Erin Krommenhoek and Cassandra Toscano
DescriptionSisters Cassandra Toscano (44) and Erin Krommenhoek (32), discuss their grandmother's experience being kidnapped from her family and placed in a Catholic Indian Reservation School and the generational trauma it caused.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Erin Krommenhoek
- Cassandra Toscano
Recording LocationVirtual Recording
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00:01 Hi, my name is Cassandra Toscano. I'm 44. Today is Tuesday, August 17th, 2021. We're located in West Hartford, Connecticut and say my conversation partner is Aaron Cronin hook and she's my sister 2021. We are located West Hartford, Connecticut. And then today, I am speaking with my sister, Cassandra Toscano.
00:37 Okay, so we wanted to share with everyone a little bit about our experience, being Native, American, or the connections that we have to our heritage.
00:54 So our grandma, is she she lives in Oregon. She's originally from British Columbia Canada. She's part of the Kootenai Tribe in Canada. We've always known were Native Americans and it's been a big part of our identity, even though, you know, we're not full blooded or whatever. They do, you know, or have Tribal membership were really a whole lot of connection to our tribe. Yeah, but I'm Grandma's Native, American. She grew up, you know, really well as their native American family, but as people probably seen in the newspapers these days, she was
01:52 At the age of 5 kidnapped from her home and forced to live in a an Indian residential school in British. Columbia is old Indian residential schools. You don't happen over like a hundred years. Of time and she was one of the last generations to go it at her particular school, but it was well known how horrible the schools were. And because she was one of the last to go like her parents would have known how traumatic and Dudley the schools were. So she ate so bitter. Ashley people like Canadian mountie police whose job was to round up every
02:48 Indian Child and they reach the age of five to go and round them up for school and take them from their families and put them in the school's, you know, every September. I can't even imagine the trauma of being like pulled from your family, mandatorily like that, you know, and so she went to the school with her brother Andy and he was four years older than she was. But she says when she was there like they were separated the girls and the boys were separated and she didn't even know where he was. So she didn't even know if he was alive. If he was dead. What was going on? If you got to go home and she was the only one in there and then the other things she talks about from being in the school. As you know, they they did a lot of forced labor with the children and so she would just like
03:48 Scrub floors on like near the end. She was one of the last children to go there. They were extremely to find it. And so a lot of their report, a lot of the schools were in horrible conditions and didn't have food really old Food Supplies and basically the children for labor to upkeep. What was left of the school.
04:17 And so, what's known about the school? The machine is then is that children would die there and they found / 182 bodies in the backyard of her school has recently, right? Like just recently, it was like, one of those
04:47 It was one of those it was so she she knew that there were bodies out there basically and it was terrifying to her.
05:20 Right, so
05:26 It was terrifying to her.
05:29 And and when she came out and she finally went back to her family. There was some kind of like disconnect to being able to reconnect with her family cuz she pulled away from the young age. A lot of age when people are building connections and learning about how they're going to be in life. So I think when she returned to her family, there was a disconnect between them and a lot of trauma that she took on.
06:05 Towards the rest of our life.
06:09 Since I think.
06:12 I think after the school trauma for Grandma, I think, when she returned to her family should have walked disconnect. The reconnecting with their tribes, lost your language. She talks about how she lost her native tongue. She's also she was left-handed. So she would have severely beaten in the school at her hand is crushed. And even like last last couple weeks. I was talking to her, you know, one of the things that they tried to do, but they did is when all of the Truth and Reconciliation committee happened and, you know, Canada about 10 years ago, they did reparations to the kids, to, or still living her down to the schools, and they gave her some nominal amount. And she was so angry angry about it that you could steal my life for some amount of money and they had crushed her hand.
07:12 And she done.
07:17 There was no way to prove it and so she didn't. So she was still stuck in this place where they had to validate what trauma, she actually endured is just so pissed off about people telling her whether or not she's Indian, whether or not they traumatized her or how much, you know, how much her life is worth essentially and she's right. There's no reason you should go to someone else and have
07:52 Then tell you whether or not you her who you know you are or what or what happened actually happened to you. Yeah, it's just awful. So it's been hard for her to hear about the bodies being found, but I honestly like you where you were headed was.
