Trigger Warning: This story contains content about loss from illness and child abuse at the so-called residential “schools.” Please read with care for your spirit and well-being.
In 1986, Alphonse Little Poplar and Irene Fineday welcomed a family friend named David Doyle to their family land on the Sweetgrass First Nation. Mr. Doyle spent three months staying in a small building next to their home, over the winter. He spent his evenings interviewing Alphonse, recording these interviews on a cassette recorder. After leaving the reserve, Mr. Doyle had their contents transcribed. Unfortunately, over time all of the cassettes save for one were accidentally destroyed.
In June of 2020, Mr. Doyle gifted Eden Fineday, IndigiNews’ Business Aunty, and Alphonse and Irene’s granddaughter, with ownership and possession of the manuscript containing all of her grandfather’s transcribed stories. IndigiNews is publishing these stories so that Alphonse’s incredible memories and gentle storytelling may be shared with our readers.
Portions of this manuscript have previously been published in the Battlefords News Optimist.
They quit strapping Peter after Julian Morraste stopped them. Peter never did anything wrong, he was a nice boy. He had quit going to school; he was working there for his board. He had finished up to Grade 8 or whatever they were teaching at the time. One day he had an argument with a nun while we were having dinner. He talked back and told the nun off. After a while the nun just walked off. She came back with another nun. They told him, “Go to the dormitory, get your clothes and get out. You’ve been here long enough.”
So, he got out. He packed his clothes and went a little ways north past where there is a little garden. Past the garden there is a little log shack. We used to see him there, walking around. He lived there for a while. Us guys didn’t know it but I heard later that the boys in school used to steal food for him. One of them would have to get the cows in the evening or in the morning. They would walk close by there and take him some food. So, he lived.
At that time my Dad came to Delmas to visit us. He bought a little food in the store in town, a can of stew, a loaf of bread and maybe half a pound of butter. At that time, you could buy half a pound. The guy would cut it for you.
To get to the school you had to go past the town. The old man went to this little house where people visiting the school often stayed. He was going to eat his lunch. By golly there was a guy there, it was Peter Bear.
The old man asked the guy; “You want something to eat, I got lots here.” “No, I just had dinner, I have some food here.”
“Well, what are you doing here; I used to see you at the school.”
“They threw me out.”
“They threw me out, for arguing with a nun.”
“Well,” Dad says, “If you got nowhere to go, I’m from Sweetgrass.”
The guy says, “I’m from Water Hen Lake, but I’m also crippled, I don’t like to start walking I get tired if I walk too far.”
The old man says, “You can come home with me. Over there you will get a ride over to Battleford. I can give you a couple of dollars so you don’t get too hungry on the road and you can catch a ride with somebody in town. You can get home somehow.”
The old man came to see us. I had two sisters there and myself. We sat there and he told us about meeting Peter and that he had offered to take him to Sweetgrass.
There was a nun there who heard this and she said, “It wouldn’t be wise to take him home, that guy is kind of sick and he might die on you, then you could be in lots of trouble.”
The old man said later, “She scared me off; I thought he was going to die anytime.”
He didn’t bring him to Sweetgrass. He was only trying to help Peter, but I guess that’s what the nun’s didn’t like. They bullshitted him.
Peter Bear just disappeared one day.
Years later, after I had left school an old school mate, Tommy Bear, was walking by our house and he stopped. Somebody told him where we lived and we had a visit with him.
I asked him, “What about Peter Bear, is he still living?”
“No, he died.” Tommy said. He got pneumonia and died. He lived east of Water Hen Reserve in a trapper’s cabin there. He found that cabin or knew about it and moved in as he had no parents or close relatives. He snared rabbits and lived there for some time. One night some guys come there. They want to know how to cross the river and where. It was early winter. The ice was not safe for crossing some places.”
Peter says, “I know where you can cross.”
But he missed that place he knew because it was dark. He took these guys across and they all fell through the ice. It was a cold night. These guys were okay because they were young and strong and healthy, but Peter, he was already sick. He died from there. He got pneumonia and died in Meadow Lake hospital. That’s what happened to that poor boy.
Dear cuzzins, if you or anyone you know is struggling with a visit with depression, suicidal ideation or attempts we want you to know help is available at KUU-US Crisis Line Society.
Adults/Elders (250-723-4050), Child/Youth (250-723-2040), Toll free (1-800-588-8717), or the Métis Line (1-833-MétisBC).