Following her mother’s passing on September 19, 2011, Mary Annette Pember reflected in her blog Daily Yonder on the way Catholic boarding schools drastically impacted her mother and in turn her personal upbringing. She describes her mother, Bernice, 86, as “quick-tempered and harsh, often unmindful of the impact her words had upon us.”
But the more Pember looks back on the pages of history and the way her mother was ripped away from her parents on the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin to be white-washed at “Sister School,” the more Pember understands how her mother’s ongoing fight for survival harbored resentment at herself as much as the mission schools. Bernice’s hatred, which festered inward and was inflicted outward on those whom she loved, cost her “a huge chunk of her spirit and humanity,” Pember writes. “Life in a Catholic boarding school bludgeoned her heart so that she would never fully reveal it again to anyone. She made a decision to survive at all costs and steeled herself to wrestle a life from the white man’s world.”
The anger manifested in her treatment of her children. “The legacy of Sister School was handed down to us. Unlike an innocent family legend, however, its force entered our veins,” Pember writes. Coming to terms with the source of her mother’s angst has allowed Pember to forgive and to love. “Naming this rage has helped me diminish its power,” she explains in her blog post “Child of Love,” which is the meaning of an Indian name given to those stripped of their traditional names.