08:17 She is not only is she lose her native tongue. She was so traumatized coming out of school. She barely spoke, you know, so when we were growing up grandma and mom would talk about when she was growing up, you know, her mom wasn't available like emotionally to her. She didn't have a very good experience with my grandma Growing Up shoes. She was, she was not. Emotionally attached to her children at that time. And I don't know that she could have been honestly coming out of a situation like that. I think it hurt her ability to build relationships or understand of closeness to family. Yeah, when you're taken from the video on Gage and then of use for a length of time and almost
09:11 Built to dislike yourself cuz it's not politically charged for her door refrigerators. I like that. It's always done that the whole time I've known her. She's always adopted that saying and it's someone else's perception of her. Yeah. So always, it's always been an interesting to me that she does that. Yeah, I mean and and she said, they just thought we were dirty, lying, Indians. And that's how I think that she was taught to believe about herself.
10:11 Yeah, so her very core is built into her abused into her to just like a very big part of herself. She was very quiet, and she didn't really talk that they didn't really talk that much. They never talked about this. They never talked about anything important to them until she was probably about 60 years old. She's 90 now. So, think about losing 55 years of your life. Essentially. Right now, just scare bility to interact with people and it wasn't like they offered part of the reconciliation part of it was money that I don't think services are offered or right, like support like processing and what happened to you.
11:11 In addition to that big a
11:15 Like a card saying that she was Ted certified Indian blood and it had an expiration date on it. I don't remember her saying that we talked about like, what happens when you have a grandparent like this, who was institutionally traumatized, what happened to the family and so either, she married a man was 30 years older than her ability to get out of that town and all of that and opportunity for her to leave. But because of that, he died.
12:06 Young, you know, and and so are mine too. It's sensitive. Anyway, so we had three pregnancies. Do we have an answer Twins? And so our mom is the second oldest or the middle child? Yeah.
12:28 And she was really attached to her dad, if he was a kind man, but then he died when she was 13 of emphysema, but he had a long, so dried out sickness and died in the home and Grandma. So really, she had to move to the United States away from the school. So she didn't have a high school diploma. And she later got her GED in the fifties and sixties and she was chasing her kids. She didn't have a high school diploma. So she was a fire and clothing for money. And she was a janitor. And so, she was just trying to support her kids and focused on making a living again.
13:23 Supportive to the children and kind of left them to their own. And later in life. Mom would always say, like, I got healed from her dad's death, cuz I think it my mom's Bo or our mom's you. That was the last person that really loves her for the rest of my life. I did. I think she was looking for that unconditional love that you can only get from a parent.
13:55 I think Grandma just had a very different language than what mom was looking for, and I think Grandma are very much loved her, all our children and Mom to there was always a disconnect between Mom and Grandma though, like, even when are the grand, our grandfather still alive their stories about how, you know, she was a daddy's girl. So she just always butt heads with Grandma for May because their grandma's little more
14:27 Or maybe mom sister was little more emotionally driven. She's yeah, she's very emotional and sensitive and creative a mom. Who's just trying to get it done. Right? And she, she just didn't feel supported and
14:52 And then that continued like I don't think Grandma and my mom was in a r. Mom was in.
14:58 Domestically abusive, first marriage and she escaped and went to Grandma for support, drove across the country, to get away from my dad. And
15:16 And grandma said, what are you doing here? Like she just didn't understand how family was supposed to support each other.
15:25 And that you could leave situations like that. I think it's also generational to family support.
15:44 I don't. So I mean, is it a fact that we talked to lots of people about?
15:50 When we had talked about how the trauma, like, ripples your family, people tell us, it feels like having a holocaust parent, you know, or it also has made me think about.
