My paternal grandmother
I don’t know too much about my grandmother other than she was full Swampy Cree.
She was born in 1923. Where, I don’t know. I’m thinking that it was in the Peace Region of Alberta.
Her only school records indicate that she attended Holy Angles Indian Residential School in Fort Chipewyan in Alberta
She enrolled in school on Oct 3rd, 1935 when she would have been 12 years old. She left school on March 21st, 1938 when she was almost 16.
Not that great of an education. But then again the goal of the government back then wasn’t to educate the First Nations, it was to destroy the First Nations. So long as they could “beat the Indian” out of the kids, that was all that mattered.
I don’t know very much about her father Modesta Waniandy or her mother Caroline Coutrelle other than her father died in Uranium City, Saskatchewan around 1969. He had been a hard rock miner.
Grandma had three sons. One with a man I don’t know the name of. And two with her husband Arthur Herman Gill.
-Norman was her first son. I don’t know when he was born, but apparently he was 6 to 8 years older than my father Richard.
-Richard my father was born in April 1946. Grandma would have been 23 at the time.
-My uncle Doug was born around 1950, exact date I don’t know.
I don’t know exactly how long grandma and Arthur Gill were together. Richard was born in Peterborough, Ontario. However, by the time Richard started grade 1 grandma and Arthur had divorced and grandma moved with Norman, Richard, and Doug to Fort McMurray, Alberta.
I don’t know when she married Andy Anderson, but Richard and Doug never took Andy’s last name nor did they ever refer to Andy as their stepfather. The only time Richard ever referred to Andy as his stepfather was in 2013 when I examined Richard for Federal Court.
Grandma came to live with us in 1977 after my mother left. As I would learn in 2013, this wasn’t actually the first time grandma had flown out from Alberta to help her son Richard raise my brother and I. It’s just that when she came out to stay with us in Summerside in 1977 I was old enough to remember her. I would have been 6 years old when grandma came to live with us at CFB Summerside.
For the life of me I’ll never understand why the First Nations kids put so much faith in the Catholic Church and why they continues their belief in the Christian god into theist adult life. Grandma had an affinity for the Catholic Church.
When grandma came to live with us on Summerside I got put into Sunday school right away. I was already a prolific reader. I loved reading encyclopedias and any other type of scientific type literature we had around the house. Sunday school seemed like nothing more than a really bad Saturday morning cartoon that made absolutely no sense and seemed to require one to believe in magical fairytales. No, I didn’t appreciate Sunday school one bit.
When grandma moved into our PMQ on Canadian Forces Base Namao in August of 1978 she started taking my brother and I to Sunday service at the base chapel on CFB Namao. Every Sunday we’d get up, put on our Sunday best, go to service, and then after service was over we’d go home and put our play clothes on.
Grandma was very strict and very authoritative.
Grandma had a few maxims that she lived by:
– Children are only to speak when spoken to.
-Children are better seen than heard.
-Spare the rod and spoil the child.
I have no doubt in my mind that these were drilled into her head during her stint in residential school.
A weird phrase of hers that has always stuck with me is “Animals get mad, humans get angry”.
Grandma was also very much an alcoholic. Both her and her husband Andy Anderson drank heavily. It was their drinking that ultimately put my brother and I on a collision course with Captain Father Angus McRae and his altar boy P.S.. My stepmother said that my grandmother’s drinking served to enable my father’s drinking. My mother said that my grandmother could drink my father under the table.
After Andy’s accident in the bathtub of our PMQ on Canadian Forces Base Namao grandma hired P.S. to babysit my brother and I. No doubt P.S. came specially recommended to her by Captain Father Angus McRae, the chaplain at the base chapel where P.S. was an altar boy.
Grandma’s instructions were that my brother and I were to listen to and obey P.S. and if P.S. told her that we had misbehaved that she would deal with us when she got back and that our father would hear about our misbehaviour. What more could a teenaged child molester want than for two kids from a very fractured and dysfunctional family to be told that they have to obey his every instruction.
I’m not sure if anyone ever told grandma about my issues with beef protein and dairy. Even though my medical records indicate the doctors in Halifax told both of my parents that I was to be put on a diet that avoided beef and beef fats (dairy) I don’t think that anyone ever told grandma. The doctors in Halifax were noting that when I had beef fats or dairy that I would become very colicky and I’d exhibit rectal bleeding.
