Monday, May 20, 2024

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Truth Teller

The Healing Journey of Bob “Mud Turtle” Hazen of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Chippewa Indians of Watersmeet, Michigan

Note: This is Bob’s story. His truth. His words. They are quite poetic. 

Please be advised that there is reference to sexual, mental, physical, emotional, and religious abuse by members of the Catholic church, and supported by the US Government in this article. The content may be triggering to some. Please read the article A Time for Reconciliation and Healing for reference before reading this article.

My name is Bob “Mud Turtle” Hazen, and I am a member of the Lac Vieux Desert Tribe of Watersmeet, MI.

I spent seven- and three-quarter years in Harbor Springs in Holy Childhood Indian School. At Easter time I was sent to another school in lower Michigan where I stayed to complete the 10th grade. I finished high school in Watersmeet, Michigan.

In the summer of 1955, I was five years old. A government agent and a Jesuit priest started coming around my grandfather’s house where we as a family were living at the time.  We as children did not know the events that were about to change our lives forever.

The government and the Catholic church had a program in place since 1844 that gave them the right to take children away from their homes and place them in orphanages or Catholic schools. This program was designed to assimilate Indian kids into white society.  Their motto was “Kill the Indian, spare the child.”  The elders of the tribe were threatened with jail if they refused to surrender their children.

In August, the priest came back with a station wagon and asked us if we wanted to go to town to get ice cream. Who wouldn’t? So, all us kids headed to town with him. He told us first we had to stop at the church. When we arrived at the church, he and another priest began baptizing us. Heck for ice cream they could pour water on us all day. When I got back home, I told my grandmother what happened, and she told me they were trying to steal my soul. I didn’t know what she meant at the time.

In September the priest and sheriff came back with a bus. They took us to a reform school. There were nine of us kids at the time. Other families had to give up their children as well.

The bus traveled through the UP picking up kids from different towns and reservations. They took us on a ferry across the Straits of Mackinac to Harbor Springs, MI – about 300 miles from home.

When we got off the bus and saw the nuns for the first time it scared me. The older boys were talking in our Ojibwe language and the nuns started slapping them around. We were told not to talk in our language, only in English. It was just the beginning of the abuse we were about to experience.

They, the nuns, took us into a big room and told us we were to get our hair cut. At the time I had long hair, and it was really curly. The boys were cut bald, and the girls got page cuts. After they cut our hair, they put white powder on our heads to delouse us. It was very traumatic for all of us.

They took away our clothes and gave us different ones, even though our parents bought us new clothes.

Wherever we went we had to walk in single file Indian style. If we talked or whispered, we would get slapped. The older ones that talked back were beaten severely.

A lot of the foods we ate or tried to eat we never experienced before. Indian kids never drank milk before and some of us younger kids messed in our pants. That called for a spanking. Kids who refused to eat the food were slapped or punched. We had to pray before and after these so-called meals.

There were sexual predators among the nuns. They would pick some good-looking boy or girl and abuse them. On Saturday sexual abuse would happen while taking a bath. The nuns were Sister Arnold, Sister Winifred, and Sister Roberta. They would wash me up and get me aroused and then they would tell me that I was going to hell for thinking dirty thoughts. It was so confusing to me. I always wondered if the nuns could be so cruel to us physically, mentally, and sexually abuse us, then what was their God like?

I was thinking that God was going to kill me for getting stimulated when a woman of God was touching me. The mental and psychological abuse they put me through was horrific.

During the day they told us that we should hate ourselves for being Indians. That white people were better than Indians. I developed a great shame and hatred for myself. I had low self-esteem, no respect for myself. I didn’t love myself. I always believed white people were better than me.

I spent eight years in that place and two years in another place called Baysville down in Clinton, MI.

The education I received was second to none. You know those Catholics. The price I paid was devastating to our tribes as a whole. They broke the family bonds and turned everyone into Alcoholics.

Where there was love – hate, anger, and rage took its place.

Where there was respect – distrust and resentment took over.

All good feelings were shut off both from parents and elders. Kids vowed to themselves that no one was ever going to hurt them again. Not physically, mentally, or spiritually.

When the nuns beat us for believing in our Creator and replaced it with their God, it left a wound in our soul that can never be erased.

Self-pity is a feeling I cannot have; it will only destroy people’s ambitions if they choose to dwell in it. Like the saying goes, I felt sorry because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.

Treat people the way you would like to be treated.

Respect them.

