Skip to content

Tea Talk: The atigiit our mothers made


Greetings to everyone in that beautiful part of Canada we call Nunavut. It is the most beautiful time of the year when fall is here and winter will be settling in for a few months. The land is so beautiful to look at with fresh fallen snow making it look so pure and pristine. The air is so fresh and nice time to walk. It gets exciting as new season rolling in where we pull out our atigiit (parkas).

Kids are back in school so when you walk by the schools you can hear laughter and happiness from our children playing during recess time.

Growing up at residential school it was our own time where we can talk and be with our friends to feel safe and loved. Every year long weekend in September most of us kids had to hop on the plane – a DC4 I think – and fly all the way to Inuvik, many cried but could not be helped as we were forced to go to residential school. Some lucky kids never had to go and got to stay home and attend federal day school in Cambridge Bay, NWT at the time and now is Nunavut.

Many of us wore our new clothes and homemade parkas to go to Inuvik. We never did see our parkas again, they were taken away. All that work I remember my beloved mother worked so hard sewing parkas for us children. Don’t know how many she made for us each year.

Wearing their parkas made by the sewing ladies at Stringer Hall, in the back are, David Avakana Tologanak, left, known as "Jingles" at school, Helen Navalik Tologanak and Helen Gordon, front row, Sammy Kinaktak Tologanak. "People in the town of Inuvik knew we were all Stringer Hall kids as we all wore the same atigiit."
Navalik Tologanak/NNSL photo

Upon arriving at the hostel Stringer Hall, we were given parkas made by the sewing ladies in their sewing room at the hostel. The junior girls were given red Mother Hubbard style parkas made of very thin duffle or stroud. I don’t remember if they were warm enough for us to use for the whole winter season. We were also fitted with clothes and many of us wore same style and same colour clothing. I remember the shirts/tops were very colorful.

When we see photographs of the kids, they were all the same. I remember many of us had to get our hair cut, some kids came with lice, or scabs on their skin and were shaved and given treatment and medication. We had to brush our teeth 3 or 4 times a day. We were taught how to make our own beds, each of us were assigned a locker.

That is where I felt safe, having my own locker and we can keep our clothes in there, boots, shoes etc. even our school books. We were given towels and to hang them at the end of our beds. At night we can hear kids crying for their parents. Sometimes we would sneak to go and lay with the kids crying to comfort them without being caught. Every morning at 7 a.m. sharp, the buzzer rang loud and we all had to hop out of bed and run to our lockers to get our school clothes on. After school we had to change to our play clothes. We all had to wear woolen socks every day. We were given running shoes, we all look like twins.

At meal time we all had to line up by dorms. Dorm A, B, C and D. D dorm was for the oldest girls in junior section. At the large dining room we were given tables and each table had a senior girl called a mother to sit with us. This is where we got to see our brothers from a distance. I remember my brothers Kane, David, Ricky, Ronnie and Sammy all got haircuts.

I would cry once I set my eyes on my brothers, so happy to see them, but not allowed to talk or hug them. I miss my brothers.

At meals we were served toast, oatmeal milk, hotdogs, eggs, soup, sandwiches, there was no traditional food ever. The kitchen staff were Inuit or Loucheaux. I remember Laura Martin, Elizabeth Hansen, Lidia Thomas, Lilias Mitchener, supervisors were Myra Chicksi, Annie Neglak, Bessie Palvialok, Susie Etegik, Annie Francis, Miss Brown, Mrs. Stobee, Miss Harper and many more. Some were so mean to some kids. So much abuse with spanking, rulers, belts and don’t know what else to punish us. I wish then if there was cameras the truth would come out.

Columnist Navalik Tologanak at the TRC gathering in July 2011 with Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in the background. Both Anglican and Roman Catholic hostel students along with town kids attended SAMS, which was built in 1959 and demolished in 2012. "It was eerie and hurtful to walk down the hallways and to look into our classrooms. It brought tears to me and my daughter and many others. We had closure then."
Navalik Tologanak/NNSL photo

The children who went to residential school went through so much loneliness, being away from family, parents, Elders, community. But now it is all gone but the memories. We all survived but continue to remember the past, but we must move on. We must heal from it and live healthy happy lives, just like our ancestors. Many of us are now grandparents with beautiful grandchildren and families. Let us be free, happy, healthy and to make this world a better place.

God Be With You Son.