2010 Review: Fatty Legs, a true story

Young girl lets nothing stop her from reading

By Lillian Blackstar
Windspeaker Contributor

Fatty Legs a true story - book cover

Fatty Legs, a true story written by Margaret Pokiak Fenton and Christy Jordan Fenton, has been chosen as the First Nation Communities Read program 2011/12 selected title.

It’s a story of courage and great endurance.

The story was selected by a six-member jury of librarians from First Nation public libraries in Ontario, with support from the Southern Ontario Library Association. It was selected from 29 titles submitted by 13 publishers from across Canada and timed to fit with Ontario Public Library Week (Oct. 16 to Oct. 22).

First Nation Communities Read encourages family literacy and intergenerational storytelling, and promotes the publication, sharing, and understanding of Aboriginal voices and experiences.

Fatty Legs provides readers with a glimpse into the residential school experiences of a young Inuvialuit girl named Olemaun, later known as Margaret Pokiak.
Margaret, now 75, grew up in the northern community of Banks Island in the Northwest Territories. Her family consisted of 16 kids and her parents and subsisted on hunting and trapping.

One day at the age of seven, as her older sister was reading to her, Margaret began to want to go to school. With much pressure put upon her parents from little Margaret, she was allowed to go to the Immaculata Catholic School in Aklavik where she attended from age eight to 12 years of age.

After a few days there, however, she says she wished she had never gone and wanted to return home. She was immediately targeted by a nun who would bully her, and who gave her red stockings to wear to embarrass her in front of everyone. She was the only girl at the school forced to wear them.

From the time of the customary cutting off of the hair, to the other humiliations of institutionalization, Margaret decided to fight back. In the face of bullying and oppression, she learned to knit and sew, an occupation she still does today.

Margaret decided to allow her story to be written when her daughter-in-law convinced her that her story would take others on an empowering journey.

“At first I did not like the idea. I was worried that my grandchildren would know I was naughty at one time,” said Margaret.

She said she was also reluctant for her son to know about her having to wear red stockings. Now Margaret is happy that by sharing her story she is helping others.
Margaret married in 1962 and with her husband had six children. Her co-writer, and wife to her son Garth, is Christy Jordan-Fenton. Christy wanted Margaret to write her touching story, so she helped her to write it.

Today, Christy and Margaret live on little farms beside each other in Fort St. John, B.C. They share their stories, and Margaret still does her baking and does traditional crafts to sell at the local market garden.

Public libraries in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, British Columbia, and the Yukon will receive the 2011/12 First Nation Communities Read poster promoting Fatty Legs; A True Story, and 19 other titles recommended for adults and young adults.

Fatty Legs, written in 2010 and illustrated by Liz Amini Holmes, is published by Annick Press and was shared at the Truth and Reconciliation National Event in Halifax.
There is also a sequel that is called A Stranger at Home, and a music video by Keith Secola coming out. Secola was just inducted into the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame.