Simeonie Kunnuk Testimony
Click on 'Read More' for English Translation of Simeonie Kunnuk Testimony by Peter Irniq, May 2009
Interview with Simeonie Kunnuk Turquetil Hall/Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School Survivor, Ottawa, Ontario
Peter: Please feel very welcome Simeonie.
Peter: Prior to going to school in Chesterfield, can you speak about your life style in Iglulik area?
Simeonie: Yes. I can speak a little about that. We used to travel by dog team quite a bit when I was still in my mother’s amuti(woman’s coat for carrying babies on their backs). I can remember riding on the qamutiik(sleigh) and remembering very well, when I fell off the qamutik, as the dogs and qamutiik made a sudden turn. It was just when we were about to begin our journey, when I was told to get on the qamutiik and then, when it made a sudden turn, I fell off to the ground.
Peter: What then?
Simeonie: Then they left, and when they left, I thought, they were going to leave without me. I was told to come, come. I was walking and they said, run, run!! It was my mother who told me to run and it was in the spring time. We were going along the beach, so the dogs and qamutiik, were making turns here and there. When we passed the beach area and got to the main ice, it became comfortable riding and very pleasant.
I don’t’ remember exactly where we were living but my older brother Qattuurainnuk was shoveling something, seemed way down, perhaps some cached meat. I remember having to have a shit. I hesitated to tell about it for a time. And then I told him, I really had to go. He told me to go home and go to my mother. So, I started running as fast as I can, and then, and as I was running, I could not longer hold it, I had an accident and shit in my pants. I remember this very well.
The other time was when we were going out walking with my brothers. I was sometimes denied from going, perhaps I was too small. I would then go back to my mother and told her, I wanted to go walking as well. At first, I was denied but allowed to go anyways. When I was allowed to go, then they all walked the short distance, perhaps thinking, I was too small to walk a greater distance. Then, I remember watching them picking berries, such as cranberries. I remember these things.
Peter: You had a very happy life?
Simeonie: Yes, we would go traveling by dog team and I would go participate in boating as well. I remember wanting to go out boating with the other. Perhaps the boat was not that big and as a small boy, I was able to climb on it. When I got in, I put on a coat, that was several sizes too big for me. After we had been out boating, I remember eating, the soft part of the rib, which probably belonged to a bearded seal. It was so delicious! I remember this well. We seemed to have plenty to eat as well. It seems, we were away often. Sometimes, I would not see my father and other relatives for quite sometime. Men were away for sometimes, hunting.
Peter: What were your favorite part of your life?
Simeonie: Boating, yes, being part of the group boating. When I returned, there were no dog teams left, only using skidoos. I remember dog teams seemed to go fast but found out that they were not that fast, but able to travel great distances. As I got older and able to do more things, I remember going to traveling by dog team. I remember having to run often, along side of the qamutiik. Sometimes, I would left a bit behind, while running. But then, I would catch up to them again.
Peter: How old were you when you were sent to Chesterfield Inlet?
Simionie: I was maybe around six or seven years old. I think, after my older brother Akkiutaq had fell in the water, I was being allowed to go. I remember my aunt, who was my sister, but called her aunt, as the Inuit culture dictates, I was to call her my aunt, as she was named after my aunt. I was told, I would see her later on as they had left before us. I was thinking I would see Qattuurainnuk, my older brother. But, they had gone to Churchill, Manitoba. I thought, I was going to see him in Chesterfield Inlet but did not. And then I did not see my auntie(my sister) for a long time, but I remember, when we went to church, she was sitting on the other side and we men, were sitting on this side as well. Men were on the right hand side of the church and the ladies were on the left side of the church, that was how it was set up. I remember seeing her on the other side.
At one point, I was trying to get close to her as I was very attached to her and loved her. When I was trying to get close to her, I remember being pushed away, and told, we were not to be touching each other and not be close. This was when we were going to have our picture taken, apparently.
Peter: Can you talk about the first time you got to Chesterfield Inlet, after you landed there by airplane? Can you talk about that?
Simeonie: I don’t remember quite that much about having to stop in between. I remember, it was quite an impression that we were riding on an airplane. After we landed there, we were apparently picked up by a boat. I perhaps did not have a coat, and I think, it was Sister Arcand, who put on my back, probably her jacket. She appeared to look, really tall! I remember that as something when we first arrived. My first impression was that, there seemed to be a lot of things around.
Peter: Did it seemed, there were a lot of houses?
Simeonie: Yes, yes. There were huge buildings as well. They had two storeys. One waa apparently the hospital and the other the hostels.
Peter: When you arrived to Chesterfield Inlet, who came to meet you?
Simeonie: I think, there were several children but I particularly remember Sister Archand. I remember that darn Brother Parent, who seemed to want to try and kissed me. I remember spitting on the ground. I seemed to have a particular memory of this. That darn man! That was how it was.
Peter: About your parents, can you talk about this when you were leaving from Iglulik to go to Chesterfield Inlet?
Simeonie: I remember, it was seemed it was only my mother, perhaps my father was out. I remember telling her, I wanted to go and see my auntie. For sure, I will see her, and I wanted to see her.
Peter: In Chesterfield Inlet?
Simeonie: Yes. I thought, I was going to return. That was what I was thinking. Right after I see her, I thought for sure, I was going to return. It was like that.
Peter: When you were going to go to school, were your parents told about this, prior to you going to school in Chesterfield Inlet?
Simeonie: Perhaps yes, my father was told about this by Father Fournier. At first he was told that everything was all right but then, when they would return home from school, they were treated in ways, that were not right. They were we were being helped when we got over there but then found out later, this was not always the case. They were apparently being put through many hard times. And the reply was, they(the church) did not know. They were not aware of it. That was what was said.
Peter: When you were at the hostel, the Turquetil Hall, can you describe what it was like?
Simeonie: Yes. When we got there in the early stage, I remember, we used to have to get up very early in the morning. I remember the ones who were the same age as me who were trying to go outside, I think, it was Tagaaq and Simuuk Qupaaq. As our culture dictates, we were always go outside when we first got up. And that was what these two were trying to do and they were not allowed to do it. I was following along. When a Sister noticed me going out, I suddently went back to my own bed. We were not allowed to go outside, even though, the light was coming on, outside.
Also, when I first went to the school, I remembering having to go pee in a real big way. I was told by someone that, when we had to go, we were told to say, “please”. I kept trying to say, “please.” As I really had to go to pee, I could not hear and think properly. But then, I was directly to say, “please may I go to the washroom.” I properly did not exactly pronounce the words properly and having to go so badly, I was almost jumping up and down, I remember going to the washroom, even passing the lineup of boys. There were two of us, peeing in the same toilet, at the same time. That was my first lesson in learning to speak English.
Peter: Inside the classroom….
Peter: In the classroom, do you remember what kind of courses or lessons, you were learning? Do you remember what they were?
Simionie: There were some little ones and big ones, apparently letters and numbers. Then, there were A..B..and that was what they were making us do. A, B, C, D..it was like that. They were also teaching us about adding numbers, as we were lerning about the English language. Those were the most items that I remember, learning.
The other thing I remember was, it seemed we used to line up quite a lot. When we were about to go outside, we would all line up and then, when we were going to go back inside the hostel, we would all line up. When we were going to go eat, we would line up. Sometimes, some of us, would try to go first, line up in front of the others. We started to get to know the ones, we didn’t know before. Sometimes, it was fun and sometimes, it was very confusing, not knowing what to do. I then became friends, with some people in Chesterfield Inlet, especially the ones, who were the same age as me. For instance, Peter Autut, Johnny Sammurtuq, in fact, many of Sammurtuqs. Jose, I had forgotten his name. Sometimes, it was wonderful and sometimes, it was a feeling of extreme homesickness. No wonder! In part, it was extremely unhappy time.
