Maybe there is hope for mankind

Ivy League next chapter for book-loving native girl
Special to The Globe and Mail

MONTREAL — When she was 13, Skawenniio Barnes just wanted a quiet place to read after school on the Kahnawake Reserve outside of Montreal. So the Mohawk teenager — whose first name means “beautiful word” — fought to build a library.

Come September, she will be toting her books in the hallowed halls of one of North America’s most prestigious Ivy League schools. Her steely determination so impressed Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth that all four universities offered her full scholarships.
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My First Real Job

When I was 15, I was anxious to find a real summer job. Until then I had been cutting grass and laying sod. My father gave me the names of several lumber mills located in all parts of Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. I composed letters, typed them and mailed them. The few responses I received were rejections. However with my father’s help I eventually landed a job in Northern Ontario.

It was in the bonded pine plant of McFadden Hardwoods in Blind River, half way between Sudbury and Sault St. Marie. My father and I made the trip together and when we arrived he helped me find room and board with a nice widow, Mrs. Shanahan. He suggested that perhaps I shouldn’t drink too much beer. He advanced me a few dollars to tide me over until my first pay cheque, said goodbye, and drove off.

I reported for work the next day, punched the time clock just before 8am, and looked for the plant foreman. He was a nice chap whose name I don’t recall. He greeted me and introduced me to a middle-aged man, whom I would work with all summer. It was a horribly monotonous job which I did 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for the next 10 weeks. I pity the poor fellows who did it for a lifetime.

I was part of an assembly line that involved lots of pine boards and lots of glue. One of those jobs where you couldn’t slack off for even one minute without the boards and glue piling up, and the whole assembly line shutting down. The hours I worked were precise and therefore easy to remember: 8am-noon, a one-hour lunch break, then 1-5pm. We had two 15 minute breaks, at 10am and 3pm. The whistle sounded to tell us when we could stop working for our break, lunch, or at day’s end. We had to give the company full value for every minute, although I remember occasionally creeping with my fellow workers to the door at 4:57, waiting for the whistle to blow before sprinting across the open yard to punch the time clock. In the morning if we were even 30 seconds late punching the clock the ink colour changed from blue to red on our time card and 1/2 hour’s wages were deducted from our next pay cheque.

Included in my room and board was my box lunch which Mrs. Shanahan made for me every day. I enjoyed mixing my meats with jams in sandwiches, which surprised Mrs. Shanahan. Spam and jam you might call it. And she made me a nice dinner every night which we usually ate with her son and daughter-in-law who also lived in the house. One evening her son took me to a baseball game and I took my turn at bat. Allan Stanley, the Toronto Maple Leafs star, was playing in the same game because this was his home town and he was home for the summer. It was a thrill for me to see him but the pitches were so fast I didn’t even see them and struck out every time.

I met several friends, including the DJ from the local radio station. As is often the case with radio announcers he had a deep velvet voice which didn’t match his appearance at all when you met him in person. He was probably in his early twenties so we didn’t become close friends because of the age difference. One of the fellows I got to know took me on a tour of the nearby town of Elliot Lake where I saw row after row of bungalows boarded up with plywood because of the town’s cyclical economic way of life.

On the way home from work I would stop at the tourist information center to chat up the cute lass who worked in the kiosk. And I went to dances in Iron Bridge, a small nearby town. I even went to an occasional drive-in movie, an experience we were not allowed in Quebec at the time. Some of the 15-year old girls I met were much more mature than I. They knew what they wanted, and weren’t shy about asking. I was inexperienced; I arrived innocent and naive and left little changed.