Loss of self-worth, self-hatred, self-confidence, wounded soul, self-esteem, so deep.

The school taught us to hate ourselves for who we were and what we believed in. They instilled in us a great fear and shame that is still prevalent today.

When you are traumatized, your behavior psychologically gets stuck at that age. When you come under stress or difficult situations you revert to the age you were when you were first traumatized.

The nuns taught us that being an Indian was bad. That we should despise ourselves for who we were. Self-hatred, low self-esteem, and great shame were instilled in us.

While this was happening to the Indian children, the white children were being indoctrinated by TV. Cowboy and Indian shows were on television every day and night. They heard things like “dirty rotten redskins,” “dirty stinking injuns,” and “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.”

There were about 50 western shows on TV a week. What do you suppose happened to a young mind seeing and hearing all the bad things about the Indian people?

A little about my life after being in Catholic school: In 1964 I came back to Watersmeet to finish school. Yes, I am a Nimrod. None of my family of seven boys ever graduated from high school. I wanted to be the first one. In 1967, I accomplished my first dream.

In 1968, I was drafted into the army and eventually ended up in Vietnam where I spent 11 months, 22 days, and three hours. It was a pretty scary period. If a person tells you he wasn’t scared, he wasn’t there.

After Vietnam I ended up in Milwaukee, WI where I went to college to learn blue collar skills. I became a welder, electrician, diesel mechanic, auto mechanic, and good in hydraulics. The company I worked for built hydraulic cranes and sent them all over the world. In 1978 I went to Iraq to put a crane together and helped build a city there. I was over there when the war with Iran started.

Today, my wife and I live in Bruce Crossing where I help veterans with their forms to get their benefits from the government. I’ve spoken about these traumatic events in Hannahville and at Michigan Tech with my cousin Linda, and we were well received.

While Indians were being killed by the hundreds on TV and we were in the Catholic schools being taught Indians and their ways were bad, it is lucky that there are still Indians left today. Television is a powerful thing, I know that is fact.

When we watched television for the first time it almost cost me my life. My brother was a year older than me at the time. We saw some Cowboys hanging an Indian for stealing a horse on a TV show. So, we went out to play and my brother decided to hang me. It was a good thing my older brothers were around to save me, or I wouldn’t be standing here today.

I am not making excuses for people; I am just trying to shed light upon the culture back then. It was a perfect storm that put the Native Americans on a path of self-destruction.

I became the ruler of my world! I figured if God was that mean and I was going to hell as the nuns always told us, I wanted nothing to do with him. I became an alcoholic at a very young age. I was very abusive to people and resented authority. I wonder how many others went down the same path of life as I. How many committed suicide or are in prison?

I’m very lucky to be standing here today a better man than I was yesterday. I want to thank a lot of people for helping me on my life journey. My God, my wife, who stands by me. Pastor Ted and my church members. The VA hospital and AA groups I belong to.

The historic trauma I experienced as a child is still with me today. I learned that if I could acknowledge that it happened to us, I can change its hold on me. What I learned was what and how historical trauma caused me to react very negatively to people, places, and things.

I lost many things from being at Holy Childhood Indian School.

I lost the breaking of family bonds. Of the nine kids, none of us are close. We lost our mom and dad, and we had no motherly love.

I became an alcoholic with no self-respect.

I never developed healthy parenting skills.

I had no trust in people, not even my spouse.

I lost my spirituality.

I passed on all my negative behaviors to the next generation. It wasn’t until I went to the VA for treatment of alcoholism and PTSD that I finally got a positive outlook on life and am traveling the path to healing.

Listen to our Podcast Series Reconciliation and Healing of Michigan’s Indigenous Peoples with Survivors of the Holy Childhood School of Jesus in Harbor Springs. Read the related articles of this series, A Native American Woman’s Journey from Childhood Trauma to Survivor and A Time for Reconciliation and Healing.

Tamara Graham
Tamara Graham
With an adventurous spirit and a burning desire to make the world work for all of us, Tamara encourages others to embrace self-love, compassion, empathy, understanding, and an ever important sense of humor. With over 30 years of diverse marketing experience, including a decade in publishing, she brings a fresh and innovative perspective to the industry. Her concept revolves around experiential magazines that captivate both online and in print. Tamara's visionary project, LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN™, unveils the wonders of our breathtaking home state, igniting love and admiration among Michiganders for where they live. By fostering this deep connection, she inspires a genuine appreciation and love for where we live!
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