Some of us were brainwashed. We were sexually abused, when we were very young children. I know very well today that we were sexually abused when we were six, seven and eight years old. It was extremely painful. At that time, it was very scary! You did not know what to do. We were told, “not to tell anyone”. I remember one who was older than I am, he was told by Brother Parent, not to tell anyone. Then, he told me, not to tell anyone. It was like that and I was very aware of it. I had my own mind at that point, I could hear him when he was speaking in English and at that point, I was able to understand English. When something was about to be done to us, especially to the older boys, Brother Parent, would reach into his pocket and show us all kinds of candies. Then, he would direct us to go to the washroom. Or, he would get me to go somewhere else. They, then would let us pray, separately. They would have us say the rosaries and pray. Perhaps, this was his plan, especially to the younger ones. This is what I think today.
Peter: At that time,when you were told not to tell anyone, did you wanted to tell somebody? Did you ever to tell him that you were going to complain about him?
Simeonie: For me, I had no thought of telling someone. I had no way of thing about telling someone, when he was doing all this to me. You would think that you would have told some authority or leave him all together, to somewhere. However, there was no place to go to. And when you have something being done with all this, it was hard to know, how to tell. And when you were at all unsure, about how to tell it, then he told us, don’t talk about it. For what, how and what was it? I remember all this. What was it, you were not to tell about, especially not knowing how to tell about it in the first place. It was made sure to us that this is something, we are absolutely not to talk about, especially by this one, who just did this to us.
Peter: So you had absolutely note one to complain to?
Simeonie: Yes. I was always told to say yes.
Peter: You mention that he used candies as his bait when he wanted to sexually abuse you. Did he have other things that he used as his bait?
Simeonie: No, I don’t remember. I never ate candies. Perhaps, the older ones were given candies. I remember he used to put his hand in his pocket and taking out lots of candies. I remember when we were in the room of a Sister and then in the room, in the room of Brother Parent. We were at one point put into a large room by I think, sister Rocan, Sister Allard and I think, Sister Servant. My little cousin and I were placed into a large dining room. I was asked if I had been given candies to eat. I would reply, I never had any candies. I never ate candies. Thinking back, I think, they became aware of what was happening. They knew about the room and I used to wonder, how did they know? I don’t remember him using other baits, that I don’t remember.
The other time I remember was when in our school. There was an addition to the school at that time and when something was making all kinds of thundering noises in the next room, I wanted to see what it was. But, the school teacher told me to stay in the classroom. Apparently, it was my Auntie’s teacher, who was physically hurting the pupils. He would be throwing the pupils around, against the wall, each time, he got angry. And when we went outside for recess, we used to see the older boys and girls and their teacher. I got to know as to who Mr. Demuele was, without ever meeting him. Not only did I get to know who he was, I got very scared of him. And then, I did not wanted to see him any more.
Later on, when I was in Iqaluit, I got to see him there. Apparently, he was not that big and he was skinny! He was a bully towards the children!
Peter: Was he your teacher?
Simeonie: No. This was probably because I was too young. He was teaching the older ones. I heard stories about him where Richard nearly fought him and my older brother, nearly fought him as well. I hear a bit about these incidents.
Peter: I saw your brother in person, when he almost fought Mr. Demuele.
Peter: When Mr. Demuele was trying to fight him, your brother fought him just immediately outside of the school.
Peter: Have you heard that he really used to punish the pupils? Have you heard about that too?
Simeonie: Yes. We used to hear him screaming at the pupils. After all, the school was not that big. You could easily hear what was going on, next door, as the walls were quite thin. It also used to be quite for a long period of time. It was like that. My teacher’s were not that bad. They used to it to us like this(makes a sign). I forget who it was, I was imitating him, and I was going like this. Then, I got hit on the hand, like this.
Peter: Was that your punishment?
Simeonie: Yes. At first it used to be really hard but I started to imitate my fellow-pupils, learning, and that was how, I started to learn.
Peter Irniq: When you were first in Chesterfield Inlet, attending school for the first while, do you remember your fellow-pupils, who wanted to go to the washroom, used to have an accident, by peeing in their pants?
