Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Artwork by Liz Amini-Homes)
|November 28, 2010||Posted by Christine Gordon Manley under Uncategorized|
My name is Olemaun Pokiak – that’s OO-lee-mawn—but some of my classmates used to call me “Fatty Legs.” They called me that because a wicked nun forced me to wear a pair of stockings that made my legs look enormous. But I put an end to it. How? Well, I am going to let you in on a secret that I have kept for more than 60 years: the secret of how I made those stockings disappear.
Fatty Legs tells the true story of an eight-year-old Inuit girl named Olemaun Pokiak and her experience with residential school. Unlike other children, Olemaun begins her journey by asking to attend school. Her reason is simple: she wants to be able to read. She doesn’t listen to her older sister’s stories about having her hair cut, or being treated unkindly, or having to work hard; in Olemaun’s mind, the reward is worth the hard work.
It doesn’t take long for Olemaun (whom the nuns refer to as Margaret) to change her mind. What she experiences at the residential school, sadly, is the truth of many Inuit: she is bullied and mocked by other classmates and instructors alike; she experiences loneliness, isolation, and hunger as she tries to adapt to the “outsiders’”ways; and she is made to feel ignorant because she does not know this other culture’s language and lifestyle.
Olemaun stays at the school for two years, during which she learns to deal with the torment and ridicule. One nun in particular (whom Olemaun nicknames the Raven for her “hooked nose and bony, claw-like fingers”) seems determined to break Olemaun’s spirit. One day, the Raven hands out brand-new, beautiful gray stockings to all the girls . . . except Olemaun, whom she gives ugly red ones—stocking that further set her apart from everyone else and earn her the nickname “Fatty Legs.” The way in which Olemaun chooses to deal with her humiliation and face her tormentor are inspiring to anyone who has ever felt different.
Olemaun was not alone in her experience of residential schools in the North, and we know that many Inuit often experienced abuse—mental, emotional, and physical. Margaret Pokiak-Fenton is to be commended for breaking her sixty years’ silence on her experience (her daughter-in-law is the co-author).
Fatty Legs is targeted at early readers with its large print and beautiful art, but the message and story itself can be appreciated by readers of all ages. Very young readers many not understand the origins of such hatred and bullying and adults wishing to teach children about residential schools in the North should supplement this story with discussion around the topic.
While it is important to remember that Olemaun’s story is just one experience of those who attended residential schoosl in the North during the 1950s and 60s, and that many suffered traumatic experiences there, Olemaun’s story is not only one of despair at the way she was treated, but hope and resilience in how she refused to let others break her spirit.