Phyllis Googoo is a respected elder and teacher who maintained fluency in the Mi’kmaq language and eased her loneliness by talking to ladybugs. (Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre) Phyllis Googoo was only four when she was sent from her home on the We’koqma’q First Nation to the residential school in Shubenacadie, N.S.
Forbidden from speaking Mi’kmaq, Googoo struggled to learn English, but kept her own language alive by talking to ladybugs.
She found speaking her mother tongue helped her with the loneliness of being taken away from family.
"I didn’t understand a word of English," Googoo said in a conversation with Information Morning Cape Breton .
"So one day playing out in the yard, everybody was speaking English already — you know, the ones that were already there — so I went alone. I went down in the field, missing my mom.
"I was walking through the field (and) I came across ladybugs. I picked a few, maybe six … and I’d lie down on the ground and make a little road and I lured them to the little house I made.
She talked to them in Mi’kmaq.
"I found comfort in that. And I’d scold them sometimes. Put them to bed, sing to them. You know, I was really being a mother, being a parent.
"Some days I’d be angry, because of the day I had with the school, not understanding anything, but I’d get them to bed." Phyllis Googoo was only four when she was sent to residential school. Missing her mom, Googoo gathered a handful of ladybugs and spoke to them in Mi’kmaq. (Cornell University/Associated Press) Googoo said it was strange to find the ladybugs in a large field, always in the same place where she left them.
Speaking the language, even if only to insects, helped Googoo preserve her fluency, she said.
"You don’t lose the language right away, because you think in Mi’kmaq, you even dream in Mi’kmaq," Googoo said.
As a young child, her vocabulary was limited, but Googoo said she eventually found others who were also speaking Mi’kmaq.
"We were not allowed to speak Mi’kmaq, but we’d gather together somewhere, you know, part of the building, maybe in the corner we’d be talking Mi’kmaq, and we told all kinds of jokes and it was comforting."
Students were threatened with the strap if they got caught speaking the language, but they found short times when they were alone and were able to get away with it.
Googoo is a respected elder in residence at We’koqma’q School who continues to advocate for the Mi’kmaq language.
Ladybug family persists — in presentsShe also still has a small family of ladybugs she has received as presents."Students gave me ladybug earrings that are beaded and everything comes to me that people give me as gifts, it’d be a ladybug, and the kids got rocks and they made ladybug rocks for me," Googoo said with a laugh."I have about five or six rocks."
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