient
by refusing to unclothe myself for the nun in the tub room. It is
only the critical thinker in me which can now ask those important
questions. Which of the two of us was e/I>)ngaging in an indictable
offence? Was disobedience evil when it protected the child from an
irreversible personal violation? I'm not sure why I realized I had
a will and the right to use it. I think it was my dad and his ways.
He taught us these things by example. The child's voice is the most
compelling because it simply tells the story without judging.
an adult reading the child's thoughts, I am filled with a tremendous
sense of gratitude, for the choices she made, for the fact that she
survived. That ornery, awkward child with the indomitable heart and
secret dreams. I did the child's weeping for her, calling out, "Please
don't leave," in front of a computer, decades after hearing Mum's
footsteps fading down the long hall.
was a punishable offence in residential school. We were told that
it showed the weeper to be selfish and feeling sorry for herself,
both sins, even in a child. The habit of displaying no emotion stayed
with me many years after I left the school, as did many other dysfunctional
the story of the child Seepeetza was a way to peel back the fetid
layers of labels and names and awful experiences imposed on her, and
in turn, sometimes created by her, over many years. I discovered that
the incarcerated child had something for me, a story and an image
and a handshake, a poem even, and a wonderful energy and love I would
not have dreamed possible. I admire the way she spoke honestly, holding
to her heart the real and lasting treasure of the Nlakapamux way,
the way of honouring the family.
voice of the adult Seepeetza, is that of the mother whispering assurances
as she is wiping away the tears. It is also the researcher questioning
the lines and sources of authority as they are socially and culturally
and politically constructed. It is the author refusing to edit out
the raw parts. It is the parent and teacher fighting hard to change
a dysfunctional self into a wholesome one so as to offer the next
generation of Nlakapamux children what was missing in her own childhood
-- the presence of an adult with a vested interest in her health,
happiness and well- being.
is through the process of writing critically that I am beginning to
examine the issues. There are so many of them, the list runs on and
on. The questions of language, and history, of voice and representation
and appropriation, of institutional racism, of re- socialization programs,
and genocide... It is almost unbearable.
enough, I am aided by my ancestors in my work. I have never thought
of myself as a particularly traditional or spiritual Nlakapamux person.
In fact I delayed writing in the First Nations voice for many years
because I thought I was not raised traditionally enough. It is surprising
to me that I would have found this voice while engaged in a Western
initiative; that of doing a university course. It is only one of the
I was in the depths of despair about one particular curriculum paper,
I saw my grandmother in a kind of dream; she was standing four feet
away holding a fir bough out to me. This inspired me to write a paper
about the Nlakapamux concept of respect using my grandmother as the
model of a person who lived within that Nlakapamux worldview and philosophy.
The success of the argument gave me the confidence I needed to continue
book about Seepeetza gives a personal account of a historical Canadian
experience; that of residential schools. The parcel entry (the opening
journal entry in this particular piece) opened my eyes to many things.
The real name of the child is not acknowledged at the residential
school, nor are nick names which show affection among family and friends.
The voice of the nun is grim. Her face is red with anger, as if Seepeetza
has done something offensive by getting a parcel. What kind of life
philosophy could the clergy have been following and teaching? Were
punishment and discipline actually percei/I>)ved as love by the nun,
or was her behaviour guided by her position of power, or by jealousy?
Why were the children allowed to say only yes Sister or no Sister?
What if a child hurt herself or was being molested or got her period?
In a system which separated families, how did a child gain a sense
of her cultural identity or her family role? How did total, blind
obedience prepare a child for a life in any society outside of a military
one? What happened to the parcel after that first day? The children
had everything from home taken away from them. Seepeetza found it
necessary to disobey the authority figure in order to sneak a marshmallow
to the "biggest of the girls" there. What does that tell us about
the child-child relationships in such a place? These questions are
important ones that call for other voices and other questions.
researcher voice has been labelled the "white basher" on two occasions
to date, and two of my articles were abandoned as a result. Ironically,
it is this voice which comes closest to being guided by Western thinking.
What does this tell us about writing which is weighted in analysis
and logic and sound argument I wonder. Is it a way of welcoming researchers
into an adversarial arena?
an educator I see a system of re-socialization taking place by the
fact that Seepeetza has been removed from her community and her family.
What I think needs to be examined is not so much the child as the
system which incarcerated Seepeetza and the First Nations children
for offences they had not committed. The educator asks how such a
system is supposed to prepare a child for citizenship in a society
from which she is removed? How does a silenced group learn to voice
opinion and guard democracy when blind obedience and prison-like conditions
prevail? Most importantly, who stands to benefit from the assimilation
of First Nations children? How does the present education system contribute
to on-going colonialist initiatives? How can we best combat the type
of racist thinking which put together the residential schools? Adequate
treatment of these types of issues and these kinds of questions would
require a dissertation.
so my work begins...
hope and courage and with eyes open, I am taking steps toward a kind
of living and writing and researching in which all the voices might
come together at certain points and intertwine. The First Nations
educator is not separate and apart from the residential school survivor
and they struggle to come to terms with each other. The researcher
weeps. The child reaches out on a beautiful day in spring when she
has just won the hundred yard dash. She is feeling so fine, so strong.
Into her mind comes an image of an older woman, faltering. One day
I will be tired and discouraged she thinks with amazement. The girl
closes her eyes, then offers her hand, a smile, her energy and her
Requiem for Shadow
I reach my hand tenderly, dear Shadow
To brush the backs of my fingers
On that whisper-soft fur,
To touch your round paw,
And full of dignity.
My little pal who made us laugh
Not derisively -- but with fondness
And sometimes with a kind of edge
That bordered on tears
Warm teddy-girl with astonished eyes
Astonished fur going every which way
Like porcupine quills;
Old grandmother cat with kitten heart
Leaping up in abandoned glee
To do a kind of kitten dance
With toys and leaves
Made of air.
Visit me sometimes, little friend
As I sleep on summer evenings
By the rocky brook where
A tall fir tree whispers secrets
Like soft purring caressing my ear,
And shadows dance
Across my face.