When Stan Beardy was a boy he escaped residential school by hiding in the bush. He spent his time on the trapline with his father. He ate what he killed. His bed was a pile of snow kicked into place with his snowshoes and covered with spruce branches. He made a fire to keep warm. If he was a poor hunter, he went hungry. When he was about 15 years old, his father asked him if he wanted to go to school. He told young Stan to think about it and let him know by February because that's when they'd have to tell Indian Affairs. Stan thought about it for a month and said yes. He hoped there was an easier life than life in the bush in -40 C weather. His father told him not to come home without his Grade 12.
So the next September, Stan Beardy traveled about 700 kilometres south to Thunder Bay. He'd never seen blue eyes. He'd never seen a car. And he spoke no English. When he saw a man with a bald head and a big beard, he thought his head was upside down and he hoped the girls wouldn't look like that too. Despite all of this, he applied himself, just as he had in the bush. He learned English by listening to radio stations and by spending all his spare time in the library. He went in with a Grade 5 or 6 education - on paper - and graduated with his Grade 12, with high marks, in four years, just as he'd promised his dad he would.
Clearly Stan Beardy was a smart boy. He says he learned everything he needed to know as a child in the bush. He learned to observe. He learned to be prepared. He knew he had once chance at killing his dinner so he made sure he took advantage of every situation. He was a survivor.
Here's his interview with us.
We've talked about this kind of thing here at TVOParents, in a discussion called Nature Deficit Disorder. It explores the importance for kids of spending time in nature where they can be calm, yet alert, and where they can master skills. Of course, playing in the woods is not at all the equivalent of surviving in the bush, but there are similarities.
Of his time in the bush, Grand Chief Stan Beardy says, "And here I am today." Indeed.
Thank you Grand Chief for sharing your story. Meegwetch.