This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
THE PEOPLE OF STURGEON LAKE Accompanied by Jean Lafrance Ph.D
The Sturgeon Lake Journey Toward Empowerment
The People of Sturgeon Lake
Accompanied by Jean Lafrance
This book is dedicated to the people of Sturgeon Lake without whom it would not have been possible. They have launched me upon my own spiritual journey – one that I hope will continue to share into the future.
A special thanks to my wonderful wife, Marie-Anna, who has shared my journey for so many years. I am truly fortunate to have you as my source of support, love and companionship. You are my rock!
I am grateful to the people of Sturgeon Lake who so generously shared their feelings and experiences about a difficult time of their lives that still lives in their hearts and in their memories. It is difficult to single out individuals who have made such a contribution to this work. It is clear to me to me that none of this would have been possible without David Nabew, who has been a constant source of strength for the community, and without whose vision none of this would have been possible. David has become more than a colleague. He is a true friend and my brother. To the other members of the Journey Toward Empowerment team, Alvina Nabew, Leroy Hamelin and Hilda Goodswimmer – kudos for dedication and persistence in your mission! I must also acknowledge Margaret and Mary Kappo who first introduced me to Sturgeon Lake over 10 years ago. I will always be grateful for your kindness and continuing friendship. I consider Mary to be my second mother and she is precious to me. Colleen Mustus came at a crucial time to replace Margaret as Project Director, and held the fort until David came on board. The have been so many others who have contributed to this journey toward empowerment, which has now become my journey, that I dare not try to mention all your names. You know who you are. I was told when I first came to Sturgeon Lake that this was a community that welcomed strangers. I have cried about some of your stories, marveled at your courage in the face of adversity, laughed with you and enjoyed your music and dances. Always I felt accepted and appreciated by your strong and resilient community. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey. I have never felt like a stranger and am a better person for having shared your warmth and your friendship.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
……………………………………………………………………………... ………………………………………………………………………… ………………………………………………………… ……………………….
i 1 5 17 61 63 67 77 97 99 107 113 125 133 145 149 161 171 179 189 193 213 219
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS SURVIVORS
THE STURGEON LAKE COMMUNITY AND THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM RECOLLECTIONS SHARING CIRCLES LOVE SOUP
A NEW VISION TAKES SHAPE FIRST NATIONS’ I.R.S. FLO’S STORY
……………………………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………… ……………………...…. ………………………..
ANOTHER SHARING CIRCLE
THE IMPACT OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS ON FAMILIES THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL COURSE – A JOINT EFFORT WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE? VISIONING THE FUTURE YOUTH PERSPECTIVES STORIES OF HOPE
TOWARDS HEALING AND RECONCILIATION IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE REFERENCES FOOTNOTES
David Nabew Director – Sturgeon Lake Journey toward Empowerment “There’s a lot going on here” And as they were walking, there was nothing in this field but two trees, a big tree and a little tree. All of a sudden the old lady stopped and said “There’s a lot happening here.” The boy looked around and said “What do you mean?” The old lady said, “There’s a lot happening here.” With that, the old lady turned around and started walking away and as she was walking away, she told the boy, “You stay here and don’t come home until you can tell me what is happening here.” With that, she left the little boy standing in the field. The boy looked around, he couldn’t see what his grandmother had seen or what was happening, and every time he would look, the only thing that he would see was the big tree and the little tree. Finally, it was getting dark, well starting to get dark and just before it was full dark he came walking into the house and said to his grandmother, he said “You know grandma,” he said, “you’re right, there’s a lot happening there.”
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
He said “When I first looked, I couldn’t see what was happening. I would look around and the only thing I could see was the trees and I started to look at the trees and then I started to see what was happening. You see,” he said, “what I saw was that the big tree was protecting the little tree when the big winds came, the big tree would protect the little tree with its huge branches so that the tree doesn’t get blown down. And when the rains and the snows come, the big tree would hang onto the little trees roots so that the little tree doesn’t get swept away. But that’s not all I saw, grandma,” he said, “as the young tree gets older, the big tree also becomes older and as the young tree started to branch out its nice strong branches will take care of the older tree when the big winds come, the little tree’s strong branches will hold onto the old tree’s so that it doesn’t get blown over when the rains and the snows come. His young strong branches would protect the older tree.” But he said, “That’s not all I saw grandmother.” He said, “When it was time for the old tree to come to its final rest on the ground, the big strong branches of the young tree bent down into the ground. He said, “But that’s not all I saw grandmother. As the old tree lay on the ground, new life began to sprout from the old tree. Little trees started sprouting from where she lay so she could fertilize the young trees so that they would grow.” And, he said, “You were right grandmother, there’s a lot happening there.”
The Sturgeon Lake Journey Team Leroy Hamelin – Hilda Goodswimmer – Alvina Nabew – David Nabew
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
INTRODUCTION This book is the culmination of a long-range plan to publish the experiences of the survivors of residential schools and child welfare systems and their descendants. In addition a film entitled the Sturgeon Lake Journey Toward Empowerment has been produced whose ultimate purpose is to serve as a rallying point for the community by mirroring their reality for themselves and as a vehicle for the achievement of a greater spirit of reconciliation between Aboriginal people and mainstream society. The Sturgeon Lake Journey toward Empowerment continues, and while we have many plans, it is ultimately difficult to anticipate all of the potential outcomes that can evolve. Like all journeys, it is subject to detours, potential roadblocks, and the creation of new avenues and roadways; the blazing of new trails by courageous adventurers who do not fear facing the unknown. The Sturgeon Lake Journey was intended to create a clearer and more community based vision of the kind of healthy community desired by the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. The core of this vision was rooted in the stories of the people in this community related to their contact with oppressive systems such as the Residential Schools and Child Welfare historically and currently. Therefore, one of the necessary activities was to hear and to collect these stories. We were convinced that by following this oral tradition, consistent with the culture, community members who, in the depths of their soul, did not feel secure as a result of negative experiences with oppressive structures could begin to heal. By recounting their stories, they could reflect upon our earlier experiences from the perspective of adults who now have a greater awareness and greater power, and therefore deal with these realities in a more purposeful way. This book is the culmination of a community process that has been underway for the past several years. The following highlights some important dimensions of this experience:
• • • • • Participants have found a safe place where they feel they belong and where they feel free to tell their stories. Participants have come to realize that they all have important gifts to share. Participants have become increasingly empowered to assume responsibility for their own lives. Participants have come to realize that they can improve their lives and those of their families by making better choices. Participants have combined vision with action in a desire to move ahead in the improvement of life in their community.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The people have begun to break the silence regarding the impact of residential school experiences on the Sturgeon Lake community. They have begun to address the inter-generational effects that are believed to have interfered with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual life of community members. A spirit of reconciliation between community members is beginning to replace forms of lateral violence that result from the legacy of physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse left by the residential school experience. We believe that the community has an innate wisdom that can be tapped. In an atmosphere of trust, each member can be helped to feel valued for the special gifts that they have been given. A core group of community counselors have been able to share their experience of healing with others who have had similar experiences. By building upon these unique gifts, the community has begun to tap the deep wellsprings of its own resources and strengths. We hope that this will help the community to not only create new knowledge, but to build on ‘old’ knowledge in creating a new understanding. Thus, we could begin to develop a collective community consciousness of what needed to happen if the total community was to heal. We encouraged the full acceptance of each member for who they are and tried to promote a feeling of belonging and safety for all of the participants. Each individual was viewed as an integral part of a holistic dynamic that collectively represented a community wide support network. This Project was aimed at all of the members of the Sturgeon Lake Community, most of who have been affected in one way or another by the Residential School experience. As the living bridge between heaven and earth, our participants have had an opportunity to reflect upon the seven generations past and to prepare a better life for the seven generations to come. Over time, this initiative has been reaching out to other groups who share a similar journey and this is also described as one effort connects with another in often unanticipated ways. I have had the privilege of accompanying the Sturgeon Lake community on its Journey toward Empowerment since 1997 when as the Children’s Advocate for Alberta I sought to provide new opportunities for community members to support their children and be directly involved in child welfare policy development and implementation. I was especially interested in finding new ways to collaborate with First Nation’s communities that were reluctant to engage with a provincial office associated with a system that had had such devastating consequences for their families. This journey has taken some unanticipated directions as the community pursued a path without a
roadmap, one that required keeping an eye on where we had been, while ensuring that we be alert to sudden turns or unexpected precipices as we felt our way toward a new vision for the community. This book chronicles some of the key events that have occurred to date and their outcomes, and as well as some of our planned activities for the future. My role with the community has mostly been of a supportive and consultative nature, and community leaders have been very clear about our relationship. As Martha Cooper said in the beginning, “Jean, you are a part of our community and you are welcome to drive the bus once in a while, but let’s be clear that we will be the ones to tell you when you can drive the bus, where you must turn, and where you can get off.” I cannot think of a more apt metaphor to describe a balanced relationship between an academic and a truly empowered community. Margaret Kappo was the first project coordinator for the newly forming “Journey toward Empowerment.” The following excerpts illustrate our first tentative steps and the foundation for future work. Margaret chaired the meetings in a way that called forth the best of each person’s contribution. She began each meeting with a prayer and kept the group focused on “Telling Our Stories.” It was agreed that participants could talk about whatever they wished. All agreed to tape-recording the stories and I would return the typed transcripts of the stories for validation at the following gathering. The community was remarkable in truly welcoming strangers. These included foster parents, child welfare practitioners, policy makers, political leaders, elders and youth. All were made to feel part of the sharing circles. Margaret summed up one sharing circle by describing how people spoke about how child welfare was operating today, as the people wanted to help some of the children, especially those who had been away in care and those who had never lived in Sturgeon Lake, so they could be given some of the information that the circles were gathering. We had touched on historical recollections about such matters as the location of early mission buildings and how the community looked after its children before the child welfare [system] came in and the residential schools were created. She read a bit of where we left off at the last gathering. I wanted to tell you that one of the foster parents that came last time was very impacted by the whole thing because he really learned what happened and about the people’s experiences in such a deep way. So people were talking about some of the not so good stuff. That happens you know. But it actually wasn’t all bad stuff either, we were able to say factual stuff and stuff that
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
was not good and some that was okay. I ended it by asking everyone in the group to give me one positive thing to describe the experience. She quotes me as saying: “I’m left with many impressions . . . sadness, shame. The thing that strikes me the most of this is courage. The courage of people who lived life on life’s terms through so much and I guess it makes me think about some of the ancient Indian legends I’ve heard about, about the prophecies of Indian people having to undergo a lot of pain, and a lot of humiliation, and difficult times but that in the end somehow they would be the ones who turned around and became the leaders in society as people who had learned so much from that experience. That’s what I see is happening. You were talking about the whole human experience. It seems to me that this is the basis of what you have been doing in the last year. The courage you show in even talking about all the experiences and your willingness to share them, I feel privileged to be here. I consider this a gift that you have given me. I like hearing the stories, and although in a way I feel a sense of guilt and shame, when I see what you are doing I just marvel. You are not the ones who should feel guilty, you should feel pride in the fact that you survived all these things and you’re here to talk about it. I hear you say ‘I want to move on and I want to do something to help my people move on’. I think this is really a marvelous thing.” This journey began with an examination of the child welfare system from the perspective of the people of Sturgeon Lake and, for reasons that I did not understand at the time, shifted to conversations about the residential schools. It became clear the child welfare system is repeating the experiences of the residential schools, by condemning many Aboriginal children to care away from their communities, and ultimately contributing to the loss of their identity as members of a proud race, the loss of their language, their culture and traditions, and ultimately the knowledge of who they are. The lessons that this community has shared with us will be of little use if they fail to inform what we do today. Our ‘Journey’ has broadened and now connects with initiatives in other parts of the province, with other prairie provinces, with national Canadian scene as well as our American neighbors and other Indigenous people around the world. It is a journey that is faithful to its original purpose, that of healing from our wounds and finding healthier ways of relating to each other. It leads to more empowered communities. Jean Lafrance