16:05 I never thought of myself as a victim of systemic racism. Yeah, I don't think we've ever ever identified as being affected by racism ever, not loud and then forced into labor. It is just crazy and it created this poverty in our family because she couldn't support a super smart, but she wasn't educated. It didn't have a high school diploma. She was abnormally and woman Briar Motel. So they created the trail of
17:00 Mental illness, because of another PTSD from being in a, in a home, in a residential home for Native Americans, and then it passed out her mother from her inability to connect to her mother and her parents. And so, she develops or some of her own.
17:23 I should have said she had trouble connecting with you, wanted to start up. So she really wanted it. I don't think she knew how to maintain relationships with people or what that look like. Inappropriate relationship with. Someone is, I don't think that was something. Our mother ever bastard. She's super hot cold. Yeah. I don't love you. Like, I love you. I love you. I love you.
18:03 Committed suicide, right? So I think her inability to hold.
18:10 To maintain relationships or connections to people or children or family, or friends. And then she just never really ever got that. Love that. She's looking for after her dad died. Talk about all the time at home. Yeah, that's right. The last year of her life. We moved into your childhood home and
18:44 The room, he died, and would go and sit in the room and think of Grandpa Aaron.
18:49 Wake, my little like eight year old stuff. I never met him.
18:59 And so then she thought of my own truck. Yeah.
19:16 Year 2021.
19:20 I was in, I was
19:22 I was in college trying to finish up college and she decided to kill herself on Labor Day weekend and right before I had to get a year off in the middle right before I went back to college and I was so excited to go back. And I was like, oh,
19:43 I need a selfish. But yeah, I was like, one more way. You're just trying to screw up my life, you know, if you decide to kill yourself the day before school starts and so on then, because of her inability to have appropriate boundaries.
20:02 Our gods are not the most.
20:15 Emotionally available. I don't know. Yeah.
20:24 Is just like a disconnect between like, oh, this bad thing happened to you. How do you feel about it? I think my dad was like,
20:35 My dad was okay, but he had other issues are going to prevented him from being supportive during time or you have two different religious beliefs that you knew my dad. And so she kind of left us with no parents. No, thank you. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, that, that was like, my whole childhood was looking for like, who's in charge, who's in charge here? So yeah, I know he has a very similar story to Grandma and some way he was abandoned orphanage and he can't emotionally attached either.
21:27 Right. And so by his own mother and then his family went and got him and gave him back to the mother that and put them in the orphanage, which that can, it didn't go. Well. So, yeah, so it's it's hard just thinking about Mom and
21:47 So we should say that like she killed herself on her dad's death day, But like she was trying to kill herself one way and it was about to turn midnight and she wanted to die on the right. She wanted to die on that day when she found out that her choice was too slow. Yeah. He switched tactics. Yeah.
22:23 How about you messed up? It was a whole, it was just a hole in her and Grandma feels guilty. So
22:34 You know what we're talking about. Like we know she was there for Mom, but we should stay at Grandma's 11. Because I remember Grandma. When I was little
22:51 Not the most warm.
23:00 And then a few hours after I think is when she started opening up with her conversations, and she actually started talking about Grandpa too, before I never talk to her.
23:11 And so I think something about mom's death, really?
23:16 Got her cuz I don't think she's like the void of emotion. I think they're just locked down tight. Yeah, but she's very loving. Now. She loves to hear about our lives. She loves to stay include. Yes. Yes, like probably the most Savvy old old woman on Facebook and so she can talk into it. But so she's a very loving person. It was just locked up. It was very locked up and Mom got no access to that all. I'm very close to her. I feel very close to her. And I went out of my way to go visit her, you know, many, many, many times to hear her stories and write them down and get the pictures.
24:15 All that kind of stuff and I think she's happy how she's ending her life right now, you know, she's connected to her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.
24:27 We won't have her very much longer, but she lost so much of her life, you know, and I was just talking to a few weeks ago and thought Sherry was trying to explain to me that
24:47 How guilty Grandma feels about mom stopped and that for then she immediately goes into the history of the tribe. Like you have to understand like it's not her fault. And I don't think it's Grandma.
