Before going to the Lebret (Qu’Appelle) Indian Residential School, Noel Starblanket was raised by his grandparents.
“I attended ceremonies, I went to Sun Dances. I picked medicines with them. We did medicine ceremonies. We did pipe ceremonies. We did feasts. We did all of those things with my grandparents, and I spent time with my grandfather in those ceremonies, and I worked with my grandfather. He made me work at a very tender age. I was cutting wood, cutting pickets, cutting hay, hauling hay, all of that kind of stuff, looking after animals, horses and cattle. So, I spent a lot of good times with my grandparents, my, and the love that I had from them, and the kindness, and the very deep spirituality that they had. And so my formative years were with them.
I would spend time with my parents, but not a whole lot. So, mostly my grandparents raised me. My parents never hit me, my grandparents. I didn’t know what, what it meant to be hit, physically abused. All I needed was one stare, or one look from my dad, or my grandfather, and my grandmother or my mother would always say “wâpam awa”20 [look at that one], then I would stop what I was doing, because I knew how to respect my grandfather and my dad, didn’t have to hit us, just, just took one look. [laughs] And so I grew up with that. And if we were acting foolish, or anything like that, or misbehaving, or whatever, they, they would just, they would just tell us in a good, kind way not to behave like that, and or if we were acting too silly, or whatever, they would tell us to calm down. They would always tell us that if you’re gonna hit a high like that, you’re gonna hit low, and I’ll always remember that teaching, ’cause I tell my grandchildren the same thing. When they get too excited, or too animated, or laughing too hard, or tickling, or whatever on an emotional high, I’ll just tell them what my grandparents said, and I’ll never forget that.21“(Survivors Speak, p. 11)
Religious observation and religious training were central to residential school life. Starblanket recalled that prayer was a dominant aspect at the Qu’Appelle school.
“We’d finish, and we’d go to our, back to our playrooms, they called them, and we’d sit there until it was ready for class, then we’d go up for class, and when we sat down in class, they made us pray again. We have to pray. So, then we’d, we’d, we’d have our classes, and then, and then the noon bell rang, and we could hear the church bells. They have a big church there. Those bells would ring, and we’d have to pray again before we left the classroom. I think they called it the Angelus, or something like that. So, we’d pray again, and then we’d go to lunch, and, and before, when we sat down, they’d make us pray again. So, we prayed, and then we went back to our class, got ready for our playroom, went back, got ready for our class, class again in the afternoon. We went to class, they’d make us pray again, and then we’d go through our instructions, and then after school we’d come back, and they had, we had free time ’til about five or so, and then, then the nun would blow the whistle, and we’d have to come running in.294” (Survivors Speak, p. 100)
Starblanket recalled being constantly “slapped on the side of the head” at the school. One teacher struck him in the face and broke his nose.
“My nose started bleeding, I ran out, I went to the bathroom, was wiping my face with cold water, and it took a long time to stop it, and I plugged it with toilet paper, and toilet, paper towel, whatever I could find. I went back in class, and everybody was teasing me, bugging me, and ha-ha-ha, look at, look at him, you know, all that, humiliating me. And, and so, anyway, it started swelling up, getting blue under here, and I wondered, gee, you know, is there something wrong? I was sore here. So, a couple of days after it started going down, and I remember waking up in the middle of the night, and my nose would be bleeding, and I’d have to run to the bathroom, and wash it and plug it again.506“Survivors Speak, p. 144
Starblanket said that he and his friends would have to “give this bully our bread, or our butter, or whatever, that, that was our payment to him for not bullying us, and, and then we’d eat whatever we had left then.”636 (Survivors Speak, p. 171)
Still, there are some good memories for Starblanket:
“I had some good moments, in particular in the sports side, ’cause I really enjoyed sports. I was quite athletic, and basically that’s what kept me alive, that’s what kept me going was the sports. When I was forced to go back after holidays, or things like that, the only thing that I wanted to go back for was for the sports, nothing else. I didn’t want to go back for the teaching, for the teachers, for the, the Christian indoctrination, or, or the strapping, or any of the other abuses. I wanted to go back for the sports. That was the only thing I went back for.”696 (Survivors Speak, p. 189)
[TRC, AVS, Noel Starblanket, Statement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Regina, Saskatchewan, 16 January 2012, Statement Number: 2011-3314]
Links to Noel Starblanket Articles and videos
Noel Starblanket took part in the making of this groundbreaking film