The Friendship Moccasins from the Lebret Residential School
*With files and photos from an anonymous reader with *fictitious names
July 11, 2021
In June of this year Star Andreas of Peepeekisis Cree Nation camped out next to the statue of Father Hugonard at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Cemetery in Lebret, Sask. for several days in protest. Eventually the statue came down, but it should have come down years ago. It wasn’t soon enough either for the former children that attended the Lebret Industrial School.
Our reader’s grandmother was *Juliane Prevost born June 7, 1911, and died October 14th, 2010. She was 99 years-old and only 5-6 months from her 100th birthday, and fondly known to the family as *’Mere’. When she was a young lady she suffered greatly from asthma and was raised in Trenton, Ontario.
One day her mother packed her bag and gave her a train ticket to visit her cousins who were Grey Nuns at the Indiginous school in Lebret, Saskatchewan. It was said that the dry air would be better for Mere’s asthma and severe eczema. She caught the train and headed off on her own, and family stories say she was barely 14 years-old. However, our reader says that according to her note it was 1930, and at the time of her journey she would have been 19.
The Lebret (Qu’Appelle, St. Paul’s, Whitecalf) Industrial School, was operated by the Roman Catholic Church (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns from Montreal) from 1884 until 1998. It was one of the first three industrial schools that opened and was located on the White Calf (Wa-Pii Moos-Toosis) Reserve, west of the village of Lebret on Treaty 4 land– and one of the last to close.
Sister Francine, fromThe Lebret Industrial School was Mere’s father’s sister. Upon arrival, Sister Francine took her to a room with basic necessities and no mirrors. The children ate in lines, stood in lines, and slept in lines, and the cultural loss was devastating for those native children. Once these children left these residential schools they were stuck in a cultural no-man’s-land with their language extinguished and their culture destroyed. Our reader’s grandmother settled in and the next day attended school to see what they were teaching the Indigenous students. The girls did not have as much education as the boys owing to the large amount of housework, sewing, knitting, mending, washing, etc. which had to be done. The teachers were very strict about segregation. So the boys kept to their side and the girls to the other.
One day when the sister left the classroom, Mere was beaten quite badly by some of the classmates. She had black eyes and many bruises. After that incident one of the female students befriended her (name unknown). Life was not what you wanted for these children.There was a death every month on the girls’ side and the female students were always taken to see the girl’s fresh graves.
Four days of the week they were served oatmeal or cornmeal with milk or syrup with hot tea and bread for breakfast. Butter was supposed to be served to those not as strong. Although the boys milked cows, they never ate butter or drank whole milk. It was common knowledge that the butter was being sold to the villagers. Why was it sold when the children went without? The priests and nuns ate butter. Even though the children complained among themselves, it didn’t change matters any.
Her grandmother decided she wanted something to keep her busy during her time at the school so she asked if she could teach French, and so she did. Mere stayed many months, yet no one in the family is certain how much time she spent there. Just before her journey to return home her friend presented the moccasins to her as a gift of their friendship. The small note with the photo of the moccasins was written by Mere, her grandmother. Her granddaughter, our reader, asked to have and treasure these moccasins when her grandmother passed away.
She never understood the significance of the moccasins until she heard about the Indigenous schools two years ago, and now the news of unmarked mass graves. There was also that massive family photo of hundreds of relatives which included 3 nuns, one of which they have confirmed as Sister Francine; one of the nuns from the Lebret Residential School.
Lebret school had a long history as one of the first industrial schools to open and the last to close. The only reason that these children suffered was because they were born indigenous. It’s hard to forgive people that hurt children, and we need to find them all and bring them home. Our reader wanted this story told about these moccasins and would love the memory of this little Indigenous girl and her friendship gift of these moccasins to live on in a museum. Let’s never forget that friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil.
Thank you for letting me document this story