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Upon our return from a workshop in preparation for our Leadership Forum, David Nabew expressed some puzzlement about the reconciliation issue, indicating that as an Aboriginal person, he did not feel that he had done anything that required reconciliation. This prompted me to give more thought to our theme of reconciliation and to reflect upon the meaning of this term. If we are to undertake a journey of such significance, it seemed important to have common understanding of the term “reconciliation” and to achieve some clarity about its meanings. History tells us that many wrongs have been inflicted upon Indigenous people in many parts of the world. The Latin “conciliate” means “to bring together”. Therefore to re-conciliate would imply bringing people together again. While there is considerable evidence that the European arrivals did form alliances with Aboriginal people for the purposes of trade and war that were at times advantageous to both parties, when these alliances were no longer considered to be useful and the thirst for land overcame other considerations, mechanisms of domination and colonization were implemented in the form of residential schools. By the 1960s these were replaced by provincial child welfare systems that understood little about the near decimation of Aboriginal communities by nearly one hundred years of residential schools that had set the stage for another disastrous effort to “protect” their children. Duncan Campbell Scott, poet, essayist and Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, encapsulates the prevailing attitude of his day in 1920, during a House of Commons discussion on proposed changes to the Indian Act (Milloy, 1999, p. 4). Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department. That is the whole object of this bill” Frank Oliver, Minister of Indian Affairs declared in 1908 that it was in educating the young lay the most potent power to effect cultural and to “elevate the Indian from his condition of savagery” and “make him a self-supporting member of the State, and eventually a citizen in good standing. According to Scott and government policy, it was imperative to “kill the Indian in the child to save the man”, and the young were seen as malleable while the adults were a hindrance to the civilizing process. One of the few dissenting voices of the era was that of Frank Oliver, Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, who demurred in 1908, after the foundations of the residential school system had been laid in place that;
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
I hope you will excuse me for so speaking but some of the most important commandments laid upon the human by the divine is love and respect by children for parents. It seems strange that in the name of religion, a system of education should have been instituted, the foundation principle of which, not only ignored but contradicted this command (Milloy, 1999, p. 28). Nevertheless the residential school system was implemented, and it failed to meet the prevailing standards of the day in almost every respect, at times falling short of meeting the most basic humanitarian expectations including those of the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The creation of a “total institution” to destroy a people was a deliberate and planned effort by its architects and it was delivered seemingly with little regard for a people that was nearly destroyed in the process and who are now trying to rebuild their societies and their very lives. This era was characterized by inadequate funding on the part of Canada, a lack of accountability for the quality of services being purchased, and a tendency to turn over responsibility for the delivery of services to other entities such as the churches, the provincial government and currently Indian Bands while disclaiming any responsibility for the critical link between fiscal needs and program standards. The Federal Government has held the purse strings for Aboriginal people, and has consistently arranged for other entities to provide needed services, but funding limitations have continued to constrain service providers in ways that have been damaging to Aboriginal communities. This cycle began when the residential schools were established and the government soon realized that it was pursuing the wrong path by re-creating a model that had been recognized by child care professionals in the early 1900s as damaging to children. This did not deter Canada from expanding this model of child care in spite of the evidence that the children were not well served and were ill-prepared for life in contemporary society and in their communities of origin. By the 1940s it was clear that the residential schools were not meeting their stated objective, and Canada was pressing provincial authorities to assume responsibility and provide alternate care for aboriginal children in need of protection using the argument that Aboriginal children and their families were entitled to the same level of services as other residents of the province, but it failed to ensure that needed community and familial supports were available to keep families together and that the Provinces had the capacity to serve children. This led the so called 60s scoop and the admission of thousands of children to white institutions and foster homes. The pattern continues today with delegated authority to first nation’s communities for child welfare service, since that authority is accompanied by funds targeted
primarily for the removal and alternate care of Aboriginal children, while failing to provide for prevention and early intervention programs that would help to keep families together. The ultimate outcome for Aboriginal children and families has been ever increasing numbers of children lost to their communities. In light of these undeniable historical events, the importance of moving toward reconciliation is undeniable. A fundamental policy and attitudinal shift is necessary. The policy was very clear in the late 1800s, and has changed substantially, with provincial authorities acknowledging Aboriginal aspirations in legislation. But these jurisdictions must contend with firmly entrenched attitudes that belie policy intents that are rooted in racist and gender based assumptions and beliefs about Aboriginal people. It is important to recall when these efforts began child rearing by several persons was a traditional custom honored and practiced by all North American Indian tribes. During periods of hunting and gathering, most nomadic tribes naturally assumed this standard of protecting children. Children were continually under the watchful eyes of tribal elders, siblings, cousins, aunts, or grandparents. As a result of this nurturing and security the Aboriginal child's self-concept was strongly tied to his family, clan, and tribe. Further, the extended family provided support for families because the responsibility for raising children was shared by members of the community, and thus no single person was overloaded with the care of the children. Traditionally, Aboriginal communities "were structured around the unique interrelationships that exist among family, extended family, clan, band, and tribe.”(Lucas, 1989). In addressing this unique family pattern Lewis (1970, p. 16) wrote that "The kinship structure, embodying a network of valued relationships, is one of the important keystones of the culture." The actual structure of the society included large extended families and the child, "highly valued, and occupies a central place within it”. The traditional Aboriginal family "included maternal and paternal grandfathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins who all actively participated in child-rearing” (Cross, 1986, p. 284). The term parenting is problematic for Aboriginal cultures. For Euro-Canadians a parent is generally a father or a mother, and the parenting role includes child-rearing; in Aboriginal cultures several members of the extended family and the community are involved in childrearing, in spheres of activity that, in Euro-Canadian society are parental. The broader term child rearing is thus a better term to describe the things that in Euro-Canadian culture come under the rubric of parenting, and the latter term may infer the more inclusive child-rearing patterns. Thus,
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
the removal of Aboriginal children from parents to be raised in residential schools and later in child welfare systems deprived those children of a cultural legacy. The experience missed is the tightly knit community of extended family and relatives who share the task of child rearing by providing nurturing and security. This assault on Aboriginal culture, tradition, language and spirituality resulted in following outcomes for Aboriginal people: Low self-esteem; dysfunctional families and interpersonal relationships; parenting issues such as emotional coldness and rigidity; widespread depression; widespread rage and anger; chronic physical illness related to spiritual and emotional states; unresolved grief and loss; fear of personal growth, transformation and healing; unconscious internalization of residential school behaviors such as false politeness, not speaking out, passive compliance; patterns of paternalistic authority linked to passive dependency; patterns of misuse of power to control others, and community social patterns that foster whispering in the dark, but refusing to support and stand with those who speak out or challenge the status quo; the breakdown of the social glue that holds families and communities together, such as trust, common ground, shared purpose and direction, a vibrant ceremonial and civic life, co-operative networks and associations working for the common good, etc.; disunity and conflict between individuals, families and factions within the community; spiritual confusion; involving alienation from one's own spiritual life and growth process, as well as conflicts and confusion over religion; internalized sense of inferiority or aversion in relation to whites and especially whites in power; toxic communication - backbiting, gossip, criticism, put downs, personal attacks, sarcasm, secrets, etc.; becoming oppressors and abusers of others as a result of what was done to one in residential schools; cultural identity issues - the loss of language and cultural foundations has led to denial (by some) of the validity of one's own cultural identity (assimilation), a resulting cultural confusion and dislocation; destruction of social support networks (the cultural safety net) that individuals and families in trouble could rely upon; disconnection from the natural world (i.e. the sea, the forest, the earth, living things) as an important dimension of daily life and hence spiritual dislocation; acceptance of powerlessness within community life (Aboriginal Healing Foundation,1999). The abuse and neglect suffered in residential schools not only affected their lives as adults, but those of their descendants whose families have been characterized by further abuse and neglect. According to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation:
Intergenerational or multi-generational trauma happens when the effects of trauma are not resolved in one generation. When trauma is ignored and there is no support for dealing with it, the trauma will be passed from one generation to the next. What we learn to see as "normal" when we are children, we pass on to our own children. Children who learn that ... or [sic] sexual abuse is "normal", and who have never dealt with the feelings that come from this, may inflict physical and sexual abuse on their own children. The unhealthy ways of behaving that people use to protect themselves can be passed on to children, without them even knowing they are doing so. This is the legacy of physical and sexual abuse in residential schools (Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004)
Despite the publicity generated over the past 15 years, there is still little understanding of what happened in the residential schools, and how unresolved trauma from residential school abuse will continue to affect Aboriginal people until it can be expressed, validated and released in healthy, creative ways. Such an understanding may lead to a greater awareness of the reasons why the numbers of Aboriginal children entering government care continue to increase exceed the numbers admitted to residential schools or to the child welfare system in the 1960s and 1970s. I would suggest that if we are to break this ongoing cycle, we must all reflect upon our contribution to the experience of oppression and colonization of indigenous people. Only then do we have a basis for the beginning of a new discourse. Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist Frantz Fanon (Cited in Henderson, 2000), has defined colonized people as:
. . . Every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death . . . of its local cultural originality…which finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation that is with the culture of the mother country. The colonized person is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards. He becomes white as he renounces his blackness, his jungle. The tensions between cultures and languages, inferiority complex, the assimilative choice are all elements of the brutal, subtle brutality of colonization. This tension was partially addressed in a Joint-Church Delegation of the Indian and Eskimo Residential School Commission report presented to the Minister of Mines and Resources in 1939,
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
which described some prevailing beliefs and assumptions and that vividly that illustrate the deliberate nature of the policy process in candid terms that do not rely on “political correctness” to camouflage the true intent (RG 10, volume 6730, file 169-62, pt. 2). The following described the prevailing assumption about the perspective of Aboriginal people on the superiority of European culture vis-à-vis the forces of nature: . . . So far as the Indian himself is concerned, he has already seen with his own eyes that many of the white man’s ways are superior to his own. He has seen, for instance, that the white man’s methods and education have given him control over many of the forces of nature and over many of these circumstances of life (p.1).
