Matriarch of five generations looks back and ahead
- Betty Ann Adam | October 13, 2021
At 79, Viola Dumont has lived among family members born in three centuries.
She has 27 descendents, including six great-great grandchildren and eight grandchildren who were born in the 2000s and is the matriarch of a family of five generations.
Her great grandfather, Chief Harry Atcheynum, was still alive when she was a child in the 1940s living near him on Sweetgrass First Nation. He was 15 at the time of the 1885 Battle of Batoche. His father was a signatory to Treaty 6, and lived to be 97.
Four generations of her family went to residential school.
“My grandmother, my dad, me and my daughters,” she said.
Dumont went to school on Sweetgrass for the first five grades but went to residential school from grade six to eight. The priests and nuns never singled her out but when kids ran away, the nuns cut their hair short and hit them. One sister had a strap she kept in a pocket in the folds of her habit. She’d pull it out and hit a kid’s hands and wouldn’t stop until they cried, Dumont said.
She worked in the sewing room and kitchen.
“They’d get a big two-and-a-half-gallon pail of peanut butter. They had me put it in a kettle and mix it with lard, then cool it so the peanut butter would last longer,” she said.
Dumont said she understands why many residential school survivors turned to alcohol. Though she didn’t, the experience affected her.
“To show my emotions, even to hug my girls, they took that away, even though I was 13 when I went to residential school. I wasn’t able to hug them and tell them that I loved them. It was hard to do.”
Dumont says she worked through those issues when she took counseling courses to work with teenagers.
Dumont’s mother taught her to cook, garden, can and sew clothes and she tried to pass on lessons in parenting too:
-“It’s okay for them to get dirty cause kids, that’s the happiest time of their life just when they’re dirty, when they’re playing outside.”
-“Inside, they mess up their toys but you teach them to put them away too, after and ask them as they grow older, to help you.”
-“Let them wash the dishes, no matter if they don’t do it right, even if they spill water, that’s okay if you have to do them over again. But when they want to do something, let them. That’s how they learn.”
-“When they do something right, you praise them, you thank them, you make them feel good and they like to do more when they know you appreciate them. See that way they know that they’re loved too.”
-“I like working with the kids. Talked to them. You take them as your friend. They could talk too. When they’re able to talk to you, you feel good about that. It goes both ways. Cause you treat them the way you want to be treated.”
-“Food, whatever I have, I’ll give it to people. I was taught that when growing up. When people stop by, even unexpectedly, give them what we have, even bannock and tea.”