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Award Winning Poem on Residential Schools was A Personal Journey for Young Indigenous Writer

It began simply as a project for school. For 15-year-old Sadie Antoine, it became an emotional journey, and would see the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation youth accept a regional award for her insightful literary exploration of residential schools.

They Were Happy, written in honour of all people affected by residential schools, tells the story of a young Indigenous person who is stolen from their family and ruthlessly forced to adopt a way of living that is terrifying and alien to them.

This powerful and impactful poem was chosen from dozens of talented entries this year as the first-place winner in the Words in Motion competition hosted by the Wood Buffalo Regional Library.

Excited and humbled by the honour, Sadie says the poem came to life from the stories of her grandparents and from her experiences on the land along the Athabasca River.

“It was definitely emotional, as I cannot imagine going through what my grandparents lived through in residential school,” she says.

Often putting her thoughts on paper and creating characters, Sadie says poetry is an interesting and a unique way to tell stories.

“I write poetry for different reasons, but almost every time I start writing it’s to tell some sort of story with rhymes and metaphors,” she said.

People interpret her poem in varying ways, but Sadie is hopeful readers will ultimately better understand the impact of residential schools, through experiencing it in words.

They Were Happy

By Sadie Rayne Antoine

I am happy…
I am singing with my family and favourite people
The deer prancing along our home
The stars glittering across our globe
Our stories carved among stone
I am happy…
Down the lake I hear two Loons
I hear wolves howling at the moon
Dangling from leaves are Cocoons
I am happy…
The fragrance of the flowers
The passing of hours
Oh, the community of ours
I am happy…
Then the first snow
The sun glare glows
The crow flying over the meadow
I am happy…
The stew was on the fire, the bannock was getting cooked
Then a big bang, we all looked.
A peaceful family, now all shook.
Many white men crawl over the brook.
I was taken away, along with my breath.
I never until now had a fear of death
My beautiful long hair was cut to length
I was happy…
I woke up, and was sad it wasn’t a dream
Desperately clinging to the beam for strength
Yet my weak limbs gave up on me
I was happy…
They constantly called me words
I tried to call help to the birds
They made me constantly call them “sirs”
I was happy…
My favourite clothing was ripped away
We had to portray a white childs way
We were forced to our scrawny knees to pray
Some of my friends began to turn grey
I was happy…
I woke up to bad dreams one night in my nightgown
It sounded like cries of the lone loon, or being struck down.
But I wasn’t allowed to turn the corner, I frowned.
I was happy…
I tried to find my siblings, they were all hidden
I only saw them one more time, I was smitten.
I tried to talk to them, but it was forbidden.
I was happy…

In honour of all people affected by residential schools.

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