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Almonjuela, Dorothy: Growing Up Squamish
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Dorothy Almonjuela (b. 1918) was born on an Indian reserve in North Vancouver, Canada. A Squamish Indian, she moved to Bainbridge Island in 1942. This account includes memories of growing up on the reservation, berry-picking on Bainbridge Island, and her 1942 wedding to the Filipino farmer Tomas Almonjuela. This excerpt is taken from an interview conducted by Teresa Cronin on April 9, 1975 for the Washington State Oral History Project.
Excerpts From the Interview
"I was born on the Indian Reserve in North Vancouver. Squamish Tribe. Just a normal Indian Reserve you see ... well, it’s all different families and all mostly related, you know, like there’s 400 Indians living on the reserve there, it was just like any normal child, like children of today. They play. Just like a regular neighborhood.
"We lived on the shore and bay. Fishing in the creeks and rivers and inlet. My father would go hunting ducks. He bring home, oh, say 30 ducks, which we’d have for a week and my uncle cooked them. We never had it the same. Then he’d go deer hunting and bring deer home and hang it up and we’d all take our little turns skinning it. Then we’d have clams.
"And in the wintertime we’d go over to my Great-grandmother’s and get dried clams from her. She was about 100 years old. We’d go mooch off her! We’d swim, like a bunch of little children would, we’d swim in the salt water or under a trestle. There was a train trestle that passed right in front of the Reserve, and there’d be a bunch of little children in there who’d show off for people who were in the train.
"And of course on Sundays we’d all dress up in our best Sunday clothes, and we’d have to stay dressed up all day which meant you had to behave yourself. And we’d go to church.
"Seven kids in my family. My father was a longshoreman. My mother was a housewife until she became invalid at about the age of, oh, 24, I believe. She got [what] I just learned lately was Hotchkin’s [Hodgkin's] Disease. Which, ah, you know, the muscles, she lost the use of her muscles and I had to take care of her, like you would a baby.
"She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t move, so whenever you’d ask her something, she’d you know, move her eyes to say yes or no. She was like that, really like that for about 10 years. In the meantime her bones, hands, one hand had become clenched, the other one was straight. And her knees, folded up under her and became like solid bone through. And so I had to take care of her, plus my brother and sisters, with the help of an uncle who did most of the cooking. He was a cripple.
"School was run by Sisters of the Child Jesus, Sisters brought over from France when they were very young, because they had taught my father and before him, many people beyond that. Because they were pretty old, you know by the time they came down to teach us. And, of course, there was that feeling, you know that they were teaching an Indian child.
"The boys and girls were segregated. The boys, it was a boarding school but I went as a day pupil, because they said that my dad was making enough money that I shouldn’t be in the school, or you know, board at the school, that was just for underprivileged children.
"And they segregated the boys from the girls in the schoolyard, and in the classrooms. And we were, we were punished for things that we did. I, we didn’t read properly or we did things that weren’t right, fighting or something like that we get reprimanded and have to kneel in front of the class or we’d have to extend your arms out, hold your arms out until she said you could put them down.
"I was always the teacher’s pet. And I don’t know what it was like for the boarding children because I could go home at the end of the day, just free.
[At school] we didn’t want to be, you know, constantly be called you little, you know, little dirty Indian or something like that, ‘cause we were called that all, most of our whole lives, at least until we came of age like about 16 to 18.
"And then it seemed to change with the white children. Well, there were mostly white and Indian. That was the only two races.
"[I still] have a father and brothers and a sister, half brothers and sisters [in Canada]. My grandmother came down [to Washington for the picking season]. That’s all that came down. They had a woman who used to hire. Go around the reserve and hire people for a certain farmer down here [on Bainbridge Island].
"Then she’d come down for the Japanese [farmer]. She picked for the Japanese until that year that I came down. It was the first year she worked for a Filipino. Because that was after the Japanese were sent to the interior. [During World War II Japanese Americans were expelled from the West Coast and forced to enter internment camps.]