25:01 You know, but she says, you know, anytime I talk about mom. She says it hurts grandma, and she loves her a lot. But I think she realizes.
25:15 I think she realizes how she was hurt mom, but I don't think she fully realizes. It wasn't in her control. Right? She couldn't have been a different person. She was a terribly traumatized person.
25:31 She should be a little kind of yourself, and she did the best she can with the piano.
25:36 I don't I don't blame her for anyting. I never have even I never had no, no.
25:45 I don't know why though cuz even when I was little cuz they didn't get along even though they love each other so much. They loved each other so much. We didn't have any money, but she would drive up. She's a hundreds of miles from Utah to Oregon to go see her all the time. So that'd be something there and grandma would drive down to Utah to see us, you know, so it was there to one of the Catholic residential schools. But even if she would have stayed on her, as a patient with her family, it wasn't like Native American. Reservations are thriving communities either. It's in their own communities, they have poverty and addiction, depression, and mental illness.
26:45 Wonder, I don't think it would. I think it's a very specific experience for our grandma, but I don't know.
26:57 The trickle-down is different from other families either, but this is how I feel and the United States and Canada erase. These cultures. Right? Schools were in the US, they were a hundred years so you can effectively put an entire that's multiple generations for Generations. At least if people that you're basically creating poverty, your, your family Network. It was so before the reservations and before the school to Generations before grandma.
27:56 They had a giant Ranch instru in British Columbia. They had. Well, they came from that money coming from England to get a like.
28:08 They have wealth and it was gone in two generations. I actually think about how effective the destruction was.
28:17 And we're lucky. It's taking us to Generations.
28:21 To someone bounce back. But not all of us have made up. There's tons of substance abuse in her family illness. And, oh my God.
28:46 Yeah, I'm stuck on you.
28:51 Reality. Sure.
28:58 You were the one that realized it. First that we all have pdst. Yeah, it is true.
29:09 Will know, it was interesting in the last one within the last five or ten years. It came out that PTSD is genetic in your children, don't even have to go through any sort of trouble. They can have very balanced sustaining or have beer, have some sort of fear of something, right? Because it just gets built into your DNA, especially if you
29:41 Experienced trauma, young age, as you grow up. It changes the chemistry of your brain. So.
29:57 That's what the same part of it. But I mean, I think you'd become like kind of a champion for help for all of us, had to deal with it, the pgsd.
30:10 It's been very important to me and I think to you too. And also our brother Brett. I don't know. I would ask the other to our mother. Our mother had five children and the cycle with us. If we're aware of it and we have the knowledge of it that we can work on ourselves and take the responsibility to not pass it down anymore. Cuz just within a generation 3. It's in a lot of damage and I and I
30:51 100%. Don't want anybody to live.
30:55 Way to go through this. No. No, I don't have any children and I'm in love with every one of my nieces and nephews, and I would never want them to experience.
31:12 Any part of our childhood? Having kids has made me appreciate, actually how horrible our trauma was, because I look at them at the ages that they are when they're like, two, three, four, five, six, seven, you know, when a lot of our trauma happened, I there will there, so little, and in my memories were so he was taken away. He's, he's so emotional. He would be broken broken if he was taken away from me. I can't believe that. That was a
31:59 Country's policy.
32:06 Really disappointed in people when I think about it, too, because they plan something and it was incredibly effective and so damaging. So here they can carry out big, huge ideas, Ryan, big huge plans, but it rarely rarely benefits.
32:28 Anyone. And if it does,
32:34 I got well, okay, instead of
32:39 Positive things for people in the world.
32:53 It's very hard for people to understand. Well, what is your, why is your feeling of trauma? What happened to your family? Yeah, I think it's very interesting to say that like or not.
33:06 Directly affected by racism but did affect our family, a whole lot that. It was given to her grandma.
33:18 Yeah, I agree. When.