Simeonie: One time, there was a little guy from Chesterfield Inlet, he was sitting down on his chair and we noticed it was wet under his seat, when we actually paid attention to what has happened, he appeared peed his pants. As it turned out, we the younger ones were not physically hurt by our teacher, when something like this happens. I actually did not see one being hurt. At least with my teacher. But, this was the main one (with a ruler) on your hand.
Peter: Was the young person did not know how to ask a question to want to go to the washroom, is that why, he had an accident? Or was it because, you were not allowed to go and pee in the washroom?
Simeonie: I think, that was what it was. There were quite a few of us who noticed him pee in his pants. Our teacher noticed him. I don’t remember much after that. I also don’t remember his name. Maybe, Mark, no, there was no Mark. Mark was a bit of a friend of mine. We were sometimes a little bit bully to others, and we were often a team.
Peter: What did you learn inside the school?
Simeonie: Oh yes, “See Spot Run”. It was about that little dog, and also, he had spots on his fur, and ears were down flat on his head. There was also Dick and Jane. Those are the ones, I remember most. We also learn about those very small A, B, C’s and just very small numbers. Oh, the other things was when I was in Iglulik at this point, doing Grade 3, I was asked what I wanted to do. I said, I wanted to travel. I also wanted to become a policeman but it was hard to figure out what you wanted to be, not knowing what you wanted to be. There were mostly only the teachers and the priests. I don’t remember so much but always remember the ones that were most difficult. It was when I moved to Ottawa, and for about five years, I attended healing sessions. I think, it was from 1993 to 1998. After this, only when I was attending to those healing sessions, I started to remember, the good times, that we had there as well. At that school, I remember older boys used to pull us with sleigh toys. I used to have happy times with those. I used to enjoy playing hide and seek. I don’t remember exactly as to how many of us but we used to team up and play hide and seek. We used to get scared of some others too, when we were playing. We used to take long walks too on the land. The bigger boys used to go and set up traps and each weekend visit them. For us smaller boys, they used to line us up, and had us, clean the floor with brooms. We used to wash the floor and wax it. They had us do all this every weekends.
Peter: At the school, was there an Inuit Teacher?
Simeonie: I don’t remember being taught in Inuktitut. I don’t remember this at all, taking place in Chesterfield Inlet.
Peter: Were you able to speak Inuktitut inside the classroom?
Simeonie: I remember having to learn English quite a lot and when we needed to go and pee, that we had to speak English to the teacher. I think, this has had a lot of impact on us and having to try and impersonate those who can speak some English, about wanting to go to the washroom. Wanting to go to the washroom was something we learned and it was quite a job, to learn it, good!
Peter: Were you made to feel ashame and be embarrassed about your Inuit culture, either by the teachers or the staff at the hostel?
Simeonie: I don’t know if I can answer that question but we were told about the Qablunaat(White People) being very good at doing things. This was something we were to understand fully.
Peter: Was the school a good place to learn a lot about knowledge?
Simeonie: Some of it yes. If it had been taught and learned, it would have been easier. In some parts, we were not totally taught but startled about learning something. I think, the thing about all this, was that we were made to learn to go pee so much and made to be sad about not being able to talk in our own language. So we tried to speak English, even though, you sometimes don’t understand what it mean’t to speak English. Up to this day, I have learn some English pretty good. Sometimes, I do it on purpose, not to speak English. Sometimes, I tell the Qablunaat(the White People), I am going to teach you in Inuktitut. I won’t use the same kind of teaching tactics that we had when we were little children. We are not going to be like that. Here in the south, I can talk about like this now. Sometimes, I say it just for fun of it.
Peter: When you were being taught in school at that time, were you made to feel intimidated or scared?
Simeonie: Perhaps, it was not totally understood inside the classroom but made to pray was more intimidating than schooling. When you were praying inside the church and when you started to look around, your head would be moved straight forward, like this. When you look at the person, who did this to you, then she would put it like that again. This part was really hard to know. And when they did this to you, they would say nothing about it and do it to you like that. It was hard to know.
