Maskwacis first-generation residential school survivor shares her story

Renatta Cattleman’s parents were change-makers and community pillars of Montana First Nation

Renatta Cattleman. (Photo submitted)

By Chevi Rabbit


Renatta Cattleman is a first-generation residential school survivor, a member of Montana First Nation, and a proud mother.

A first-generation residential survivor is a child of parents who attended residential schools.

Cattleman is now sharing her story and perspective on the impacts of breaking intergenerational trauma — work that was done by her late parents who were leaders and community builders of Montana First Nation.

Cattleman’s parents were change-makers and broke intergenerational trauma for her family and made enormous strides for the community of Montana, leaving a positive legacy within the community, says Cattleman.

Cattleman currently works for Akamihk Kanataskiy Ventures (AKV) Ltd., a company that is 100 per cent owned by Montana First Nation and has grown over the last three years.

“I’m just glad that my dad made it home. If he didn’t make it home I would not be here,” said Cattleman, referring to residential schools.

Despite her parents’ negative and harsh experiences at Canada’s residential schools, they raised the Cattlemans in a healthy and supportive environment, she says.

Cattleman is the daughter of prominent Indigenous leader, late Chief Leo Cattleman of Montana First Nation (Maskwacis).

At the time, Chief Cattleman was Canada’s longest-serving chief with over 40 years’ tenure as a leader for his nation.

“My father was a farmer before he got into the council. He was elected the old-school way. He wasn’t elected where people go in and vote,” said Cattleman.

“Before they changed the electoral system there were traditional elders from each of the original families of Montana First Nation, they would approach and select prospective community leaders and that is what the elders did for my father,” said Cattleman.

“Back then, the traditional elders had the final word, it’s not like today when elders are often missed or forgotten, plus, many have gone through trauma and did not get the traditional upbringing many of us had,” she said.

“My late parents were also given to each other in the old school way, my mom was given to my dad,” said Cattleman.

She says that through arranged tribal marriages, her mother Velma, who was the daughter of late Indigenous leader and farmer Joe Rabbit, was given to her father.

She states that similarly, her grandmother Maria Rabbit (Cabry) and grandfather Joe Rabbit had formal tribal arranged marriages. Her grandmother came from a large political family from Samson Cree Nation. Many of that community’s current leaders are connected to her family through her grandmother.

“I was raised in a positive environment. We never had alcohol or drugs growing up around us. My parents were respected pillars of the community,” said Cattleman.

“My mother was a very caring woman,” said Cattleman.

“She also broke intergenerational trauma. She took care of her nieces and nephews. They were integrated into our family because they were having social problems with alcohol,” said Cattleman.

Her mother had strong relationships with the Town of Ponoka and local businesses, she says.

Cattleman talks about how her late mother continued to volunteer at cultural and community events despite her complications with diabetes.

“After my late mother became diabetic, she did speeches at Maskwacis College and did workshops to educate the community on what was seen at the time as a new illness in the community,” said Cattleman.

“My dad advocated for higher education in the community and learning the white man’s way because that’s the world we live in now, but also kept our culture and traditional ways when we came home,” said Cattleman.

She says despite her late father’s experiences at residential school, he became a great leader and a pillar in the community. During her dad’s life, he advocated for youth development.

Cattleman says he is the first leader who brought in most of the sports such as rodeo and baseball. These may seem normal nowadays but back then they were new ideas and new ways of living.

Cattleman says her dad encouraged all the youth of Montana to find a balance that worked for them between culture and new ideas.

“When my dad got into council in Montana, it was mixed with the Samson Cree Nation band office. Back then there was not much in Montana; there was no band office, no diamond five (multi-complex building), or any infrastructure,” said Cattleman.

She says that her dad advocated for funds with the council and administration of that era to get the Montana First Nation administration office built and much of the existing infrastructure.

“My dad developed great relationships with the town of Ponoka and other communities. He had successful programs in rodeos, such as bareback, team roping, and barrel racing programs.”

Cattleman says that her late father pushed her and her siblings in the rodeo community and the family would travel across prairies to attend rodeos.

“I was 14 when I made it to the (INFR) Indian National Final Rodeo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I also made it to the World Indian Finals in New Mexico,” said Cattleman.

As a first-generation survivor of residential schools, Cattleman says everybody matters, no matter the colour of their skin or religious background.

“We are people too. We weren’t people according to Canada’s Indian Act until the 1960s but we are strong and resilient people,” said Cattleman.

“My hope for the future is to continue with my father’s legacy of focusing on youth development and building those healthy relationships with our non-Indigenous neighbours,” said Cattleman.

She also states that although she did not attend a residential school she did attend Indian Day School.

According to McGills University, “During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the government transferred control of many Indian Day Schools to Indigenous communities. However, the abuse and assimilation perpetuated by Indian Day Schools have greatly contributed to intergenerational trauma and cultural and linguistic erasure.”

Truth and Reconciliation

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