The delegation then describes two fundamental assumptions about Aboriginal people that had far reaching implications for the shaping of policy about Aboriginal education; . . . Further as to the question of providing the best system of education for the Indigenous people of this country is one which had to be faced in other parts of the world where superior races (italics by author) invaded and possessed the territories occupied by similar peoples. Careful consideration is demanded in connection with two other important factors which have a direct bearing on the subject. The first is as to whether the Indians existing need is to be taken as the foundation upon which our education is to be built and by which it would, in effect, be limited. Two, are we to assume that the white man’s education is the most perfect yet devised by the ingenuity of man and impose that education upon them without necessarily considering whether, in fact, it is the best, the form best suited to their capacity or their needs. Both methods have been employed in dealing with various primitive peoples in other parts of the world and as might be expected, with various results (p.2).
The policy decision focused on a choice between building on the strengths of Aboriginal people and “grafting onto the deeply rooted stock of what already exists.” It was acknowledged that “the Indians successfully occupied this continent for 12,000 or possibly, 20,000 years.” They “. . . have displayed unsurpassed human qualities of loyalty to unseen powers and adaptability to the practical; have a living past capable of energizing their present and “any system of education which destroys all their faith in their own institutions and traditions will create in them, a sense of permanent inferiority and an unfortunate belief that everything which is peculiarly your own is not only worthless but an obstacle to progress” (p. 2). Others contended that the only hope for progress among Indigenous people lay in “the complete application to their condition of the white man’s experience, knowledge and skill.” It was only thus that they could benefit from “the education needed to advance them to higher levels of
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 11
civilization and to enable them to use to their own advantage, the natural resources which surround them.” The policy positions were clearly identified in spite of a clear understanding of the traditional qualities of Aboriginal people that the church societies considered worth preserving. These are cited verbatim in the language of the day:
1. The quality of loyalty to family and friends which is capable of expansion into loyalty to a wider circle. 2. The deep love of children from which can be developed the strong desire to help the children of the race to be well-born. 3. The generosity and hospitality which are outstanding characteristics of the Indian races which may be developed as some of the finer elements of social living. 4. The traditional quality of courage and admiration of brave leadership and which can be used to spur the young Indian on in the face of discouragement and the hard grind of monotonous routine. 5. The engrafted dignity and serenity of the leaders of the race and which should be preserved as a help in restoring to the hectic world in which we live, the poise and calm of which we have been robbed by our numerous mechanical inventions (p.3).
Regrettably such insights did little to change prevailing assumptions and beliefs that held the Aboriginal people to be in need of civilizing and Christianizing. One cannot help but wonder how differently the lives of Canadian people might have evolved if such beliefs had prevailed in the education and care of Aboriginal children. Instead, Caldwell’s 1967 Residential School Study at the request of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that was completed under the auspices of the Canada Welfare Council sums up the final impressions of the residential schools in Canada. The residential school system is geared to the academic training of the child and fails to meet the total needs of the child because it fails to individualize. Rather it treats him en mass in every significant activity of his life. His sleeping, eating, recreation, academic training, spiritual training and discipline are all handled in such a regimented way as to force compliance to the institutional pattern. The absence of emphasis on the development of the individual child is the most disturbing result of the whole system. The schools are providing a custodial care service rather than a child development service. The physical environment of the daily living aspects of the residential school is overcrowded, poorly designed, highly regimented and forces a mass approach to children.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The residential school reflects a pattern of child care that was dominant in the early decades of the 20th century, a concept of combined shelter and education at the least public expense (p. 21). In spite of predictions of their early demise, Aboriginal people have been able to sustain themselves as a people in face of ongoing assaults on their way of life for the past 500 years. While there have been formal policy changes to counter these experiences in the recent past, historian Lise Noel (2000) reminds us that systemic colonization is grounded in intolerance. This intolerance comes from unconscious assumptions that underlie “normal institutional rules and collective reactions”. It is a consequence of following these rules and accepting these reactions in everyday life. In systemic colonization, Noel suggests no single source of oppression or demeaning can be assigned causal or moral primacy. These are imbedded in the consciousness of all and engrained in our day to day lives to such an extent that if the oppressed cannot point to any single form of oppression, then the oppressor and his consciousness become invisible. Young poses the following conundrum in dealing with this issue, stating that; The oppressor has no apparent existence. Not only does he not identify himself as such, but he is not even supposed to have his own reality. His presence is so immediate and dense and his universe coincides so fully with the Universe that he becomes invisible. Rarely seen, rarely named, he is unique nonetheless and having a full existence as the keeper of the word. He is the supreme programmer who confers various degrees of existence on those who are different from himself…as the embodiment of the universal, the dominator is also the only Subject, the Individual, who never being considered to belong to a particular group can study those impersonal categories of the population who pose a “problem”, represent a “question”, constitute a “case” or simply have a condition (Cited in Henderson, p. 30).
Reconciliation is clearly no simple matter, no matter how sincere the intention. It is further complicated by the reality that most Aboriginal professionals have been educated and socialized in mainstream systems for practice in child welfare systems. While many have a growing understanding of their heritage, they cannot help but be influenced by the education and socialization to which they have been exposed for most of their lives. Paolo Freire (1968) cautioned that people who have been oppressed can assume the behaviors of their oppressors when they take on similar roles. This is not intended to offend our Aboriginal colleagues who work so hard to overcome great challenges to their practice, but rather to acknowledge that we are all entering what the early explorers described on ancient maps as terra incognita, an unknown
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 13
land. This was often followed by the warning that “here be dragons!” I am suggesting that these are indeed uncharted lands that call for uncommon wisdom and guidance if we are not to lose our way. It is also a reminder that while Canada was an unknown land for the early explorers, this was not true for the original people who served as their guides and helped them to survive during their initial forays into their land. Little Bear (2000) proposes that that colonization has created a fragmentary worldview among Aboriginal people by force, terror and educational policy. It attempted to destroy the Aboriginal worldview – but failed. Instead it left a heritage of jagged worldviews among indigenous peoples. He claims that they no longer had an Aboriginal worldview, nor did they adopt a Eurocentric worldview. Their consciousness became a random puzzle that each person must attempt to understand. Many collective views competed and since none were dominant modern Aboriginal people have had to make difficult choices as their consciousness became a site of overlapping, contentious, fragmented and competing desires and values. Such jagged worldviews minimize legitimate cultural and social control, and external force and the law become instruments of social control. One of these instruments has been the child welfare system, which is clearly an agent of social control with the force of law that has been imposed on Aboriginal communities. How can we reconcile such diametrically opposed forces amidst so much confusion? In part the answer lies in accepting the wisdom of Aboriginal colleagues and elders to guide us in this journey through unknown lands and to join forces in the slaying of the “dragons” that lie in wait. Early indications in the “Making Our Hearts Sing” initiative are that questions about the impacts of residential schools and community perceptions about possible solutions rarely coincide with the usual child welfare responses. The discourse about new directions and policy recommendations will likely conflict with the application of prevalent approaches to the delivery of child welfare services, with their top down, segmented and increasingly rigid approaches that rely on standardized approaches that differ from the holistic and flexible models favored by families and communities. If one revisits the outcomes of residential schools on Aboriginal people outlined earlier, there is a discernible gap between current responses and our knowledge about the effects of intergenerational trauma. While the ignorance of provincial authorities in the 1960s and1970s could be understood, if not forgiven, the newly discovered knowledge of the past decade leaves
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
no room for excuses in our failure to address the issues that contribute the ongoing decimation of Aboriginal families and communities. I suggest that it is in the growing interest in spirituality and Aboriginal thinking that lays the promise for the future. Hart (1996) compares Western and Aboriginal approaches: Western models of healing separate and detach individuals from their social, physical and spiritual environments, isolating “patients” for treatment purposes and then re-introducing them into the world. Traditional healers are concerned with balancing emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, aspects of people, the environment, and the spirit world. (p. 63) While social work has begun to incorporate spirituality as part of its knowledge base and practice foundation, Zapf (2003) warns of the danger of limiting our understanding of spirituality to a component of the person, pointing out that Aboriginal social work and traditional healing are founded on a spiritual sense of interconnectedness. He asks us to consider whether spirituality might not be a key to expanding our understanding of the person/environment relationship and the profound connections between ourselves and the world around us. Little Bear (2000) adds to the complexity of the issue by suggesting that “. . . all colonial people, both the colonizer and the colonized, have shared or collective views of the world embedded in their languages, stories and narratives.” Further “no one has a pure world view that is one hundred percent Indigenous or Eurocentric; rather everyone has an integrated mind, a fluxing and ambidextrous consciousness, a pre-colonized consciousness that flows into a colonized consciousness and back again” (p. 85). An ancient Amazonian legend provides a further source of wisdom. According to the legend, the blue-black Rio Negro and the creamy, caramel-colored Rio Solimões, run side by side, without mixing at the mouth of the Amazon. The waters of the two rivers differ in temperature, clarity, density and acidity, and continue side by side for miles before becoming the Amazon. Both rivers converge at one point but prior to this each retains its essential quality and characteristics. The resulting foam is considered to be new knowledge that would not have been created if the rivers had not met (Based upon an oral telling by Dr. Timothy Pyrch). Perhaps by creating such a convergence of our two rivers, Aboriginal and Western, we can co-create new knowledge to not only better serve Aboriginal communities, but all communities, while retaining the fundamental integrity of our respective world views. This would require the hard work of sharing our experience, our feelings about matters of importance to us and helping the other to better understand, and reciprocating this experience. This may provide an opportunity for conversation
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 15
and understanding. Sahtouris (1992) a planet biologist, tells of an ancient prophesy that illustrates this point more fully; Within the ancient Hopi Indian Prophecy is told the history of the Red and White brothers, sons of the Earth Mother and the Great Spirit who gave them different missions. The Red Brother was to stay at home and keep the land in sacred trust while the White Brother went abroad to record things and make inventions. One day the White Brother was to return and share his inventions in a spirit of respect for the wisdom his Red Brother had gained. It was told that his inventions would include cobwebs through which people could speak to each other from house to house across mountains, even with all doors and windows closed; there would be carriages crossing the sky on invisible roads, and eventually a gourd of ashes that when dropped would scorch the earth and even the fishes in the sea. If the White Brother's ego grew so large in making these inventions that he would not listen to the wisdom of the Red Brother, he would bring this world to an end in the Great purification of nature. Only a few would survive to bring forth the next world in which there would again be abundance and harmony. The parallels from a planetary ecology perspective with that of human ecology seems clear enough. Without wishing to be alarmist in the broader context of our world, I suggest that as professionally led services have evolved over the past century, the adoption of a bureaucratic and legalistic paradigm seems to have increasingly rigidified practice by the introduction of overly specialized roles, top down and fiscally driven policies, increasing disconnection from community, overly prescriptive standards and other trappings of technologically based approaches that create increasing distance between child welfare practitioners and those they serve. Regrettably, these are the very models provided to Aboriginal community service providers, that combined with the legacy of oppression discussed earlier, can create services that emulate dysfunctional models from mainstream services. If we are to address these issues, we must bring together the best of indigenous and western approaches by introducing elements of interconnectedness and spirituality to practice in all of our communities. Our lives and destinies as Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are so intertwined, that it is only by bringing together the full force of our understanding that we can reverse the actions of past generations and create a new society that is ready to learn the lessons that are so critical to our common future. It is only in this way that we can achieve true reconciliation – a coming together again in full respect and acknowledgement of the unique contribution that we can each make to re-shape our future together.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The following chapter examines the failure of the residential school system and to a more limited extent the child welfare system that replaced it in the light of prevailing standards of care in society during the period of 1940 till 1971.