And also, back in 1992, when I was finding my life too hard, I shorten my name, I got talking to a reporter, I don’t remember what we were talking about but I started to talk about having been sexually abused and being bullied. I wanted to get it out. Perhaps, I was beginning to understand all this very difficult period of my life in Chesterfield Inlet. I think, at that time in 1992, I told my story in News North. As a result of that, it started to come out more, even though, it was intimidating and scary at the same time. When it became more public, I knew I was not alone, as Marius, yourself and others, and it was just wonderful, knowing that I was not alone, any more. And in 1993, my life was becoming more healther and the ones that I was angry about towards the White People, they were beginning to come out more. At this point, I am feeling a bit improved, a bit better. I can now bring them out better. It is not scary any more. I now know this.
Peter: the schooling that you had in Chesterfield Inlet run by the priests, this school had a huge impact on your life, especially the ones, when you were sexually abused?
Simeonie: Yes, when I was made to walk, I was abused and made to pray at the same time. I think, that broke my life very much. I was such a young child. Now that I have become an adult, I think, now I can say, I have almost totally healed.
Peter: It was like your childhood was stolen, by the priests and Brother Parent in particular?
Simeonie: Yes. I think, my ability to think as a human being, was slowed down, through the church and schooling, being sexually abused. As it turned out, it was not made totally clear about the fact that I was to have a good education, a good spirtual journey, my ability to have a good education, and my ability to lead a good social life. When I would return home, I think, they were aware of what has happened to me. They would speak to me about it and bring me to my grandmother for advice. I was also brought to the other elders for advice. I forget exactly who it was but made a very good advice to me, saying that since you were not allowed to tell anyone at that time, but you will find the right time, to be able to talk about it. After that advice, that darn Brother Parent came to Iglulik and when I was with the other children, who were my age group, perhaps, I was about nine or 10 years old, I was able to tell them about what Brother Parent used to do. My mother was apparently listening to me about this and told my father. They then told the other parents two parents, and they brought me to the Roman Catholic Mission. They were talking about that darn Brother Parent, who was quickly kicked out of Iglulik. That was like that. That was how it used to be but now, I am able to do things for myself, I am probably healed more and more at peace, and I feel I have become more complete within my life. I don’t worry too much any more. I feel, I am more free now.
Peter: Where did you get the strength to do this and move forward?
Center for Child Sexual Abuse Trauma, I went to see them for about four or five years. I also went to see a healing group from Nunavut, when they would come down here. I was beginning to understand more and more and get out whatever negative thinking I had. As I result, I had a better way of doing things and thinking more positively. You would have less negative feelings. Sometimes, when you start talking about these to others, they are startled but as for me, as I have some understanding of the issue, I am pretty comfortable talking about it. I also talk to my former school mates and talk about it. We are not as embarrassed to talk about it, as we were previously. Especially, the time, we were in Chesterfield Inlet. Also to the people, who are my age group. That’s the way, it is.
Peter: The meeting we had with Bishop in 1993 in Chesterfield Inlet, where we talked about having been abused by the Church staff. The first Apology he delivered, we totally disagreed with it. It looked as though, he did not believe us. He even told us at that time, some of your memories is foggy. That was why, we did not agree with it. Later on, we wrote his apology that he delivered in 1996 in Iglulik in February.
Simeonie: Yes, we did. How many were we, who were very brave to write his Apology. It became a genuine apology. It was a time when we wrote an apology that we agreed with. The other thing is Government is going to make an apology, apology with which, they had not totally discussed it with us. It would have been very good, if we had had an opportunity to trade ideas about it, especially in moving towards reconciliation. Perhaps, the Qablunaat and Inuit, will have to make public, something that will make us move forward. As Inuit, we can also do things. We are hesitating at the current time, however, perhaps, we will make things happen. I am hopeful.
Peter: Prime Minister is going to make an Apology to the Survivors of Residential Schools and our parents on June 11. What he will apologise about, is this something that will help us move forward or is the apology be helpful?
Simeonie: It may or may not be visible immediately, perhaps to some yes. This is something that is a very hard to do. It is something that is real. It is something that cannot be answered easily. Perhaps some people will benefit out of it quickly. And for others, it may take sometime to digest and perhaps, it may take others to benefit from it as well and be helpful.
