This article is the final entry of a series that chronicles the life of Lower Kootenay Band Elder Anne Jimmie. The purpose of this series is to preserve the lived experiences of a residential school survivor, and to create more awareness in the community around this dark period in Canada’s history.
It was in 1965 when Anne Jimmie left her Windermere home for Banff, Alta., two years after dropping out of school before completing her Grade 9 year.
“A friend of mine had married and she said her in-laws were looking for a babysitter. They were a non-Native family and she asked me if I was interested in babysitting,” said Jimmie. “I wasn’t doing anything except drinking and getting drunk at home, so I said sure.”
She was 17 years old when she got to Banff, and decided to go back to school later that fall to finish her Grade 9 education.
“I had to write provincial government exams, and it wasn’t until July of 1966 when I got the results,” she said. “I passed with honours. Here I was, 18 years old, passed with honours.”
After the summer was over, Jimmie moved to Cranbrook and enrolled at Mount Baker Secondary School.
“I got into drinking again, and I just took a different path. I couldn’t go to school,” she said. “A high school counsellor met me on the street and begged me to go back to school. She told me that what I was taking in Grade 10 was what I completed in Grade 9 in Banff, and it was true. I was taking the same courses, but alcohol — I took that path instead.”
Jimmie never got around to finishing high school. By the time she was 19, she was already a mother.
“I had a relationship with a man who was 15 years older than me, and I had two children with him,” she said
Between 1972 and 1977, Jimmie said that she went through various periods of sobriety; anywhere from 30 days, to three months, to six months.
In 1978, she relocated from Cranbrook to the Lower Kootenay Band reserve in Creston — a place that she would call home for the next 40 years.
“By the time I moved here, I had two children. Their father and I separated, and he took the kids. That was hard for me,” she said. “I really turned to alcohol big time because I moved here and started living here with a boyfriend.”
Her third child was born in 1980, and Jimmie gave birth to her fourth child the following year.
She would end up completing her General Educational Development (GED) test in the 1980s, but continued to struggle with alcohol abuse until 1992.
“I sobered up one morning and I said I couldn’t take it anymore. I was 44 and I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I went to treatment in Vernon and when I came home, I knew I wasn’t cured. I knew I had to do other work, and that was to get down to all of this.”
She began seeing a counsellor in town who said that he couldn’t help her quit drinking, but instead offered to listen to her tell him why she started drinking in the first place.
“I was able to start talking about the abuses I went through. The sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse,” she said. “Everything that started from when I left home to go to school to Cranbrook. From the nuns, from the priests, from the girls, and my abusive relationships over the years.”
When her counselling sessions concluded, a local art therapist got Jimmie engaged in creating art as a means of therapy. By then, she had already been regularly journaling her thoughts, a practice that she picked up while receiving treatment in Vernon.
“Then I turned to spirituality. We have our own spirituality through our Ktunaxa people and that helped me a lot. Sweat lodges are our spiritual ceremonies, and that has helped me a lot too,” she said.
Sometime in the 1990’s, Jimmie attended a conference in Missoula, Mont., an event that she said had helped her understand her inner child.
“At this conference, they had a keynote speaker … they had the lights dimmed, and he asked all 700 of us in attendance to close our eyes and think of yourself at any age,” she said.
In her head, Jimmie pictured herself as a child, and the keynote speaker then asked participants to take that version of themselves to a safe place.
“I chose a sweat lodge … I took that little girl, who I had pictured at the residential school. She was sitting on the window ledge by the dining room and she was crying,” she said. “For me, that was the beginning of knowing that this inner-child of mine who’s scared and has been down here for so long, that I needed to take care of her. I took her to the sweat lodge and I cried.”
Following the conference, Jimmie said that she began a process of caring for her inner-child and connecting with that side of her.
“Healing is a journey, not a destination,” she said. “There was this little girl inside that was so hurt, that was so wounded. I protected her, and she controlled me also, so I needed to nurture that little girl and understand her.”
It was also through working with local Elders where Jimmie said she was reminded of the importance of family, and knowing who you are and where you come from.
“When I left for the residential school, I knew who I was and where I came from. When I went to school, through everything that happened, I buried it. I put it all away,” she said. “Today, I know who I am and where I came from. I think about my grandparents and I feel warm inside when I talk and remember them. That’s something that will never be taken away.”
Anne Jimmie still calls the Lower Kootenay Band home. She is the proud grandmother of eight grandchildren, and the great grandmother of two great-grandchildren. She’s a member of the Elders Advisory of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, and she sits on the board of the Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Family and Child Services.
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