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 17
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS
This chapter reviews and compares the conditions and practices of the residential schools funded by the government of Canada and operated by religious orders in Alberta during the period of 1940-1971 with prevailing standards in contemporary society at the international, national and local levels. During this period of time, the federal government had embarked upon a policy of integrating Aboriginal people and wished to move out of the residential school system, pressing the provincial governments to assume statutory responsibility for the provision of child protection services on First Nations communities. In order to achieve this, the Federal government amended the Indian Act in 1951 to allow for provincial legislation to apply to First Nations. Unfortunately, no provision was made to ensure the readiness and capacity of Alberta to provide such services and the province did not develop the capacity to serve these communities until the early 1960s when regional offices were expanded to serve rural areas of the province. This created a state of limbo for First Nations communities for most of the time period under review. Federal employees such as Indian Agents made decisions about the placement of Aboriginal children in residential schools without having the required skills or alternative child care resources. The Oblates who operated the residential schools resisted their proposed phasing out, and used their considerable political and religious influence to continue operating the schools. The province was unable and unwilling to provide services as proposed by the Federal Government, which seemed unable to pursue their objectives with either the province or the religious congregations. In the meantime Aboriginal families and communities continued to be subjected to arbitrary treatment by all of these parties, ultimately by the province in the 1960s when it assumed responsibility under the assurance of full funding by the Federal government for children who required care. This chapter addresses three sets of important questions with regard to this era. The questions are important because of the “de facto” assumption of responsibility by the Federal government for the provision of child welfare services for Aboriginal children living on First Nations communities during most of this period of time. These questions focus on how the services provided by the Federal government and its agents, the residential schools, compared with the standards for services to children, families and communities in contemporary society during the period from 1940-1971. They consist of the following:
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
What were the standard practices and procedure for identifying children in need of care and removing them from their homes to place them in alternate care settings? To what extent did the procedures and practices evident in the residential schools conform or not conform to these standards and practices?
What types of care settings were considered and preferable for dealing with children in care and what role did institutional care play in the spectrum of services? To what extent were the known and preferred types of care services made available to Aboriginal children and what role did residential schools play in this spectrum of services?
What were the accepted standards for institutions providing child care and to what extent did residential schools comply with these standards?
It is proposed that the residential schools failed to meet the prevailing standards in almost every respect, and at times contravened standards in a manner that fell short of meeting the most basic humanitarian expectations including those of the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The creation of a “total institution” to destroy a people was a deliberate and planned effort by its architects and it was delivered seemingly with little regard for a people who were nearly destroyed in the process and who are now trying to rebuild their societies and their very lives. This era was characterized by inadequate funding on the part of Canada, a lack of accountability for the quality of services being purchased, and a tendency to turn over responsibility for the delivery of services to other entities such as the churches, the provincial government and currently Indian Bands while disclaiming any responsibility for the critical link between fiscal needs and program standards. The Federal Government has held the purse strings for Aboriginal people, and has consistently arranged for other entities to provide needed services, but funding limitations have continued to constrain service providers in ways that have been damaging to Aboriginal communities. This cycle began when the residential schools were established and the government soon realized that they were pursuing the wrong path by re-creating a model of serving children that had been recognized by child care professionals at the beginning of the 1900s as damaging to children. This did not deter Canada from expanding this model of child care in spite of the evidence that the children were not well served and were ill-prepared for life in contemporary society and in their communities of origin. By the 1940s Canada was pressing provincial authorities to assume responsibility and provide alternate care for aboriginal children in need of protection, but failed to ensure that needed community and familial supports were
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 19
available to keep families together and that the Provinces had the capacity to serve children. This led the so called 60s scoop and the admission of thousands of children to white institutions and foster homes. The pattern continues today with delegated authority to first nation’s communities for child welfare service, since that authority is accompanied by funds intended solely for the removal and alternate care placement of Aboriginal children, while failing to provide for prevention and early intervention programs that would help to keep families together. The ultimate outcome for Aboriginal children and families has been ever increasing numbers of children lost to their communities and to themselves. In 1947 the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), hereafter referred to as the IODE report, commissioned a report by Dr. Charlotte Whitton and a team of experienced professionals entitled “Welfare in Alberta: The Report of a Study.” 1 The IODE report on the state of child welfare in Alberta enunciated a number of principles that were considered, by competent child welfare practitioners, to be essential building blocks for a child protection system. The most commonly accepted of these principles was the fundamental belief that the family was the ideal and natural setting for a child and that families should be supported to the fullest extent possible in providing for their children. The IODE report stated that, “the community as a whole must look to assurance that the child’s parental guardianship is functioning safely for both the child and the community.”i The report goes on to state that “the normal processes of the day in terms of providing wardship were necessary to provide legal guardianship and care for children through the means of the courts or through the process known as surrender, and indenture required important safeguards, in view of the importance of such decisions on Aboriginal families and their children.” It also addressed “the grave responsibility of an agency giving care to children who still have parents of their own and to whom they are likely to return, is to see that the bonds of family loyalty, affection and responsibility are not weakened but are fostered in every way.” (p. 72). The provincial government appointed a Royal Commission in 1947 in response to the IODE report. The Royal Commission submitted its findings in December 1948 and, although it differed on some specific issues with the IODE (e.g., the export of babies to the States and a return to Children’s Aid Societies); the commissioners were generally in agreement with the findings of
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
the IODE report. The Royal Commission made a series of sweeping recommendations to upgrade provincial services to known national and international standards. The Commission also expressed concern about the disregard in departmental policy and practice of some basic principles of family welfare. They indicated that fundamental “to all modern social work is the preservation of the child’s natural home and family ties, and that the lack of an integrated public welfare and social assistance program and departmental policy have interoperated to the unnecessary separation of parents and children and to the unnecessary and unjustifiable destruction of parental guardianship”.ii The Commissioners expressed a great deal of support for and understanding of this principle and strongly recommended that if the home became, by reason of poverty or any other cause, “an unfit and dangerous home for the child” the first step should be to deal with the poverty or other dangerous conditions to allow the child to remain in its own home and family. This suggested that the Child Welfare Branch provide individual casework within the homes in order to remove or mitigate those conditions that were detrimental to the family and also relieve the poverty of families in cooperation with the welfare department, where poverty contributed to the neglect of children. The Commission considered the value, and even the necessity, of having proper standards in child welfare work promulgated and made known, as being too obvious to require elaboration, stating that “We have elaborate codes, set out by Order-in-Council, to govern plumbing, electrical wiring, swimming pools, etc. Surely, it is no less necessary to define and enforce the standards and techniques we expect in child welfare.”iii It should be recognised that the impetus for these reports was the awareness that Alberta lagged behind the rest of the country and much of the developed world in the implementation of proper child welfare standards. These reports collectively involved an effort to bring Alberta up to par in the provision of child welfare services by making them subject to recognised and accepted standards of child welfare practice. Collectively, the Child Welfare Committee, the IODE Report, and the Royal Commission in Alberta recognised an excellent set of standards for child welfare practice. These included: the professionalization of child welfare services to children, the use of selection committees to identify suitable employees, ongoing professional development and annual conventions of staff, and a decrease in the use of large institutions in favour of small cottages and community-based resources. In addition, great emphasis was placed on supporting children in the home through individual casework, for example, enhancing the role of the family
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 21
and community in supporting the child and decision making, and addressing economic deprivation to ensure that children were not removed from their homes because of poverty. It seems inevitable that the government of Canada would have been knowledgeable of these standards at the national level and in light of their interactions with more advanced jurisdictions such as the province of Ontario.
CHILD CARE PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH STANDARD PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES FOR IDENTIFYING CHILDREN NEEDING CARE, REMOVING THEM FROM THEIR HOMES AND PLACING THEM INTO ALTERNATIVE CARE WERE BASED.
