That Was a Dangerous Place

IndigiNews is publishing stories from Alphonse Little Poplar, recorded and transcribed in 1986, to share his incredible memories and gentle storytelling.

Trigger Warning: This article contains recollections of child abuse, including violence against children that took place in Canada’s residential “schools.” These stories may be upsetting, and may be triggering to survivors of child abuse. Please read with care. 

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.

That [Thunderchild Residential School] was a dangerous place. One time this boy, Toby Dejarlais, was sitting in the boy’s recreation room. That was a big room. Toby was sitting along the windows. The Sister was across the room. She told that boy something. The Sister thought that he had heard, but that he wasn’t listening, just ignoring her. She got mad.

The windows were open. They were kept open by sawed-off hockey sticks. She picked up one of those sticks and threw it across at Toby. That boy figured the Sister was just trying to scare him, so he jumped to the side to make fun. He was going to make the Sister laugh and he said, “I just dodged.”

She grabbed another one and threw it. He jumped again. The nun got real mad. She grabbed a hammer and threw that across the room. She just missed his head. That boy, he didn’t say, “I just dodged.” He took off out of there and went and hid from that Sister.

Boy, that Sister got mad. She scared us, we thought she might turn around and take it out on us. That scared me. It would scare anybody. She was big. Honest: she must have weighed 250 pounds.

After that Toby was a different boy. One time somebody blamed Toby for something. Sister Mary Lou sent for Toby. He came. He thought they were going to give him a chore to do or something. He hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Go put on your nightgown.”

“What for?”

“You are going to get a strapping for what you did.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, if you won’t put on your nightgown, hold out your hand.” She was holding a stick.

So, he put out his hand. When the stick came down, he grabbed that stick and threw it. With a crash it went right through the window. He told that Sister not to bug him again for nothing. 

Nothing came of it. I don’t know how she explained the window being broke.

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). 

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