Peter Irniq: Do you believe that Canadians have a right to know about our experiences? All Canadians?
Simeonie: If majority of Canadians know about this, it would be better. They are not all informed about it, although, it is easier now to know these from radio and various news media. There are many thousands of us, who are of the same mind about much of this issue, perhaps many were aware of it in previous times or since previous times. But some of them say, I am only finding out about this now. This is unfortunate. This was part of our life and its something that we were always aware of as Inuit. This was our way of life as children, when were being assimilated into the European world.
Peter Irniq: Are you in an agreement with the upcoming Apology?
Simeonie: Yes, it will help towards the healing for the loss of culture, language, and physical. We have been paid compensation monies for all this, it is another way of identifying the hurt, that was done to us. When the Prime Minister of Canada apologises, he will apologise on behalf of all Canadians. This will allow Candians to have a better understanding, or maybe, they won’t even understand it. I don’t know how it’s going to be really. At least, they don’t try to not respond any more to reasons why, we were sent to school in the first place. They are trying to have some answers now. It’s going to be better.
Peter: Will this open an opportunity for the Canadian government and to the Survivors, to work together to establish a better relations?
Simeonie: It will probably open up opportunities to promote harmony for Qablunaat and for us as well. Perhaps, it will provide us with an opportunity for us to understand each other better. It may allow us not to be told any longer how to live our lives, like the Qablunaat ways, they will probably consult with us more in ways of how to talk to us about our previous life styles. As it was, Inuit were living in iglus, traveling by dog teams, hunting, and that was a way of life for survival. Perhaps, we can as Inuit help to promote our way of life and benefit others. This is how, I feel.
Peter: When we were going to school in Chesterfield Inlet, as traditional Inuit, did they teach you how to use a toilet paper? Do you remember this?
Simeonie: No, I don’t remember this. But, I remember about the way, we were supposed to pronounce the names of the Sisters. Anaq(shit) was what I used to say, when they were teaching me to say, Edna. Sister Anaq! I remember this particularly. I remember this very well, as I was the first one to pronounce the name properly and they gave me a cookie for pronouncing it properly.
Peter: When you were in Chesterfield Inlet, do you remember the kinds of foods, that you used to eat? Do you remember what they were?
Simeonie: I remember these eating utensils, they may have been bowls, and they were upside down, I wondered why, they were upside down. There was these cups as well. There was porridge. I remember about how I was going to eat, so I learned to eat, by watching the others. I think, I used to be left-handed. I remember being tied up right here, when we were about to eat. I used to take it off but they would tie it again. I then struggled to try and eat with my right hand. That was how, I became a right handed. Today, I can use my both hands, with ease. I don’t know why, they did not wanted me to use my left hand.
Peter: When you were learning to speak English and write English, did this benefit you?
Simeonie: Not really in English, but through understanding it yes. I am able to do this pretty well now. A,B,C’s is what I remember learning well. The other things that I remember well were learning to add arithmetic. I became more able about this one. But, it was when my father said that the Qablunaat were going to come here more and more that they had their own language and their language was different than ours, that they had different ways of learning things than us, knowing their ways, would be more beneficial to me. As a result of what he said, I decided that I was going to learn more about the English language. I was not thinking about what we were learning in Chesterfield Inlet at this point, as I was still quite startled about what happened in Chesterfield. As a result of this, I was not in the right mind to think effectively. It was when I got home here, I was able to learn more effectively. I was a young teenager at this point. I was also getting some good advice from my grandmother.
When I became an adult, I found out that Inuit were able very able people. Their ways of teaching, was already in place, as well. They were already able to teach all this through traditional ways of the Inuit, and this was and is very beneficial. Listening to them through radio, the government workers and teachers, how would I say this, I am even forgetting the Inuktitut language, listening to those announcers or speakers who go on the radio, they are very able and wonderful to hear about what they are doing. I wonder, if we were never abused, we would have been that much more able, even though, we are able at this point. We can complete our abilities as Inuit as well. Even, using our Inuktitut language as well, I know this.