It seems relevant to comment upon the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed in December, 1948. It promulgated fundamental human rights that were to be applicable to every individual and “every organ of society”. According to Article 2 “anyone is entitled to all of the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” and where, according to Article 6 “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” According to Article 12 “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” According to Article 15, (1) everyone has the right to nationality; (2) no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. According to Article 18, “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…to manifest his religion or belief in teaching practice worship and observance”. Article 26; subsection 3 states that parents have the prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Finally, in Article 30, “nothing in this declaration may be interpreted as implying for any state, group or person, any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act, aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” The following section speaks to the standards that evolved during the 20th century and that guided the development of child welfare services for most of the past century. These are drawn from documentation provided by the Child Welfare League of America, which continues to play a leading role in standard setting in North America.iv It must be noted that they are not intended to
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
cover the standards of the day in detail, but rather to portray some key areas that are especially germane to the issues under consideration. Prevailing Standards in Canada Miss Phyllis Burns, Executive Secretary of the Child Welfare Division of the Canadian Welfare Council (the same organisation which in 1967 was commissioned by the government of Canada to study residential schools), appeared before the Royal Commission to address the question of basic principles of child welfare. Burns was a graduate of the University of Toronto’s School of Social Work. Prior to accepting a position with the Council she worked for three years as Assistant Director of the Maritime School of Social Work in Halifax, one of seven schools of social work operating in Canada in the 1940s. Burns was asked whether the principles set out in the IODE report were compatible with principles taught at the Maritime School of Social Work, and she readily confirmed that they were.v According to Burns the principles consisted primarily of the following: • • • • • The home is the basic unit in our society. Society has to provide the child with guardianship. It is the responsibility of society to maintain the child’s own home for him/her and to preserve parental guardianship wherever possible. Under no circumstances do we deprive the child of his/her own parents for reasons of poverty alone. Where it becomes inevitable as a last resort to remove parental guardianship from the child, that it be done on a court order and other guardianship should be substituted immediately so that at no time a child is without properly and forcible legal guardianship. • Where guardianship is transferred from parents to another body and then it is desired to transfer that guardianship again, that the further transfer should be effected in the same way, i.e. through Court Order. The following section reviews these themes in further detail and we will revisit them later in this document. Primacy of the family The child’s own home and family were the natural medium in which normal social and personality development could best be assured. The nurture, support and training of the child
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 23
were the primary responsibility of the family, and this was seen as the best societal institution for the preparation of children for adult roles in society. Support for the family If necessary the child’s own family should be assisted in every possible to meet his needs in his own home. It was recognized that families could encounter situations that were beyond their control and the intention was to provide the family with assistance when they first needed it including the use of financial aid and casework services. This principle also stressed the importance of bringing to bear the broader spectrum of social services available and of community resources to preserve and rehabilitate the family when necessary. Removal of child as a last resort Children should be cared for away from their own families only after efforts to bring about favourable conditions within the home for the development and protection of the child have been unsuccessful. Children should be removed from their family only in extreme cases such as situations of orphans without relatives, foundlings, or children born out of wedlock; or where the effort to provide financial aid and casework services were not successful in helping the parent to meet the needs of the child. It was also recognized that the child may have developed serious health or behavioural psychological problems that the family was not able to manage and that required a different environment. The IODE Report also addressed “the grave responsibility of agency giving care to children who still have parents of their own and to whom they are likely to return, is to see that the bonds of family loyalty, affection and responsibility are not weakened but are fostered in every way” (p. 72). When the child needed alternate care, case work was to continue with the parents to change the conditions which contributed to the placement in the hope of an eventual return to the family. Emotional damage of separation on child Children who must leave their own homes and live away from their family were seen to suffer from a profound emotional and social disturbance which can never be fully compensated. This principle was based on the observation that children whose parents were unable to care for them often feel somehow responsible for having been given up by their parents. It was believed that every child placed in foster care would show some degree of emotional disturbance regarding the parent’s inability to care for them, resulting at times in severe behavioural problems. Regardless
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
while foster care was never seen as a completely satisfying substitute for the child’s family, it was recognized that some situations might not allow any choice. Consideration of parental preferences The type of care provided for the child should be based on the consideration and wishes of his parents, his individual needs and the family situation. A comprehensive social assessment of the child and his family situation was considered important in order to decide what kind of care was best suited for the child’s needs. It was important that the parents participate in planning alternative care because of their primary rights and responsibilities as parents, and because casework experience showed that such involvement often improved the ongoing connection and potential of return home for the child. Community Programs A comprehensive range of community child welfare programs was necessary for each child to receive the care required. Social Casework Social Work was the favoured method in determining and meeting the needs of children whose parents were unable to give them the care they needed. The social work method was seen as the best way to help children by working with the resources in the child’s immediate environment and by developing the individual capacity of the child. The IODE report (1947) on the state of child welfare in Alberta enunciated a number of principles that were considered by competent child welfare practitioners as essential building blocks for a child protection system. The most commonly accepted of these principles was the belief that the family was the ideal and natural setting for a child and that families should be supported to the fullest extent possible in providing for their children, and the profession of social work was seen as the most ideally prepared for this responsibility. The casework method involved professional interviewing skills, observation, diagnosis, treatment, and the use of resources and related services such as medical, psychological and psychiatric services. In short, the social worker who was seen as a highly trained professional who could use a variety of interventions including her own skills in building relationships and creating understanding between people. Community Support The IODE vi report (p.64) also stated that, “the community as a whole must look to assurance that the child’s parental guardianship is functioning safely for both the child and the community.”
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 25
The community was to be involved in the decisions regarding the parental guardianship process and called upon to ensure safety for both child and community. Legal Process and Protection The IODE report well represented prevailing standards when it stated that “the normal processes of the day in terms of providing wardship were necessary to provide legal guardianship and care for children through the means of the courts or through the process known as surrender and indenture required important safeguards, in view of the importance of such decisions on Aboriginal families and their children.” Understanding the developmental needs of children An understanding and knowledge of the physical, intellectual, emotional and social development of children was essential to casework. Social workers were expected to have a good understanding of normal childhood development, a sound understanding of family dynamics and of the interaction of parents and their children and the emotional needs of children in a family setting. This would form an important component of the family and social assessment of social workers in planning alternative care for children.
THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE PROCEDURES AND PRACTICES EVIDENT IN THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS CONFORMED OR DID NOT CONFORM TO THE STANDARD PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES OF THE TIME
It is difficult to reconcile the noble principles enunciated by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 with the reality that was occurring for Aboriginal children and their families. It is equally difficult to reconcile this reality with the recognised child welfare standards of the day. This vulnerable group was removed from their homes and placed in the care of total strangers, many of who were hostile to their culture, beliefs and language, and whose avowed intent was to remove their culture, destroy their beliefs and take away the language for the sake of civilization. It seems that none of these rights applied to Aboriginal people in this era, as the civil and religious authorities trampled upon basic human, familial, national and religious rights and freedoms in the name of civilization and Christianization. Primacy of the family The child’s own home and family were the natural medium in which normal social and personality development could best be assured. In First Nations communities the nurture, support
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
and training of the child was a collective responsibility of the community. There is no evidence that the Aboriginal family was perceived to be the best place in which to raise children as a driving principle in that era. In fact, it often seems to have been considered an option of last resort for much of the 1940s to the1960s. The residential school was based on the principle of separating the child from his family. When the province entered the picture, the perspective of provincial officials did not change overly much, leading to what has been subsequently termed at the 60s scoop. According to Alberta statistics, this “60s scoop” more realistically took place in the 1970s, where alarmed provincial social services leaders realised that while some 70 First Nations children had been in care in 1960, by 1974 there were 2200 in provincial care in Alberta. Support for the family If necessary the child’s own family should be assisted in every possible to meet his needs in his own home. There appears to have been no effort to provide assistance to families as an alternative to placing children in residential schools. There is also no evidence that services were provided to meet the needs of families whose own ability to parent had been devastated by decades of life in residential schools. There is considerable evidence that many of the decisions to admit children to residential schools were based upon presumptions of neglect and abuse and the inability of parents to care for their children. In addition those charged with these decisions lacked the professional capacity for this function, and alternative resources to this model of caring for children were limited. In a memorandum dated February 25, 1959 the Supervisor of Social Workers for the Department expressed concern about the practice of admitting children to residential schools for reasons of neglect and poverty, exhorting staff to employ alternative measures of supporting families and keeping them together (Document C1.972). In this memorandum dated February 25, 1959 it is confirmed that the federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration had hired social workers whose role was to support regional superintendents with social issues for which they held responsibility.vii The Supervisor stated that: “Indian residential schools are used extensively to accommodate orphan children, those from broken families and others who home conditions for a variety of reasons prove to be unsatisfactory. In the majority of such cases, the conditions of these children would constitute neglect under provincial child welfare legislation.”viii
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 27
It was clear from the correspondence that the school staff was uncomfortable with the exercise of guardianship duties over residents. The memorandum also stated that residential schools were used to accommodate neglect cases, because Indian Superintendents had no access to outside resources. Removal of child as a last resort There is little indication that from the 1940s until the late 1950s that this was a driving principle for decision making. In fact, removal of children to residential schools was seen as the preferred option. By the late 1950s and 1960s as the Federal government began to more aggressively pursue an agenda to have Aboriginal children served in days schools located in local communities and in provincial schools, the decision making about admissions to residential schools could be expected to have been modified from a major thrust for the admission of most Aboriginal children to residential schools, and for the development of hostel and foster home options for children who could not live at home. While the percentage of children admitted to day schools increased, Enns has found that the absolute numbers of children admitted to residential schools increase from 9000 students in 1940 to 10,310 in 1963. In addition to the reasons put forth by Enns, I would add the impact of the decision making about the options available to children by staff who were ill-equipped to assess the needs and requirements of Aboriginal children, exacerbated by the lack of community alternatives. Emotional damage of separation on child Children who must leave their own homes and live away from their family are often seen to suffer from a profound emotional and social disturbance which can never be fully compensated. There seems to have been no consideration of this element in the decision to place children in residential schools. The principals and staff of residential schools were not trained in child care and had no access to specialized psychological support in dealing with the emotional needs of children who suffered from the separation from family and community. In addition, since by this time, many generations of families lost their ability to parent as a result of their total institutional lifestyle, it seems unlikely that of the parents might have been limited in their understanding of what their children were lacking, and might have come to view the residential schools experience as “normal.” Consideration of parental preferences
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The type of care provided for the child should be based on the consideration and wishes of his parents, his individual needs and the family situation. There is no evidence of social or familial assessments having been completed, and the evidence and policy of the day is that parental choice was not a factor. The evidence is that parents had no choice in the matter as the forces of the church and the state combined to forcibly remove children from parental homes and their communities. It seems that the parents who were assessed as unable to provide care for their children would have had little consideration given to their preferences or any recourse if they disagreed. In the words of one former resident: Our parents had to send us to the residential school. We were treated very badly right from the beginning. We were not given a choice to keep our kids. They had to be there. Kids had to be there at the mission in September otherwise you got in trouble. They just said, you have to have them at residential school at a certain age or else so most of the parents took their kids there because they didn't want to get in trouble with the Indian Affairs.ix This was complicated by the cumulative impact of several generations who lacked parental models and who had failed to bond with their children. By the 1960s, a generation of Aboriginal parents who were not given the choice of raising their children began to show signs of "abrogating their responsibility as parents." The research indicated that a pattern of expectation had developed among "some Indian parents that the residential school system provided a…carefree way" of living without children.x I think after a while families got used to not having their children and they didn't take full responsibility and the boding wasn't really there so that took a lot of responsibility from parents and they were used to not having their children. But that's why they're suffering because there's no bonding. Community Programs A comprehensive set of community child welfare programs was necessary for each child to receive the care required. While public assistance services were available, there is no evidence of comprehensive community programs on First Nations communities, a situation that continues today with delegated child welfare agreement that make no provision for preventative and early intervention programs. There is no indication that the usual range of social services were available in First Nations communities were available under public or private auspices in
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 29
