Resistance: Out of the Depths

Jean-Frantz Joseph

The residential school system is remembered for the damage that it caused on the Native children lives. What one must remember is the traumatic suffering that the Aboriginal children endured during their residential school experience. However, the children found various ways to resist to the rules established by non-Natives at the residential schools. In chapter 6 of Out of the Depth, a heart-wrenching true story of Isabelle Knockwood's experience in the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, we acknowledge how Native students were confronting authority while they were incarcerated in this school. Some children openly resisted to authority by trying to escape and even fight back to the nuns. While others defied covertly the authority figure of the school by speaking their native language and giving nicknames to the nuns.

Despite the repeated sanctions, the children kept trying to run way from the atrocity of the Shubaenacadie Residential School. In order to make the children scare to escape, the runaways were punished severely when they were brought back by RCMP. But the punishments did not prevent them from running away. The Native children took a lot of risks to escape away from the school such as jumping out from windows, tying the sheets together and climbing down the walls, using a fire hose to climb down from the dormitory to the ground etc. (Knockwood 123). They tried over and over even though they were aware of the consequences when they got caught. This suggests that some children were ready to do anything to flee the hellish conditions of the residential school; they rather risked their lives than lived in such a condition.

In addition to run away, some students at the school responded to violence they were enduring by fighting back with the nuns. They started to defend themselves because they knew their situation would not change no matter how well they behaved. They realized that they were abused physically by the nuns because the system allowed them to do so. They were beaten and punished for no reason. They felt that they were helpless; as a result, they decided to stand against physical violence they were experiencing. In Out of the Depths, Isabelle Knockwood described a confrontational scene between Dorothy, one the students, and Wikew, a nun. Wikew slapped Dorothy because she thought it was Dorothy who said "Aniap" (a nun's name) to warn the other students. Dorothy slapped her back and pulled off her veil. After the fight Knockwood said "I admired the girls who had the courage to fight back. Some of them tried to give me some tips on how it was done" (124).

Native children used indirect resistance or covert actions to undermine the rules established at Shubaenacadie Residential School. They used their mother tongue, which was strictly forbidden to make fun of non-Native practices. " Clara Julia reduce us all to hopeless laughter for Benediction, 'Resurrecsit sicut dixi.'. But Clara would sing at the top of his voice, 'Resurrecsit kisiku piktit,' which in Mi'kmaw means, 'when the old man got up, he farted'" (Knockwood 126). They also give nicknames to the nuns. The nicknames were Mi'kmaw and most of them were insulting. The children used this strategy in order to laugh at the nuns without being punished. Speaking their language is an important form of resistance for them in order to refuse to be assimilated. Some of them said that they wore an Indian mask while they were at the school, which means they kept their Indian cultural background even if the non-Natives wanted them to reject it.


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