33:22 It's Amy Moore is actually all all of the sensitivities are being discussed around. What happened to Black Americans through slavery is actually what made me think about our family because I actually thought before that. I thought it was more our fault.
33:40 Like, I thought it was, I don't know why. I like, oh, our family has mental illness. That's our fault, you know, where that's our genes or family had poverty. Well, that's our fault. I don't know. I like doesn't make sense. But that's I felt more like guilty that that was our family's responsibility for thinking about the whole picture. And that's just recently that I realized I had, as I've gotten older and I've learned more, you know, I've had a lot more empathy for our parents and then their parents and then that made me kind of look into the emotional genealogy of our family. All of this of, like,
34:31 Holy shit, what else were we expecting you to stop the trauma and to help others understand it, to let you know that have some issues or alcoholism or we have cousins that were raised in. Foster care, these families that are split up and it's still happening today. You know, that our families are split up. We don't have that safety nut because our Generations are kind of scattered and and people are individually kind of doing their own struggles.
35:23 And then I think you mentioned, which I think is a good point that it's never really even helped us.
35:30 Game power or collectiveness at all because the tribes are so independent. So there's not one native culture. We have like 20 people in British Columbia and they're all dying, you know, and there are thousands of a while now and I think In Our Lifetime Mars is going to is going to go and try was going to go extinct in our generation.
36:05 Yeah, I think it's just time to
36:10 Not let it. Yeah, I think about that a lot. Yeah, I don't know.
36:19 I don't know what to think about that one. Yeah, I think about that a lot. And so I used to think it was going to be learning the language, but it's just the way I do.
36:45 It's very hard. Ryan is very hard and you did try a couple times. You tried. Just a few to hold on to our heritage.
37:03 So yeah.
37:08 So, what do you think?
37:11 The other children think about this.
37:14 Aligarh cousins or like our siblings?
37:21 No, I think I don't think they feel as connected but I get the sense of our family is you and me probably feel the most connected to our heritage.
37:35 And I almost wonder we have done that as a way of.
37:41 Finding our roots without parents.
37:48 Because we didn't really have that parental connection at the substation on Charlie connected to it.
38:05 Maybe Vanessa.
38:09 Maybe when I start a little bit.
38:12 But let me be a group with, like, bits and pieces. Right? Like Mom, had one had little things in our house that I can remember something up ahead that she always have the dried corn to paint it Pottery, but it wasn't native.
38:36 Shirley appropriating, Navajo, British Columbia.
38:47 She always made us aware that we were Native American. I actually think I have my connection to the environment like our sort of in a way that's kind of unique. I feel very connected to the Yeah. Yeah Yeahs. She thinks of it. Spiritually.
39:27 Stop in the more I talk to Grandma about her relationship to animals. So, interesting, when I talk to Grandma about that, she thinks of them as brothers and sisters and it's like solid in there. It's like a brother or sister. And that's as I think about like how to get out of some of the earth problems. We have thought about the Earth as a family member.
40:00 You might take better care of it. That's true. That's why I really like, who did they what was her name? I can't remember her name right now, but the interior secretary.
40:14 Is that it was a Native American woman. Ya think that humans were to take care of the earth that that's our job, like that, that we, we aren't here to take from it. They're not, we're not here to anything. Were caretakers of the earth. That was our whole job. And why did Creator whoever you believe your creator? To be a human's? Here was to take care of animals and take care of the earth. Why should be fired?
40:54 I think she probably came up with the same ideas. Cuz that one's kind of similar across the board. I love that. We have a woman Native American as our secretary of interior at the time. So at the time that this is happening, she opened on the heels of a Canadian. Finding she opened the American study now going across the US and for a longer. Of time, they're using ground radar to find the bodies of the children and they're sending them both homes their drives, right? And I think that's a big win.
41:33 For Native Americans to have, even a spot in politics to finally have a coming out in your own politics of the land taken from you or years ago. I like, I thought it was a big one. Yeah, she said to expect the findings that they found in Canada. She said text back double. Yeah. Yeah, that's true.