comparison to the majority of communities in Alberta. The non-profit or voluntary sector was non-existent. This limited the communities’ ability to address conditions detrimental to families and to alleviate poverty of families where it was the primary cause of neglect. It seems clear that the community was not involved to any extent in the decisions regarding the parental guardianship process and very little in ensuring safety for both child and community. Regrettably, this took place in a cultural context where extended family, including grandparents and uncles and aunts, had traditionally played a strong and important role in the care and nurturance of their children. Social Casework Social Work was the favoured method in determining and meeting the needs of children whose parents were unable to give them the care they needed. The casework method involved professional interviewing skills, observation, diagnosis, treatment, and the use of resources and related services such as medical, psychological and psychiatric services. Throughout the 1940s to the late 1950s and even into the 1960s, Indian Agents provided a quasi child protection service wherein they utilized their traditional authority role without the legal sanctions, protections and resources necessary to support families and protect children. In a social context where the capacity of families to parent had been impaired by several generations of residential schools life, Indian Agents presumably dealt with Aboriginal people as wards of the Federal Government and governed every aspect of their lives. They became, by default, child welfare workers on the reservations and made critical decisions with respect to the placement of Aboriginal children. It was their determinations regarding the capacity of parents and home conditions, and their assessment of neglect and abuse that led to the placement of children in residential schools. Most, if not all of these individuals were ill-prepared to make the kinds of social assessments that were required and lacked a range of possible resources to sustain and support Aboriginal families who had been wounded in their capacity to parent. The Federal Government had become increasingly concerned about the practice of Indian Agents assuming a child protection function, and proposed specific criteria to guide their decision making in the admission of children to residential school, directing them to make referrals to provincial services where they existed. In 1959, a six-category grading system was introduced to judge children based on integration potential, but also included assessment based on actual or potential neglect in the children’s family home. Aside from legislation, the method referred to might be interpreted not only as a
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
grading system, which it probably was intended to be, but also a practice guide in addressing suspected child neglect in aboriginal homes (Document C1.2029). Concerns regarding the qualifications of individuals that were being asked to make child welfare decisions persisted to the late 1960s at least. R. D. Ragan, Regional Director, Indian Affairs Branch, writing to D. Kogawa, Head of Student Residence Services for the Branch, in 1968 stated “there is room for the employment within our structure of a person whose major job is to find suitable homes, both on and off reserve, in which Indian students could be placed.”xi Ragan appeared to be referring, in this context to students whose primary need was a place of residence. Milloy (1999) claims that the development of a welfare function in the residential school system had not been unforeseen, and had been part of the post-war reconstruction planning. The processes provided and the training of Indian Agents, however, could not be compared to prevailing standards of the day. Legal Process and Protection There were no legal safeguards for children and their parents or legal processes by which the decisions of Indian Agents could be challenged. This appears to be a state of limbo from a legislative, social policy and practice perspective, as parents were treated as wards of the state without any possibility of appeal, at a time when society as a whole was generating sound principles to govern the protection of children in the broader society. There is no evidence that such factors were a consideration until later in the 1950s, when social workers who had been hired to work with provincial superintendents began to raise concerns about the system that had been developed and the lack of commonly accepted standards in child welfare practice. While the federal government has stated its intent to have provincial laws and procedures apply to First Nations communities in the early 1940s, and formalised this intent by amending the Indian Act in 1951, the province was not able to respond in any significant fashion until the late 1960s, leaving the Aboriginal people for whom the federal government was responsible without any legal protection and due process for important decisions about the care and guardianship of their children including the decision to place them in residential schools. A meeting of Social Workers in November of 1955 chaired by the Director of Indian Affairs and attended by the Minister and Deputy Minister provides some interesting insights into the evolution of social workers roles in this organization. The record of this meeting stated that negotiations on the extension of children’s services to the reserves were continuing between the
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 31
Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario but no definite commitments had yet been made. It was hoped that these negotiations would establish a pattern for similar developments throughout Canada. There was certainly recognition that numerous child welfare problems were coming to the attention of Indian Affairs field staff. There was a felt need to improve services for neglected and delinquent children and it was noted that due to a lack of understanding “punitive methods” were applied, especially when dealing with unmarried mothers. There were also concerns that children were being admitted to residential schools “for no other apparent reason than the economy of welfare funds”. The IODE report further advised that, The whole question of child protection, service with unmarried mothers, home finding, placement and supervision of these children is another area in which the Dominion should cooperate to assure good field service, from qualified staff to work with the province and the community services, giving care.xii A key finding in the IODE report was that funding was the primary obstacle in establishing a sustaining level of services for indigenous people. Unfortunately, jurisdictional differences and funding remained a controversial issue throughout and continues to have a negative influence on serving Aboriginal families today. Understanding the developmental needs of children An understanding and knowledge of the physical, intellectual, emotional and social development of children was essential to casework. Indian Agents, school principals and residential school staff were untrained in child care and social work, and could not expected to have a good understanding of normal childhood development, a sound understanding of family dynamics and of the interaction of parents and their children, and the emotional needs of children in a family setting. This simply was not a requirement of these positions.
TYPES OF CARE SETTINGS CONSIDERED PREFERABLE FOR DEALING WITH CHILDREN IN CARE FROM THE PERIOD OF THE 1940’S – 1970’S. SPECTRUM OF SERVICES.
PLACE OF INSTITUTIONAL CARE IN THIS
In overall terms the provision of alternate care for children in foster homes and institutions was intended to ensure that the children had the same needs met and the same rights as any other childxiii. This included: a) Security which provided some stability and a sense of belonging and counting some thing in the lives of others
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
b) Human relationships that provide a chance to live with others in a family setting or in a small group and to develop mutual attachments and a sense of responsibility for others c) Simple well prepared nutritious food, that was probably served in attractive surroundings and eaten in a leisurely happy atmosphere d) Adequate shelter that was clean, well lighted, ventilated, properly heated, with sanitary toilet facilities e) Each child was expected to have a separate bed and a place for private processions There has been considerable controversy over the role of institutions in relation to other options for children such as boarding homes and foster care. Institutions had been primarily created during the nineteenth century in response to the horrendous conditions of children living in alms houses with those whom society considered to be its rejects due to their age, physical and mental condition. The social reformers of the nineteenth century proposed a range of theories concerning the potential of highly structured institutional living, but over time disappointed the public and their supporters when their claims remained largely unfulfilled. By the end of the nineteenth century institutional childcare was primarily viewed as a failure but the debate continued for several decades to come. Governed by the principle that the best placement for children was in their own family homes whenever possible, foster homes were seen as the best substitute for children who were capable of forming new family relationships. By the early 1940s the Child Welfare League of America had proposed that all children under the age of six should be placed in foster homes, as well as children in need of permanent care, and those who require the kind of individual attention that would be possible in a family setting. For children who were unable to form new emotional attachments in foster homes because of personality difficulties or problems in relation to their families then institutional care was sometimes seen as preferable. It was felt that the child could learn in an institution to live away from his family without expecting him to become part of another family group until he was ready to take on some new relationships. It was also believed that many adolescents and children who required only temporary care or children with behaviour or personality problems who would not be easily accepted in foster homes or who required more extensive treatment in a controlled environment should be cared for in an institution. This way they could experience group living and have access to facilities that provided observation and treatment that could be better suited for their needs. Clearly residential schools did not fit into this role. The children who attended
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 33
them were almost all children who, if they required care at all, according to prevailing child welfare standards should have been cared for in home like settings. As indicated by Enns, the history of the residential school system for Aboriginal children can be divided into two periods. The first extended from the establishment of the schools until the end of the Second World War. The second period extended from the late 1940s to the winding down of the system in the 1960s. A defining feature of the second period was the federal government’s policy of integration and the resulting changes in the function of the residential schools into residences and hostels. The federal government’s decision to integrate Aboriginal students into provincial day schools, beginning in the late 1940s, was significant n in the development of the residential school system and child welfare services. Prior to integration Aboriginal children were expected to attend residential schools by virtue of their race. Following the decision to integrate Aboriginal students into the provincial systems the federal government attempted to develop and enforce guidelines for admission. The presumption was that Aboriginal children would attend day schools and only children that met the criteria established by the government were to be admitted to residential facilities. The government predicted that the role of the schools would change as they provided residential and hostel services and that, eventually, the schools would be phased out. Documentary sources reveal that the federal government struggled as it attempted to put its policy of integration into practice. As a consequence, significant numbers of children continued to be removed from their homes and institutionalized for extended periods through the 1950s and 1960s, the time period under examination in this action, even though government policy, and evidence dating back to the turn of the century, had called for changes in this practice.xiv Of interest for this proceeding is the distinction that was made based on education versus child welfare concerns.xv The department believed that the needs of many Aboriginal students could be met by providing access to provincial day schools, and accommodation when necessary. In this case residential services were extended in order to facilitate attendance at day schools, presumably if the child lived too far away from a school to commute, and not because of child welfare concerns. The department also recognized that some children required residential services as a result of child welfare concerns such as neglect or abandonment. In these cases residential services were extended to address both the child welfare and educational needs. These cases were clearly more complex and involved additional issues around appropriate identification
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
and placement following graduation or during summer holidays. At least some of the difficulties associated with implementing the policy of integration appear to have arisen as a result of disagreements over the number of child welfare cases and the number of children who continued to be admitted for extended periods of time, much like children had been admitted prior to integration. These ongoing admissions appeared to have been related to a number of factors. First, staff members of the Indian Affairs Branch were given the responsibility of identifying children at risk and planning for their care. Officials in the Branch made it clear that their employees did not possess the skills required for this job. Second, provincial services were typically not available for Aboriginal children that were in need, and were properly identified, so they continued to be admitted to residential schools for extended periods of time. Finally, there was disagreement and some confusion over how many children were actually in need of child welfare services and some concern that the Oblates were continuing to admit children, purportedly on the basis of child welfare need, even when these needs did not exist. The government faced concerted opposition from the Oblates as it attempted to implement its policy of integration and remake residential schools into facilities that admitted only children that could not attend day schools due to distance or due to concerns regarding neglect in the home or abandonment. A confidential federal report written sometime after 1965 reported that the “largest bone of contention between the Catholic Church and the Branch is the integration program.”xvi The report indicated that Oblates were “using their influence to obstruct the transfer of Indian children to public schools” and as a result they were “condemning [Indian children] to seasonal, unskilled employment because very few of them will have the opportunity to achieve their full capacity in school and are ill-prepared for opportunities off reserve”.xvii The author went on to note that this practice has hurt the children so admitted since “most of the Oblates have come to realize that the high school academic program in the residential schools has failed miserably … However, some are still not prepared to relinquish the senior students, instead they propose to enlarge the residential schools and to expand the facilities to permit the schools to offer vocational courses.”xviii Finally, the author indicated that the opposition by “a hard core of conservative missionaries” was likely to continue since they “vociferously oppose any reduction.”xix Concerns about the number of students that continued to be admitted into the residential schools emerged much earlier. In a memorandum dated February 5, 1959 the Supervisor of Social
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 35
Workers for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration expressed concern about the practice of admitting children to residential schools for reasons of neglect and poverty, exhorting staff to employ alternative measures of supporting families and keeping them together.xx In 1961 P. Deziel, Assistant Chief in the Education Division, noted that, based on standards established by the Indian Health Services Division, there was room for 7,704 pupils in all residential schools but in 1961 9,830 students were registered. Deziel reported that “the Department was becoming increasingly concerned about the overcrowding of the majority of the Indian residential schools” and concluded that there has been “laxity in approving admissions of many children whose home circumstances did not warrant residential school care and that one of the first steps in an attempt to reduce enrolments would be more careful screening of individual applications.”xxi In short, while the Federal government and the churches failed to agree on the policy of integration and the expected impact on the need for residential schools, and all the while provincial officials failed to make child welfare services available to children in need of protection, thousands of Aboriginal children continued to be admitted to residential schools due to their perceived need for protection from abuse and neglect. Sadly, many ended up being maltreated in the very setting that was supposed to protect them from such treatment, the purpose being defeated by a combination of factors that had little to do with their interests and preparation for their future in Canadian society. It is clear that the options prescribed by the standards of the day were not made available to many of these children who were placed in residential schools: families were not provided with social services and community support that would enable them to resolve those issues that plagued them, extended families and communities were not called upon or enabled to provide support and alternative care for children, no foster homes in or near the community were developed, and the limited number of day schools developed in Alberta meant that for most of the families none of these options would have been accessible. In addition, the level of preparation for the individuals making such decisions was essentially non-existent. This led to a generation that in some respects may have been even more disadvantaged than previous generations at a time when existing knowledge of the implications of such poor practice was known.
