June visits the remnants of the residential school in Spanish, ON | Image source: June Shawanda Richard
June Shawanda Richard of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, created her recently self-published book of memoirs, Silent Whispers from Within, for her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“I did this for them—it’s a legacy,” Richard says, noting she has five children, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. “It’s about my whole life, from age five to about, well, I’m 76. It takes me to the residential school I went to in 1946, and I was there for 10 years. And of course they used corporal punishment in that school, and it affected my whole life. That is why I went into substance abuse.”
Richard moved to Toronto when she was 16 years old and lived there for about 50 years. She says her experiences at residential school were not all bad; she also had good experiences. She was number 84 at the Spanish residential school.
“I’m grateful for the religious upbringing that I got there,” Richard says. “And also for the students that I met; lifelong friends.”
Richard also created her book to help people suffering from substance abuse. She launched it at the 56th Annual Wikwemikong Cultural Festival in early August.
“I always wanted to write a book; I knew I had a story to tell,” Richard says. “I knew I could help somebody out there, because I was helped by a book that I picked up one day. It was a word that jumped out of that book that changed my whole life in an instant. The word was control.”
Richard says the Lord spoke to her in that moment.
“And of course I repented,” Richard says. “And I was born again in an instant. And I haven’t looked back. I haven’t gone back to drinking. I’ve had a good life since, so I carry on the message to other alcoholics.”
Richard is pleased with the response she has received since her book was launched.
“It’s been great, especially from people that know me,” Richard says. “It just came out at the end of July.”
Richard says her grandchildren “absolutely loved” her book, which includes stories about her son bringing home baby skunks and snakes and her daughter rafting in a Toronto fountain.
Richard plans to sell her book on Amazon in the future.
“Right now we’re just selling to friends, family, and people we know,” says Richard, who now lives in Mount Albert, which is located north of Toronto near Newmarket. “We don’t really have any direct places to sell it yet.”
Richard began writing her book this past February and finished it after five months of work, five days a week for two-to-three hours a day.
“It was actually not that hard, except for the parts that brought back memories,” Richard says. “Of course I cried during parts of it—I was reliving it.”
Darlene Wells, Richard’s daughter, helped her with the typing and editing of her book.
“The whole family is so proud of her,” Wells says. “This is the best gift that she could give us as her legacy. And it’s not only for us, it’s for all the former students from the Indian residential school system, all the survivors and their families, and anyone who wants to read her story.”
Wells says she and her siblings were brought up in a “loving, nurturing environment.”
“But she did struggle with alcoholism. I believe it was in her thirties,” Wells says. “Her drinking did affect all of us.”
MUSKRAT is an on-line Indigenous arts, culture magazine that honours the connection between humans and our traditional ecological knowledge by exhibiting original works and critical commentary. MUSKRAT embraces both rural and urban settings and uses media arts, the Internet, and wireless technology to investigate and disseminate traditional knowledges in ways that inspire their reclamation.