"There were about 12 of us, 12 women. And then there was about four boys. We lived in a chicken house. We had straw for the bed, and a little tin stove. Lovegren’s, Lovegren’s yeah. There’s a ... you know that open field? That’s where it was at.
"It was a Japanese farm ... and it got taken over by Filipinos when the Japanese left. Yeah. By Tomas Almonjuela. Strawberries, then afterwards they picked a few peas, then blackberries, I think they had a blackberry farm. [Paid] probably around 60 cents a crate. In 1942.
"I remember my aunt would leave the two little ones in the cabin while they were asleep. And then she could see, we just picked around that section, where she could be within running distance if they needed her.
"They used to have dances down at the Bainbridge Gardens. I was accepted in Canada. You know, by the white people. Coming down here was no different. I got along very well here. I’ve been accepted. I haven’t been looked down upon.
"I fell in love with [my husband] when I got off the ferry and he picked us up at the ferry dock. But he didn’t like me! They was another girl and we tried to give her a big build-up. We listened to people talking about him. That’s how you find out about people.
"He was shy, ambitious, well that’s all good, so we tried to sell this girl on him. And I did such a good job I got him myself. [We] married in 1942. I was 24 years old. I came down [to Bainbridge] in May and married in July. I was moving, man!
"We had two celebrations. One, we had to find a church first. Then I told him I wouldn’t marry him unless I married him in a Catholic Church. So we went to Seattle and he said he remembered one church, a Catholic Church, where his cousin had been buried. So we went up ... we found this little old Filipino priest.
"And so, we made all the arrangements with him and told him the situation. So he said all right, he said he’d get the license and told us to come over in two weeks. So the Thursday before we were supposed to go [back], most of the boys were going to Alaska. So they wanted to help us celebrate.
"So my husband built an outdoor little platform to dance on, and a place for the music, they decorated it with fir branches and put lanterns in it. There were about five cooks. And they killed a cow and they killed two pigs and they had the dinners in the house. And so we had that celebration and it went on all night. So the boys that had to go to Alaska left.
"Then Saturday morning we went together, which did away with the superstition that you’re not supposed to see the bride, and we went over together. The year we got married there were 10 ... 8 or 10 marriages to Indian girls. They were too young. They had been taken and brought down here to pick berries. I think that’s the reason so many marriages broke up, because they were too young. Even 17 is pretty young.
"One of my sisters is married to an Indian boy, from another Reserve. One of my sisters is married to a black from Philadelphia. And one of my sisters is married to a white and lives in British Columbia.
"I had a brother that was really against my marriage, and he was the one that was sent overseas, he joined the Yakima and was sent overseas. Just about a month before he died he wrote us a letter and told me he’d changed his mind. That he saw I was happy and when he came back that we were all going to get together and become one family. Then he died in the war.
"My children were always accepted in the home of their friends. Because I told them when they went to school, ‘You’re not going to school to fight, you’re there to learn.’ Of course Colleen, she had one fight, but she put the girl in her place. And they became very good friends. They never came home and said, ‘Well, someone said this or someone said that.’ They never said that.
"We were never taught our Native customs. My mother and father didn’t. The only thing I learned from my grandmother was to speak Indian. I could understand her but I was ashamed, I was afraid to talk to her because I might make a mistake. I did once and I nearly got my mouth slapped but I didn’t know what I said.
"We were never taught, we were taught to live the white man’s way, as my father was, because my father’s mother told him when he was little, she said, ‘you’ll never be able to talk Indian, you’ll be able to understand it but not talk it, I want you to talk English.’ So that’s the way we’ve been brought up.
"Of course [my children would] like to live that way [the Indian way]. Every now and then you can see them turn back to the Indian way. They seem to want to go back to the Indian way."
Excerpt of Teresa Cronin Interview of Dorothy Almonjuela on Bainbridge Island, Washington, April 9, 1975, Washington State Oral History Project, Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington.
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