1.6. THE ACCEPTED STANDARDS FOR INSTITUTIONS PROVIDING CHILDCARE FROM THE 1940’S -1970’S.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The following section addresses some key elements of institutional care that focus on aspects of particular relevance to children placed in residential school system. These elements are selected from the Standards for Foster Care promoted by the Child Welfare League of America in 1936.xxii They are not intended to provide detailed knowledge, but rather to point out some considerations that are seen as relevant to the discussion about this period of time with Aboriginal children. It is important to state at the onset that while children’s institutions shared many common characteristics, some child welfare experts have proposed that child care institutions are not inherently destructive. Gil (1974) points out that private schools for the influential members of society have mitigated the factors that are often mentioned as weaknesses in institutional settings, and suggests that institutions are inherently neutral, but may be used constructively or destructively, depending on their social purposes. xxiii If they are aimed at maximizing every child’s developmental potential and the economic and educational resources are consistent with that purpose, children will thrive there. On the other hand, if the social purpose reflects a punitive and discriminatory philosophy and the economic, educational and psychological measures match that purpose, children will be thwarted in their development. This is a relevant point for the Indian residential schools in that the purposes of such institutions were clearly articulated from the onset. Enns discusses this from an evolving historical perspective that clearly indicates the purpose of residential schools as primarily to remove the “Indian in the child”, and to destroy the culture and traditional spirituality of Aboriginal people by this means. In addition, it is clear that from the onset Aboriginal children were not seen as having the potential to be anything but farm labourers and domestics serving while settlers. The educational and work programs prepared them for this kind of future based upon a limited understanding of their potential, something that Caldwell discovered in his landmark study of the residential schools in Saskatchewan. Finally while abuses did exist in other child serving institutions, no other examples come to mind in North America of such a systematic approach to the destruction of a people in the name of Christianization and civilisation, and the use of this rationale to justify such extreme practices would not have been tolerated other settings. Capacity of Institutions While the Child Welfare League of America did not specify the ideal size for institution it did recommend that the most desirable capacity should range between seventy-five and two hundred. It was also stressed that the primary criterion for the decision on size should not be based upon
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 37
administrative convenience or benefits, but on social casework applied to the type of services provided by the institution. The standards presume that given adequate foster care alternatives, the institution model could best serve children as: assessment centres for diagnosis and treatment for brief periods of time; specialized services to meet the problems of difficult adolescents who could not fit into their own homes or in a foster home but who could accept the more personal control of residential life, and convalescent care between a stay in a hospital and their own home or foster home. It was also stressed that the institution should accommodate both boys and girls so that brother and sister groups could be kept together and that all the children have the advantages of association, including both of the sexes. Staff Superintendents were to be chosen on the basis of their training and responsible experience in children’s casework and with proven executive ability. They should understand the principles and problems of child welfare services outside as well as inside the institution for which they were responsible. A range of staff were expected to be in place; including recreation workers, who were also responsible for developing and working with volunteers, and child care staff with personal qualities deemed necessary for working with children. It was also important for employees such as house mothers and other members of the child caring staff to be granted at least one and a half days a week and one Sunday a month free from their duties to relieve them from the stress occasioned by their duties. Children’s Work While the contribution of children’s labour to the institution was seen as potentially useful under some circumstances, state standards governing the employment of children were to be followed and this was not interfere with the educational program of the children. Groupings Children should live in small groups and it was preferable that institutions be divided into small cottages. Each cottage should not accommodate more than twenty children to minimize undue routine in the children’s lives. When small cottages were not available it was desirable to divide the children who had to live in one building into groups ranging from ten to twenty in number. Each of these groups should have its own housemother. An important contributor to the quality of life for children in institutions was the extent to which the milieu facilitated individuation rather than regimentation. Writing in 1961, Goffman noted that a “basic social arrangement in
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
modern society is that the individual tends to sleep, play, and work in different places, with different co-participants, under different authorities, and without an over-all rational plan”.xxiv A central feature of total institutions is that the barriers normally separating or distinguishing these spheres of activity are broken down, so that “all aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same authority” (p. 6). Additionally, all activities of daily life are carried on in the presence of other people who are similarly compelled, all activities are proscribed by those in a position of authority and are tightly scheduled, and “the various enforced activities are brought together into a single rational plan purportedly designed to fulfill the official aims of the institution”.xxv Goffman noted that total institutions compel obedience because the behaviours of individuals can be quickly assessed against the rules of the institution and the behaviour of peers. Goffman identified a number of social and psychological consequences that arise as a result of being placed in total institutions,xxvi beginning with admission. Upon admission individuals are subjected to procedures designed to fit them to the institution. These procedures include “undressing, bathing, disinfecting, haircutting, issuing institutional clothing, instructing as to rules, and assigning to quarters”.xxvii These operations “might better be called ‘trimming’ or ‘programming’ because in thus being squared away the new arrival allows himself to be shaped and coded into an object that can be fed into the administrative machinery of the establishment, to be worked on smoothly by routine operation”.xxviii Following admission “disculturation” may occur as individuals lose certain behavioural and cultural opportunities and fail “to keep pace with recent social changes on the outside”.xxix Disculturation renders an individual “temporarily incapable of managing certain features of daily life on the outside, if and when he gets back to it”.xxx Although some roles may be re-established upon leaving the total institution “other losses are irrevocable and may be painfully experienced as such”.xxxi These include life cycle opportunities such as education, job-related opportunities, courting and parenting. Finally, Goffman referred to the mortification of self that may arise as a result of being numbered and renamed, and having to participate in activities and routines foreign to, or incompatible with, prior notions of self and community. As a consequence, individuals typically experience loss of identity,xxxii loss of self-determination,xxxiii and acute psychological stress.xxxiv Funding Sources It was considered desirable for an institution to secure a considerable part of its support from its community served in which it operated. Per capita support payments were rarely expected to
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 39
cover more than half of the actual cost of providing care, as if nearly all the income was from one source there was the danger of the institution becoming too dependent and losing important contacts with the community it served. Intake Process A casework approach to the admission of students to the institution and for follow up with the child upon discharge was preferred. It was assumed that an investigation would be made prior to the admission of any child that included a family history and assessment of the overall situation. A comprehensive outline was provided for the preparation of such an assessment that included a detailed description of the family situation, capacities of other members, the children’s physical and mental conditions, religious background, personal histories, and personal characteristics. All cases should have been case conferenced upon admission with all of the staff. Legal Control The transfer of legal custody should be made only though court action; with the consent of a properly designated state department or with a transfer of custody by the parent. Food Standards were put forth in regard to the amount and variety of foods that were required by growing children. It was suggested that no institution in 1937 could provide food for the children for less that $125.00 per capita per annum. It was also suggested that when the annual capita expenditure was less that $100.00 one could anticipate serious inadequacies. Clothing Children should have clothing similar to that worn by any other children in family homes and uniforms were to be avoided except for athletic activities. Caution was to be exercised in using donated clothing or handing down garments that have been used by other children in the institution. It was especially important for children not to wear shoes that had been worn by others and if used clothing was provided it should be carefully refitted before the child received it. Education Children were expected to attend full time school throughout the period required by the law. Children who had the capacity for high school, professional, and college education should have this made available whenever possible. Religious Education
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Children should receive religious instruction in accordance to the faith of their parents. Recreation Play was important in the child’s life and there was to be ample time for free play. Boys and girls should be free to play together both in the institution and the community. A large institution should provide for association with children in the neighbourhood and failure to provide such opportunities would isolate boys and girls who needed all the preparation possible for a successful social life in the community. Relationship with Relatives In addition to staying in touch with relatives it was recommended that there be carefully planned policy to guide child caring staff as they came in touch with parents and others visiting the children. It was also important to have the children regularly visit their parents and relatives. Community Contacts It was important that there be as few barriers as possible between the institution and the neighbouring community. In certain instances it was recommended that the institution could be used as a resource for the adults and children who lived nearby. Length of Residence in the Institution It was important that long term care in the institution be avoided because of the weakening of family ties that arose from prolonged separation in addition to the high cost of good institutional care. It was expected to be that norm that the period of time in the institution be brief and ideally only for a few months. Records There were detailed recommendations on keeping case records on the children on a range of topics, these records were to conform to generally recognized principals of case record keeping and should provide a continuous record of their condition and development. 1.7 COMPLIANCE OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS WITH PREVAILING STANDARDS 1.7.1 CONTEXTUAL CONSIDERATIONS It is important to understand the traditional context in which Aboriginal children had been raised prior to considering the extent to which established standards were followed. The sharing of child rearing by several persons was a traditional custom honoured and practiced by all North American Indian tribes. During periods of hunting and gathering, most nomadic tribes naturally assumed this standard of protecting children. Children were continually under the watchful eyes
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 41
of tribal elders, siblings, cousins, aunts, or grandparents. As a result of this nurturing and security Aboriginal children were strongly tied to family, clan, and tribe and the extended family supported families because responsibilities were divided among many members of the community, and no single person was overburdened with the care of a child. Traditionally, Aboriginal communities "were structured around the unique inter-relationships that exist among family, extended family, clan, band, and tribe.” xxxv In addressing this unique family pattern) wrote that "The kinship structure, embodying a network of valued relationships, is one of the important keystones of the culture."xxxvi The actual structure of the society included large extended families and the child, "highly valued, and occupies a central place within it”.xxxvii The traditional Aboriginal family "included maternal and paternal grandfathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins who all actively participated in child-rearing." xxxviii Parenting skills and child-rearing patterns are terms that are reflected differently in each culture. The term parenting is problematic for Aboriginal cultures. For Euro-Canadians a parent is generally a father or a mother, and the parenting role includes child-rearing; in Aboriginal cultures several members of the extended family and the community are involved in childrearing, in spheres of activity that, in Euro-Canadian society are parental. The broader term child rearing is thus a better term to describe the things that in Euro-Canadian culture come under the rubric of parenting, and the latter term may infer the more inclusive child-rearing patterns. Thus, the removal of Aboriginal children from parents to be raised in residential schools deprived those children of a cultural legacy. The experience missed is the tightly knit community of extended family and relatives who share the task of child rearing by providing nurturing and security. It is also important to note that by the 1940’s the Aboriginal communities had been weakened by several generations who had been through the residential school experience, graduating from schools which had subjected them to severe regimentation and often physical, sexual and emotional abuse that left them with an overall fear of authority. The legacy to this generation was an impaired ability to transmit a sense of culture and identity and a vulnerability to the loss of culture, language and Aboriginal spirituality. They suffered from broken relationships between, not only the generations but with each other as a result of the violence and atmosphere in which they had been raised which ended up creating tremendous mistrust. In addition, the ability to parent had been seriously diminished as the generations failed to develop parenting models upon which they could base their ability to raise their children. In addition, this generation often failed
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
to develop methods of discipline that were consistent with their culture, leading some to replicate the rigid and often violent methods of discipline that had been imposed upon them with their own children. Haig-Brown emphasized the lack of positive role models because "Children learn parenting skills by the way they are parented" (and for many Aboriginal children who spent ten years or more at residential schools, one must conclude that these children "had limited experience as family members".xxxix Atteneave recollects that "Neither they nor their own parents had ever known life in a family from the age they first entered school.xl The parents had no memories and no patterns to follow in rearing children except for the regimentation of mass sleeping and impersonal schedules”. This lack of positive role modeling, brought on by the education process at residential schools, has taken its toll in the Aboriginal family in Canada today. When the family structure is weakened or destroyed the culture and society cannot help but be affected. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Indian Act, convened from 1946 to 1948, was instrumental in redefining federal policy with regard to residential schools for Aboriginal children.xli In its submission to the Committee the Indian Association of Alberta (IAA) noted that the treaties provided for the establishment of schools on reserves and, among its many recommendations, it advocated that the residential school system be curtailed in favour of day schools. xlii The Association emphasized that “No child can develop as he should, without the care and affection of family life … [and the] restrictions, discipline, exclusive use of English, etc., in the Residential Schools are now recognized as having a harmful effect on immature minds and bodies”xliii The IAA noted that there may be some situations where residential schools are needed to meet local needs but they should continue in operation only if requested by the Indians themselves, and in these cases they should be properly funded, equipped, and staffed.
