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Photo Inuit building a Peterhead boat for the Hudson

All Saints Residential School

Abraham Okpik
So I had to go to school for the first time, in 1937-1938. It was not that easy, my friend, because I was eight years old. I didn’t know anything about yes and no. I didn’t know the ABCs when I went to class for the first time, although my sister tried to teach me to read a little Jack and Jill. I didn’t know what language they were talking…

They put us in a dormitory. One side of the building was the girl’s side, and our side was the boy’s side. It was convent-like… You couldn’t do anything; you were restricted…

In the spring of 1941, my brother had started working. It was muskrat season, around Easter time, and my father came to the minister and said, “I need Abraham now, to try and teach him how to trap.” So, he pulled me out of school. I could read the Bible, and I could read some words.
Abe was sent to a residential school at the age of eight. Boys and girls were kept separate, and were punished if they tried to have any contact at all. Abe remembers being given moccasins, boots, socks and a number – thirty-five- which had to be sewn onto his sweaters and painted on his boots. After his first year, Abe had learned to survive in this cloistered environment, and even became a sort of protector. The school authorities tried to stop the pupils from speaking their language. Abe was a gifted student, skipping grade two, then grades four and five, and was even told by a teacher that he had a photographic memory. When he was older, he helped the RCMP by acting as an interpreter, and was finally pulled out of school by his father, who needed help during trapping season. Abe had learned to read, and he would relate news of the war and of other world events to his family.