Peter: Perhaps, it was because we were abused or mistreated, this is allowing us to be stronger as people?
Simeonie: Yes, we are stronger because, we were made to struggle with our lives. With what happened to us, it slowed us down but through healing, we can better complete what we are doing about our abilities to do things. I believe this is how it is.
Peter: To those who used to abuse you, what do you think of them today, are you angry at them, what are your feelings?
Simeonie: I have thought about this quite a lot. As long as I think about them, my life will be run by it all. I have thought about it, but have gone beyond it. I will re-live it I am sure, at times. But, I have to talk about it so that others who may have the same thing happen to them, may benefit from what I can offer in terms of solutions. At that time, there quite a lot of us who were taken to school and many were made to be hurt. I am thinking, this type of situation will happen in great numbers in the future. We are more careful today. We are probably going to be better at parenting with our children. We will raise them in a much better way. We have a very bright future!
Peter: What was your first Chrismas like, the one you remember first in Chesterfield Inlet. What was it like?
Simeonie: Richard was crawling on the desert. We had learn about the desert in Africa, and learn that the desert had no water at all. He became very thirsty and was crawling on all this desert. So, he was given a small cup of water, he took out his comb, put it in the cup, and decided to comb his hair. We had a really big laugh about that. It looked like he was in the desert and was really thirsty. But when he was given a cup filled with water, he took out his comb from his pocket, and decided just to comb his hair. We had a really big laugh about that.
Another time was when Paul Apak and what was his name from Repusle Bay, Baramabumbum(Christmas song), it was really a beautiful song to listen to. I think, it was little Emanuel, he was one of the smallest and was also in the play a game of being married to a little girl, they were playing husband and wife. Both of them had cute little smile, that was quite something to watch. I remember this particularly well. We were more free to do things at that point, and had various kinds of recreational games. I remember it like that. The thing was, every evening, we had to go to the church and pray all the time!! We would pray in the morning, another praying just before a meal, when we just about to have a recess, we would pray again. Then, at our hostel, there was a small little chapel, in addition to another church, in the community. We would go and pray there often, and were made to dress in our Sunday best, clothing. Our buttons were so tight that it felt as though, we were going to “hang ourselves”. We had little shoes as well, which were really hard on the heels and toes, they made lots of hard noises! I remember this one. I remember watching the little ones, getting all dressed up, when they didn’t know how to do it, they would ask about how to dress up. That was how, I spent my first Christmas time, there.
Peter: Did you like the songs that were being sung by the priests, inside the Church?
Simeonie: They were very hard to understand when they were singing. I wondered, what they were singing abouit. It sounded something like, “Dominos Dominos’..that was what they were doing..
Peter: “Dominos Vubiscum…”
Simeonie: Yes. “boobii..boobii”, I thought that was what they were singing, apparently, it was like your said. They were often trying to make us sing. Oh, there was that little Alexander, I don’t remember where he came from. I think, he was from Pelly Bay. I remember doing very bad things with him, while were praying in the church. We got caught and we were severely punished. As for me, I lied about not being part of it. Then, they turned to the little ones, including Alexander, he was so scared that he started to pee in his pants. He was severely punished, even though, it seemed, it was not that big of an issue, to punish about that he was punished about. It was fun for a while, then became no fun. I remember that about this little Alexander, he was my same height, my equal. Sometimes, we were both bad little boys, doing bad things, together. That was how we were.
Peter: When you first got there to Chesterfield Inlet, there seemed a lot of Qablunaat(White People) in the community. Do you remember things that happened to you, that were most embarrassing for you?
Simeonie: I was being told to pronounce the name Edna and not anaq(shit), Edna. They said, “it’s not anaq”. I was somewhat embarrassed about that as there were many of us at that point in the classroom. The teachers were teaching us how to pronounce names that were not Inuit names. When we were learning to pronounce those names, I was trying to be the first one all the time. At that point, I thought for sure, I was winning the pronounciations and then, someone said, “it’s not anaq, it’s Edna!” I was embarrassed about it but then it was okay, because I was the winner.
