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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Family Reunion (06/05/08)

TITLE: The Disappearance of Small Cloud
By Ann Grover
06/12/08


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Ramshackle houses are clustered haphazardly together, and smoke has layered itself lazily in the late afternoon sun. I have been riding in the car with my silent father for many bumpy miles, and I’m tired, sweaty, and dusty.

The grandmother waits, deep crevices carved into her mahogany cheeks, long, mesmerizing braids hanging down over her bosom.

She peers into my face, and I look down at my black shoes. She feels my cardigan.

Kina ekota, Apisisi Wask(ya)? Are you there, Small Cloud?” she asks.

I struggle to understand, for the words are foreign to me now. I am here, somewhere, but not as she desires or remembers.

“I am Miriam.”

Grandmother is puzzled by my words. She touches my short hair and comments to the other women who have gathered. They all look the same to me, with their long braids and moccasins. I know I’ve received love and warmth from their fires, sharing moose meat at one hearth or another, but I do not remember their faces anymore. My memories run together like muddied waters.

The grandmother touches my shoulder.

“Come. We will eat. We have made a feast for you.”

I don’t know what she is saying, but I follow her to the fires. She speaks the devil’s language, the evil words I’ve been forbidden to speak and have not uttered since I left my family.

Moose-nose soup simmers in a pot hanging over a fire, and strips of floury bannock brown on sticks over another. My mouth waters as I remember, then I am confused. Food fit for savages. Filth. Offal. I swallow foul bile and sour fear.

The young children point to my woolen skirt and heavy shoes. I stare hard at them, envying them their laughing eyes, unknowing eyes, eyes that close at night to dream dreams of trees and fish and bears. If I close my eyes, I see the dark hole, the place of punishment where I spend hours alone in the blackness, until imagined horrors merge with unspeakable reality.

Who is evil?

Me?

Or the black-robed nun who ties a rope to my waist and hangs me out the window? I clutch the sill frantically, but Sister Marie Therese pecks angrily at a smear, and I swab dizzily with my rag. I scrub window after window in the frigid cold, my skirt whipping about my hips, until every pane glistens. With the other girls, I scour wooden stairs with a tiny brush until my knees are raw and my fingers bleed.

We comfort one another secretly, haltingly using the words of our new language, our former life fading, taken, just as our old shoes and clothing had been seized and burnt. Our offensive braids had been severed, our wicked names exchanged for something holy.

“Welcome home, Apisisi Wask(ya).” The Elder nods and smiles.

The drums. The drums! My heart pounds wildly, a primitive response to the ancient sound. The evil spirits will come now. Is it a lie? My feet begin to dance, but I still them. Rage swells within me like thunder, but I bid it to quietness, like a stream over smooth pebbles. The whirling braids and stomping feet of the dancers blur and fade. I will not look. I will not listen.

I am Miriam.

I tuck my hands inside my sleeves so I can’t see my dark skin, my shame, my curse. I use the white soap, but I am still brown. I pray to the white god, but he does not wash me clean. I have been given a Christian name, but I am still dirty.

And, always, the dark hole, where darkness, evil, and robes are interwoven, and no one hears my soundless screams.

Kina ekota, Apisisi Wask(ya)?,” the grandmother asks me again. “Are you there?”

I look intently into her eyes, into their depths, and I see myself reflected, a small, broken brown girl with cropped black hair.

Apisisi Wask(ya), Small Cloud, floats away, like her name, drifting above me, higher, higher, until I am nothing but a tiny speck far below, like dirt, asiskiy(a), dark brown dirt.

The cloud becomes mist, a vapour, a mere wisp, and is blown away by the breeze.

Small Cloud is gone.

****

Residential schools opened in the late 1800’s to deal with the “Indian question” and begin the assimiliation of “savages” into Euro-Canadian culture. At least 150 000 First Nations children were torn from their homes over the next century. On June 11, 2008, PM Stephen Harper apologized to Canada’s First Nations people for the wrongs committed.


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This article has been read 882 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 06/12/08
Few stories I've ever read here have touched me so deeply as this one. Enough said.
Catrina Bradley 06/12/08
Superb. Stunningly good. I'm speechless.
Chely Roach06/13/08
This was heartwrenching. Incredible writing. Wow.
Beth LaBuff 06/13/08
Heartbreaking story of one caught between two cultures and belonging to neither. We have a friend here whose family member was also taken for education purposes. I don't know many details but I do know she became a Christian and wouldn't allow her children to participate in the kachina worship and spiritism of their clan.
Joanne Sher 06/14/08
You brought me to tears. Wow. Such a terrible injustice that you have portrayed absolutely, positively masterfully. Wow. This will haunt me.
Karen Wilber 06/14/08
I love the structure of this with the questions in the middle. You appeal to the heart, the soul, the intellect with this one. Well written and challenging to the reader. I read about the apology in the news, but this brought the story home to me. Well done.
Amy Michelle Wiley 06/15/08
Wow, powerful story. So sad. I know some of the mission schools were more successful in teaching the children of the truth of God while still being kind to them, but so many were cruel like you depict. Well done.
Dee Yoder 06/15/08
These kinds of attempts at assimilation happened here in the US, too, and we have our history of the Trail of Tears to contend with, also. So sad. Well written and superbly told.
Lyn Churchyard06/16/08
This seems to be universal. Here in Australia, the same thing happened. Aboriginal children ripped from their homes. Such injustice should never have happened. You have done a masterful job in telling the story of just one young girl.
Yvonne Blake 06/16/08
Wow! interesting...but I was a bit confused as to where she was. I realize that there were memories flitting in and out, but I wasn't sure of the setting.
I'd like to know more of this.
Mariane Holbrook06/18/08
What a sad but powerful story and so well told. Kudos!
Debbie Wistrom06/18/08
Oh, I hope she comes back.....
well written and touching.
Deborah Engle 06/18/08
Awesome writing, but such a sad tale.
Sara Harricharan 06/18/08
Nice job, as usual! Your descriptions are very visual and the heart-wrenching story of this dear girl is just that. Heart-wrenching. I can identify with this very well-thanks for sharing! ^_^
Joshua Janoski06/19/08
What a powerful story dealing with a very cruel and dark piece of history. This story makes me want to learn more about these true life events. Such good writing...
Sheri Gordon06/19/08
Congratulations on your EC, Ann. This is very powerful. Excellent writing, as usual. Great take on the topic.
Sara Harricharan 06/19/08
***Congrats!***
Lyn Churchyard06/19/08
Congratulations on your EC Anne, well done!
Colin Swann06/21/08
Thanks you masters for your expertise and encouragement that we writers experience from you, right from starting out as beginners.
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/21/08
This is a beautiful story--beautifully written.
Venice Kichura06/26/08
Excellent, as always! I love the way you paint pictures for readers.