Tasting Freedom

by Wawmeesh Hamilton: For Complete Post, click here…

ngd- Wow!

In her three years at the Edmonton Indian Residential School, Helen Johnson figures she opened hundreds of cans of Spork.

Working in the school’s cafeteria, it was her job to dole out small portions of the foul-smelling meat for her fellow students to eat — paltry meals that left Johnson with hunger pangs and painful migraines.

“It was like a place which was worse than the jail, I think. At least they had meals every day, three meals a day,” she said. “We’d eat pork, pork, pork every day. Tons of pork.”

They’d have other meals, too. Lumpy oatmeal in the morning. A single egg at lunch. But all the offerings were meagre, and every meal was supplemented by Spork.

Staff meals, on the other hand, consisted of chicken, pork chops, steak and other choice cuts of beef. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Bread and butter. Jam. Dessert.

One May evening in 1961, her anger about that disparity reached a breaking point.

She had had enough.

So when a staff member left the cafeteria early, leaving Johnson and her friend, Maria Douglas, unsupervised, they took advantage.

Hauling the boxes of Spork into the school’s hallway, they started throwing the cans against the wall. Curious students stopped to watch their breakfast, lunch and supper fly through the air.

In the ensuing hours, what followed was a full-scale riot that saw approximately 100 students overpower an outnumbered staff, taking over the school until police put down their resistance.

The riot may be the only one in Canadian residential school history.

“Me, I felt like I had power,” Johnson said of that night. “I felt, ‘I have to have the power that was taken from me,’ and I felt good about it.”

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