Peter: When it was time for you to go back home, was it wonderful?
Simeonie: Yes, absolutely! They would feed us more good food, gave us a lot more freedom and to be outside more often. It seemed that we can be alone more often, now that they were giving us more freedom. It was wonderful to do all this, even though, we were conditioned to follow the others all the time, like the line ups and that. You had so much freedom that you didn’t at times where to go, at times. Others, who had lots of freedom, could go any where they wanted to go and sometimes for some of us, we would follow them. The bigger ones were faster at walking so for me, I was always trying to be close to the porch, watching for the others, as to where they might be going, so that I could follow them. That was how it used to be.
I also remember the bigger boys, building an iglu. We also used to go out skating.
Peter: When you were going home for the first time, and got inside an airplane, what were you thinking?
Simeonie: It seemed to me that I was helped to go into an airplane, as I was with the little ones, who were the same age as me. When we were told we were going home, I said, “am I going to see my mother?” I was told, “Yes, you are going to see your mother and your father”. Knowing this, I think, I had a really big smile on my face. I don’t seem to remember that much when I got home. Oh yes, I got home, when they had small new wooden houses, called “Match Box Houses”. When I first left home, they had a home-made wooden home, which was just like a small shack. At that time, it used to look really big, but it was apparently a small one, same size as a small shack. But the Mach Box House, was really huge! It was so huge that I felt sort of strange. I remember when I was getting there, there seemed to be a lot of noises and everyone seemed to be so much at peace. When I was coming in, my mother was saying, “He is coming in! He is coming in!” I don’t think, they mentioned my name but exclaimed that “he was coming in!” Then I walked in, I looked around to see but I was apparently the first one to go in. I was feeling extremely strange!
Peter: Towards your parents?
Simeonie: Yes!! I apparently became very strange and somehow feeling embarrassed. I think, I was very conditioned to think at the hostel that I had to go to bed, that I had to go and eat at a certain time, and go to recreation hall, that I felt very strange about coming back home. I was also expecting to be told what to do, and was only waiting for instructions. That was how it was. Then, I was asked, “are you hungry?” I said yes. Then, I was told, there is food here, then I started to eat. Over there, I was very conditioned to follow the rules all the time. And I did not have enough freedom at the residence, so I was waiting for instructions all the time. I got so used to be told what to do all the time at the residence. Then, when I got to become more aware of my freedom at home, I started to gain back my independence. That was how I was.
Peter: Do you have anything else to say about something that I did not ask?
Simeonie: I have understood my ability to do things. I do understand that I am no longer at a stand still. I understand it now. I am now better equipped to do things better by way of being able to do things, such as parenting my children, living in harmony with my fellow human beings, I am better prepared now about these. I am able to follow more about what I want to do. I am leading my own life now. It seems, I am able to let out what I want to say. I can better say things and express my own feelings better now. Even when we were first down here, when we were speaking Inuktitut, we would be noticed that we were speaking Inuktitut, then we would look at them but then continued to speak Inuktitut. Then sometime later on, we were noted for speaking Inuktitut and told to speak English. When there was no one answering back at that point, I answered: “You f-off!” “That’s my English!” I told him that. When he heard that, he did not tell us to speak English again, after that. He just became sort of like one of us. He also became a sort of a good friend, that was how it was.
Peter: Is there something that you would really want your children, your grandchildren and your fellow-Nunavutmiut, to hear about a message that you want to say?
Simeonie: Inuit are extremely very good about their abilities through their language and their legends. They were always as good as anyone else, as long as they promoted then. I think, they will now be promoted more about their abilities or about things, they can do. This is as long as they have the freedom to do so. This is how I feel. Thank you. Thank you very much. I want to say hello to my relatives, and my fellow-Inuit from Nunavut. I say, very warm regards.
Peter: Thank you.
Filmmaker: Zacharias Kunuk
Year of Production: 2008
Ḵwaan sda: Testimony / Residential Schools
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