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Caring • Funny • Honest

Her Story

Minaachimo-Kwe / Alice Williams

Artist - Crafter - Quilt Maker

Minaajimo-kwe / Alice's Story :

At Trout Lake, 30 air miles southwest of Red Lake, Ontario, in North-Western Ontario, I was born in the bush in my maternal grandmother’s and grandfather’s trapping cabin in January, 1945. My Anishinaabemother and Norwegian father lived in their own log cabin 4 miles from my grandparents’ cabin. I am told when my mother felt her labour pains coming on, my dad prepared the dog team and sleigh to take my mom to her parents’ place.

Because our home was 30 miles from the nearest town Red Lake, and there were no schools in Trout Lake, all  six of us siblings had to be boarded in private white homes in order to be able to go to school. Also, we didn’t go the residential school as we were not Indian under the law, my father being a White man. There were no people who wanted to take us in in Red Lake, so my father had to look further afield. He approached the local doctor, and he said he would talk to his sister in Kenora (150 miles south as the crow flies) as she took in welfare children. Sure enough, she got the message to my father that she would take me into her home for grade one.

To get to Kenora I first had to board a bush plane at our dock to take me to Red Lake. Then Dr. and Mrs. McCammon put me on the bus to Kenora. Besides several White people, (of whom I felt great
trepidation) a couple of Indians were on the bus. But one of them was drunk, a man.

He wasn’t causing any trouble or disturbance, but the bus driver seemed to want to be able to hit him – or punish him somehow. The Indian man may have talked a little more loudly than usual, for the bus driver kept looking mad in the big rear-view mirror and yelling at him in a gruff voice. Finally, the bus driver, pulled the bus off the highway, and stomped to where the Anishinaabe man sat. He yelled at him and made him get up and sit on the first step of the doorway of the bus. The Anishinaabe was swaying a bit and he fell backwards. His head hit the metal part of the bus driver’s seat and his head landed under the seat. The bus driver disgustedly pulled off the road, made a big show of getting out of his seat, and grabbed the Anishinaabe by the front of his shirt and made him smash his face against the bottom of the bus driver’s seat.

I was only six years old, but I knew that what was happening in front of my eyes was very wrong. At that time, in my little Life, I didn’t know this happened in real Life. I had a vague idea this was white man and Indian. My mother had told me that I always had to be careful when white people were around. She said the boys would call me names and throw sticks at me, and even want to fight me. I’d always have to watch myself for I would be fought. And to be especially careful of the police. I had no idea that in English, this is what racism was/is. I knew it had a lot to do with hate.

I felt very scared and afraid as this was being played out in front of me. I wanted so much to help this Indian man. But it nailed me: I could do nothing to help him. I wanted to cry for him, but that wasn’t going to help him and I therefore, forced myself not to cry. I was afraid to be seen; I remember scrunching my back into my seat wishing the padded back could let me in and cover over me. I thought that, somehow, I had something in me that Indian man had and I could be next to be beaten. I wanted to run to the front of the bus and yell at that bus driver, but I didn’t know what to yell to make it effective to leave that man alone. I wanted to flail my fists into his back and arm and make him stop. But I was in reality enough to know my fists wouldn’t have any effects on him. And I knew he could toss me around like a rag doll, and he might throw me off the bus in the middle of nowhere.

I would say that that incident made me want things to be good and go right for those who are hated by the White People. I realize now it’s much more deeper than that. But I’d say that has guided me to work for social justice. I wonder now: Is this the only culture in the whole wide world where there is a desperate need to work for social justice, and not for social just-us?