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An Interview With Annie Stone

Owen Einseidler

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SEPTEMBER 1988      p32  
Annie Stone Annie was almost eighteen when she returned home to live as an Indian for the first time. It was 60 years ago that Annie Stone, now 77, moved to Mosquito Indian Reserve. However, she remembers like it was yesterday.

"Everything was so strange to me, people talked different, they spoke Assiniboine and practised unfamiliar customs," she recalls.

Annie faced the horrifying experience of being a stranger among her own people, after spending thirteen of her first 18 years at a residential school on the Onion Lake Reserve.

"My sister and I were orphans. Our mother died when we were quite young and our father found it hard to take care of us so he took us to the school run by missionaries. It was 1915 or 16, I was five and I remember it being in the spring. Ice still covered the North Saskatchewan River. We never came home for holidays since there was no one to take care of us."

Annie, born a Wuttunee on the Red Pheasant Reserve which neighbors Mosquito, says one of the reasons she experienced such disorientation was because the school had forbidden the use of any language but English.

"We weren't allowed to speak Cree, my language."

Only two weeks after completing grade eight, the highest grade the institute offered, Annie's uncle, James Wuttunee, gave her to Abraham Stone to be his wife. It was the Indian custom at the time for a young woman to be given to a man from a good family.

For the first while, the couple lived with Abraham's grandparents who spoke only Assiniboine. During that period she learned to understand the language and was taught by her husband's grandmother the duties of an Indian woman.

Annie knew she had to catch up to other Indian women her age because most had been taught their duties at an early age.

"I watched her tan hides, skin animals, do beadwork, cook, smoke meat and make Indian tents. It was like I was getting another schooling."

Annie also witnessed the art of midwifery by her husband's grandmother who delivered all seven of her children.

But what always set Annie apart from others her age was the fact that she could not only read and write English but also had completed grade eight. It was an unheard of accomplishment for an Indian of her day time and especially for an Indian woman.

Her education and a strong moral code prevent her from indulging in alcohol and tobacco. She was chosen to speak at and officially open the Battlefords Indian Health Centre administrative offices and the centre's new alcohol treatment facility on the Red Pheasant Reserve.

The grandmother and great grandmother of more than 75, who speaks three languages, says it is important for Indian youngsters to learn their mother tongue. Although she taught her children to speak Cree she realizes many of her grandchildren can not speak anything but English. However, despite the cultural shortcomings of her formal education, she still believes strongly in the need for education and smiles when she tells of one of her grandchildren studying to be a nurse.

"Young children shouldn't depend on welfare. They should stay in school and try to be something."