I couldn’t stand milk as a kid. I still can’t. When I drink milk it tastes very metallic and leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. If I get stupid and have ice cream, especially real ice cream with high levels of beef fats, I’ll be rushing to the toilet in about 30 to 40 minutes and it won’t be fun. I’ll spare you the graphic details.
Milk was one of grandma’s favourite food stuffs to feed my brother and I. While my brother would happily eat anything with dairy, I’d be doing everything possible to hide the stuff and flush it down the toilet or sneak it into the garbage when grandma wasn’t looking.
Grandma caught me once putting my cereal in the garbage. I had to eat all of the cereal out of the garbage bag. I tried to put my porridge down one of the air vents by the kitchen table. She made me eat the porridge out of the air vent.
It was like a game of cat and mouse with her.
Grandma was also unafraid to use corporal punishment. She never hit or slapped like Richard, but she could pinch and twist until tears resulted. She also wasn’t afraid to use the wooden soup spoon. She would even go out and grab a switch off a bush or a tree and use that.
Grandma caught me scavenging for goods out of the dumpster by the base arena around the summer of ’79. The dumpster was where the families who were being posted to different bases would dump off all of the “crap” that they didn’t want to haul off to the new base. Sometimes families would end up with a lot of crap if one or two of the kids were staying behind to live on their own in the nearest city instead of moving with their parents.
Needless to say, you could find lots of “treasures” in this bin.
Somehow grandma caught wind that I was in the bin. She came down to where the bin was. She told me to get out. She started yelling something about “self respect” and “being an animal”. She then told me to go break a branch off a small tree. I did. She started hitting me with it all the way back to the PMQ. If I started running she’d tell me to stop. Then she’d hit me more. And then there was the “wait until your father gets home”. As my father was frequently away, this meant that my father usually had three or four “wait till your father gets home” sessions to deal with.
One time, and I can’t remember exactly when but it was well after P.S. had started abusing my brother and I, my brother was laying on the couch in the living room and he had his hands inside his pants and he was touching himself. I was in the kitchen doing my homework. Grandma was cooking supper. She didn’t hear my brother making noise so she went to check on him. The kitchen and the living room were adjacent to each other. She took a few steps into the hallway, saw what my brother was doing, and yelled his name out loud and asked him “what the hell are you doing”. My brother answered “but it feels good grannie”. Holy fuck. She literally ran across the living room and with the large wooden spoon started beating the living Jesus out of my brother. She just kept hitting and hitting and he just kept crying. She called him a “filthy dirty pig”. She then turned around and saw me standing there. She yelled at me that I was a filthy bastard for teaching my brother how to do what he was doing. She chased after me over to Guthrie school. For a heavy drinker with a pack a day habit she could sure run. She caught me at the school. She beat me with the same wooden spoon all the way back home.
The reaction she had to finding my brother doing what he had been doing kinda tells me that maybe she had been molested as a kid. Probably in Residential School. I don’t have any proof of this other than we now know that there was an extreme amount of sexual abuse in the residential schools and that victims of sexual abuse often don’t react to sexual situations like people who were never molested. For example I don’t enjoy sex with other people. I find sex to be disgusting and filthy. Was grandma the same way? I didn’t actually dare touch myself until well after my 13th birthday when I was well away from grandma.
One day after I had been found being buggered by P.S. grandma saw P.S. walking down the common sidewalk that ran behind the PMQs. She went to the back door and she called out to him ” You filthy lying little bastard!”. At the time I never knew what this was about. I had assumed that grandma never discovered what P.S. had done to me, or my brother. So I had no idea. It wouldn’t be until 2011 that I would learn that sometime in the aftermath of P.S. being caught in the act of buggering me that he spilt the beans on Captain McRae and what Captain McRae had done. Grandma, in her blind and mindless devotion to the church would have seen Captain McRae as the innocent party and that P.S. was lying.