42:01 That's what this is crazy. I really just like, so, I posted something on Facebook about it cuz I wanted to share.
42:09 And then I actually have a friend, Marjorie who is Jewish, and part of their culture and they learn a lot about the hottest. They all have their the trip ticket to take to Israel and their birth, the birthright trip. And so I was talking to her about it and we were talking about how
42:27 These residential goals are similar to The Holocaust to concentration camps in tent. But I was like, it's so interesting, though, because my whole life, I've heard about the Holocaust, like I've always thought you're a new apartments in residential schools are like extremists Taken 2.
42:58 Wipe out a whole culture, right? When I said I just, I wonder why that doesn't she said well because Jewish people are white passing Point like all the time. I don't know where they are and how
43:37 Hadiya, so I didn't change how I was thinking about Columbus Day until recent years in. And then like, of course, I heard about indigenous people's day and I didn't even think about it. Like someone's doing that over there and then I realized and then I was like, oh my children and suddenly started. This we started this tradition on Columbus Day that we talked to Grandma and Aunt, Sherry and and get trained on our on our history that we learned last year about it. And then she also, she was telling us, she used to do, you know, they Tan Your Hide with the brain of the animal to make the deer, Hide Soft and mean.
44:35 That happened in her generation like snow. Like that's that's why I'll
44:43 From the internet, the knowledge that I've gotten from the internet. I think that some do it looks old old tradition alive. Yeah, to make it a point to lose their culture. Like it's very important that idea. I think so. There was a fire. There was a fire in the Kootenai lands. She's at the end versus Maita and
45:24 Kootenai, Sunny the name of the tribe, right? Like we still call ourselves. She calls herself the way back recently, you know, but yeah, we have word, we grew up in a lie.
45:47 I think we try with what we have. Yeah.
45:52 Are you driving?
45:55 So, the other thing I want to do going forward as the, the tribes have asked us.
46:01 To mourn the children who weren't returned to their families. And so
46:08 I want to go this fall or leave at the end of the summer. We need to find a pow. Wow, and they they said 2 to listen to the beating of the drums like the heart beats with children.
46:24 Are they have the red shoe walk down for them?
46:40 Is it good to you? Cuz you have babies.
46:44 Movie tickets. Go home. He knew it too. If he hears stories, some kids knew they weren't going to go home. Right? Like if they got sick, they're tired. I saw a man who, when they start to finding the children's bodies and he recorded his story on YouTube. His grandchildren acordes YouTube, and he was talking about how him and his sister were in different classes, because they were different ages and he couldn't find her one day. So he's asking the girls that like, where's, where's my sister? And they said, oh she's sick. And so he knew automatically at, like, I think he said he was five, he knew she was dead and buried.
47:31 Because that's just what happened at the school. If you weren't sick you whenever you can go to the hospital, get better. You can get medicine you died right now. So I remember thinking
47:44 First of all, is like a five-year-old to know what death is right and know that that's in store for you.
47:58 Breaks my heart. Yeah.
48:03 I know, I wish it was more of a platform for their to share their first and stories. I would like that for them.
48:12 I'm forwarding this to people can.
48:16 To know them. Yeah, I agree. I agree. I would love to hear it from that. I would really love that. They would have their own platform to
48:25 Cuz I wasn't there. I don't know everything. I didn't live it. I can feel my so much and no me so much. Right? And I would love for them to have the release that comes of sharing your story and the validation from others of
48:43 Hey, we agree that this happened to and we want to hear how this happened to you. And we totally validate your experience and we're sorry and we were sorry. Yeah, I Iverson was not like in charge of it, but I'm very very sorry that Grandma had a live zoo that anyone.
49:04 Indian boy don't know. Canadian government has apologized. The US government has not yet and the church has night.
49:19 What is the quote like justice delayed? Justice delayed is Justice denied? So what are tribal Chief said recently? And I was like a really good point.