I’m sad to say it, but I actually preferred drunk grandma over sober grandma. Just like Richard, drunk grandma was a far nicer person than sober grandma. Drunk grandma would take you into the city on the military shuttle bus and buy you toys at Army and Navy. Or even a record at the record shop in Northgate mall. Grandma would sometime go drinking at the Roslyn Hotel and she’d give my brother and I a few dollars to go bowling or to play at the malls adjacent to the Roslyn . Sober grandma wouldn’t buy you fuck all. With drunk grandma you could talk when you wanted to. With sober grandma you didn’t dare interrupt her, kinda the same as Richard.
Grandma was a heavy smoker. She didn’t buy pre-made cigarettes. She’d buy a tin of tobacco and she had one of those rolling machines. She’d get me to roll her cigarettes for her.
Even after we moved to Toronto in April of 1983 Richard unloaded my brother and I on grandma in the summer of 1984 and 1985. Once a week in the summer of 1984 we’d take her shopping cart full of empties and head down to the bottle depot at the Labatt’s Brewery and cash the bottles in. Then she’d pick up a couple of cases or a flat or two of Pilsner two-fours and we’d head back to the apartment. If she ran low on beer over the course of the week there was always the Co-op taxi service that would pick up beer for her.
Grandma was the first adult in my life to ever give me beer. And not just one bottle, but two full bottles of beer to drink. When I was 12. I don’t know if she was trying to teach me a lesson, or if she thought I was old enough to drink, but yeah.
I don’t think my father or my grandmother viewed alcohol as anything evil. Every now and again when my father would be home they’d let me have little sips of beer. Every now and again when they’d be having wine again they’d let me have the occasional little sip. One more than one occasion my father would let me have a sip or two of his rum and coke. I guess the paternal side of my family really had problems with alcohol.
In the summer of 1984, my brother had said something about P.S. to my grandmother. I don’t know what he said and he doesn’t remember saying anything. I can’t see my grandmother having asked if what my “father” said was true. I came home after working at the pizza shop in Kingsway Garden mall. Grandma kinda cornered me in the entry of her apartment suite. She demanded “Is it true what your brother said about P.S.? Tell me! Is it true!”. Sure I could have told grandma what ever my brother had told her was true about P.S., but I had just spent the previous four years being told by both my father and Canadian Armed Forces officer Captain Terry Totzke that what happened on CFB Namao was my fault and that I had allowed P.S. to molest my younger brother. I managed to get out of the apartment. I made my way up to Canadian Forces Base Namao and tried to report P.S. to the military police. They didn’t want to hear about it because P.S. was a civilian. I went to the Edmonton Police Service, they wanted to talk to my father, the man who blamed me for what happened on CFB Namao. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t go home that evening or night. There was an old abandoned warehouse on 105th Ave and about 111th street and I’m sure that I hid in there all night. When I got home the next day grandma was drinking by herself and she never mentioned P.S. again.
Grandma died in 1986. I’m not sure if she ever got her Indian status back before she died. I know that after she started to sober up in 1985 and started going to AA that she started taking a lot of pride in her First Nations heritage. I don’t think that she was ever ashamed, like Richard had been, but she just seemed to be more open.
By marrying Arthur Herman Gill my grandmother would have lost her “Indian” status. She wouldn’t be able to reclaim her Indian status unless she married a man with Indian status. The government of Canada changed that rule in 1986. Now a First Nations woman no longer automatically loses her Indian status for marrying a non-First Nations person.
She had taken my brother and I to a couple of “sweats” when we lived on CFB Namao. I had my first taste of pemmican when we lived on CFB Namao. But as a kid I just never made the connection that my grandmother was an actual “Indian” or that my father was part “Indian”. Yeah, grandma used to buy us moccasins and she had even bought me a leather vest with the colour beading on it, but I just honestly never made the connection. But in the summer of 1985 she was more vocal about her heritage. That was the first time ever that she had told me that she was an Indian and that she was Swampy Cree.
She never talked about her time in residential school other than the topic kinda vaguely came up one day. I noticed that grandma could write with both hands. I asked her to teach me how to do that. All she said is that she’d have to beat my knuckles with a stick like the nuns had beat her.
In retrospect she wasn’t an evil person. She was just as fucked up as everyone else in my family. She was damaged by the Government of Canada and the Catholic church and the determination of both entities to assimilate the First Nations people into “white” culture.