1.7.2 COMPLIANCE ISSUES The following section describes the extent to which residential schools in this period of time met prevailing standards. It will be appreciated that the manner in which residential schools were operated stands in stark contrast to the forms of parenting that had historically been a part of Aboriginal culture and tradition. Capacity of Institutions
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 43
It seems clear that many school principals admitted greater number of students than were desirable from a physical space and staffing perspective to compensate for the meagre funding formula applied by the Federal Government. Enns describes how during the period under consideration, in light of the resistance of many Oblates to the phasing out of residential schools, many children were admitted on the basis of fiscal considerations and ultimately to help the institution to survive. Foster care alternatives do not seem to have existed, and there is no evidence that the institutional model was able to differentiate on the basis of which children it could best serve. Staff Competence School principals were primarily administrators and were not required to possess training and responsible experience in working with children, nor were they expected to understand the principles and problems of child welfare services outside as well as inside the institution for which they were responsible. Child care workers were responsible for “the 24-hour care of children living in institutions” including the supervision of the activities of daily living for younger children and “guidance in personal and social responsibilities for older children, and received little respite from the challenging work of supervising 30 or more students 24 hours a day .”xliv In its findings the Caldwell report noted that “Since the institutional staff are the key to the quality of the program that is offered, concern must be recorded at the low educational qualifications demanded, the low status of the staff, the limited wages, the long hours and the minimum attention paid to staff development and training.”xlv The Caldwell report noted that the Department had implemented one-week training courses for residential staff but it recommended that “a very strong, well-organized training and staff development component” be developed.xlvi It recommended that this training become part of the ongoing routine of the various residences. It also recommended that the role of the senior supervisor be professionalized “so that this person can teach and direct the child care staff in their function.”xlvii This could be accomplished by hiring social workers into these positions or through other, specialized training. The report noted that the Branch employed various professional staff that could assist in this, and that university extension programs could also be used. Two years later Kogawa reported “At the present time, there are few child care workers employed in Indian Student Residences who are qualified in terms of formal training.”xlviii
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
It has also been noted that staff did not have separate housing as recommended by the CWLA, but that for the most part they shared sleeping quarters with the students they supervised and whom they spent the majority of their time. It can be speculated that such conditions may have led in no small way to the negative and sometimes harmful interactions that have been reported by many former residents. Children’s Work In its submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Indian Act, convened from 1946 to 1948, the Indian Association of Alberta (IAA) condemned the existing “half-time work system”. Their submission reported that up to three years of a child’s allotted school time between the ages of seven and 16 years-of-age were devoted to manual labour in the schools and it recommended that the system of manual labour be abolished.xlix Delegates stated that “To speak about Indian advancement under such conditions is [sic] sheer mockery. The present system encourages educational delinquency, retarded development, and an aversion to education. Practically speaking it creates a class of people who are unable to be anything more than hewers of wood and Enns has provided a comparison of per capita costs for similar institutions that provided funding far in excess of the amounts provided for Indian residential schools. It seems clear that the expectation for work was excessive and not in keeping with the overall development and education of the students. Groupings (Total Institution) Enns indicates that while the development of small cottages that could accommodate no more than twenty children with its own housemother to avoid too much routine the children’s lives was proposed early in the development of residential schools, this never occurred. In the words of one former resident; In the dormitory, there were three rows of beds. There were 45-50 girls, and two nuns would sleep in the corner, with the curtain drawn their beds, one at one end and one at the other end. You'd go to sleep, then they'd be walking around. It was just like a jail, a penitentiary. That's what it was like, when they took us from our parents and put us in there, like we did something wrong. Everybody was crying, little kids crying because they didn't want to stay there. They'd get so lonesome. The residential school model was a total institution as described by Goffman.l The residential school experience of many of the survivors indicates that there was an overall failure to meet the
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 45
human and developmental needs of children. Josefowitz & Barnes have closely studied factors related to stress and resilience in the residential school experience. There are prevailing themes in this research along with others that mirror the accounts of many residential schools survivors. The schools failure to individualize children, as every moment of their day was regimented to the extent that they lost any sense of who they were, has been well documented, and produced many individuals considered of little use to their communities of origin or to mainstream society. Many survivors describe themselves as having reached a stage of robot-like behaviour as a result of their treatment throughout their formative years. The following account of life in the residential schools speaks to this experience. li So everything was controlled. What you spoke, they controlled. They controlled our religion. The nuns taught us what was good and what was evil. The dances and feasts were evil. We were worshipping a different God. There’s only one God but they invented another one, I guess, for us. Discipline in these schools was harsh and the daily routine rigid. Children were required to speak only English and were punished for using their Aboriginal language. Their hair, an important cultural symbol, was cut short. Uniforms replaced individually created and uniquely decorated Aboriginal clothes. Visits home were few and far between. Clearly, the boarding school was an effort to destroy cultural identity; unfortunately, it was quite successful as many lost touch with their tribal language, religious beliefs, customs, and social norms. Funding While it was considered desirable for an institution to secure a considerable part of its support from its community served in which it operated, the primary source of income was derived from per capita grants provided by the Government of Canada. It seems likely that the religious congregations would not have received some financial support from their members, but it is conjectured that this would have been of limited benefit in view of the ongoing financial constraints experienced by the residential schools. Insufficient funding for the religious organizations, who received far less funding than similar child care institutions in North America, helps to explain substandard diets and at times inedible food that could not sustain the growing bodies of children, inadequate clothing, sleeping accommodations that were overcrowded and a breeding ground for the spread of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, inadequate staff ratios, poor training, the need for children to work on the school farm and to take on significant responsibilities for the work inside the facility, etc. Enns provides a detailed description of the
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
problems created by poorly constructed facilities and their effect on child health. This problem was compounded by poorly heated and ventilated buildings that were ill conceived and illequipped to deal with the extremes of Canada’s weather, compounded by deficiencies in cleanliness and sanitation that also contributed to the spread of illness. Intake and Assessment Process There is no evidence that a casework approach was followed for the admission of students to the institution and for follow up with the child upon discharge for most of this period of time. According to our information, decisions for admission to residential schools were arbitrary and enforced by the police and Indian Agent. There are no records of completed social or family assessments, nor are there any references to such in the documentation available. In 1959, a sixcategory grading system was introduced to assess children based on their potential for integration and that provided for an assessment of actual or potential neglect in the children’s family home.lii This method was therefore not only a grading system, but a practice guide for federal staff in addressing suspected child neglect in aboriginal homes.
Enns indicates that when provincial welfare agencies became involved they viewed residential schools as resources for children in care, while at the same time, Indian Affairs was trying to avoid “exclusive welfare services for Indians, which would set them apart from other Canadians” and they were seen as a “costly duplication of provincial programs.” In 1949 the Department of Indian Affairs began to recruit social workers to assist local superintendents in matters related to children and families, and Federal documents from the 1950’s attest to their efforts to promote change in the treatment of children and their families and closer work with provincial authorities. A meeting of Indian Affairs Branch Social Workers in November of 1955 chaired by the Director of Indian Affairs and attended by the Minister and Deputy Minister provides some interesting insights into the evolution of social workers roles in this organization. The proceedings of the conference closed with the hope that the influence of social work in the Branch would result in the “elevation of standards of welfare practice …”liii The record of this meeting stated that negotiations on the extension of children’s services to the reserves were continuing between the Government of Canada and the Government of
Ontario but no definite commitments had yet been made. It was hoped that these negotiations
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 47
would establish a pattern for similar developments throughout Canada. Numerous child welfare problems were coming to the attention of Indian Affairs field staff and it was important to improve services for neglected and delinquent children. It was noted that due to a lack of understanding “punitive methods” were applied, especially when dealing with unmarried mothers. There were also concerns that Indian Affairs Branch Child Welfare Protection services were placing children in foster homes without supervision or subsequent planning and that children were being admitted to residential schools “for no other apparent reason than the economy of welfare funds”. liv In an undated document, the Indian Commissioner for BC wrote to the Chief of the Welfare Division expressing concern about Indian residential schools being used extensively to accommodate orphan children, those from broken families and others whose home conditions were unsatisfactory. In his opinion, the majority of these children would be viewed as neglected children under Provincial Child Welfare Legislation. The Commissioner requested a review of the individual situations throughout the province and case histories illustrating the problems of these children as reflected in their case histories. lv It seems clear that the intake and assessment process was plagued by uncertainty about federal/provincial roles and responsibilities, a lack of expertise in the assessment of home conditions, a lack of clarity about the purpose of residential schools, disagreement between the federal government and the Oblates about the continuation of the residential school system, and the lack of legal constituted procedures to making decisions about the placement of Aboriginal children. Legal Status of children The IODE Report stated that “the normal processes of the day in terms of providing wardship were necessary to provide legal guardianship and care for children through the means of the courts or through the process known as surrender and indenture required important safeguards, in view of the importance of such decisions on Aboriginal families and their children.” There is no evidence of a legal process by which the transfer legal custody by court action, with the consent of a properly designated state department or by a transfer of custody by the parent until the entry of the provincial child welfare system in the late 1950s. A memorandum in 1959 from M.S. Payne, supervisor of social workers in Indian Affairs on the subject of residential school admissions provides an analysis of the situation as it evolved by the end of the 1950s. lvi Payne suggests that the current way of dealing with neglected children by placing them in residential
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
schools leaves a great deal to be desired, and that it is only a partial solution to the problems of the child. Payne expresses the hope that when the services of child caring agencies are available, a policy would be adopted by where admissions to residential schools for reasons of neglect would be limited to only those children who are under the temporary or permanent guardianship of an accredited child caring agency, a policy that had been adopted earlier in Ontario. The province of Alberta began to evolve a system and the resources needed to serve First Nations communities around that time, but it took some time for this to develop in conjunction with the expansion of the government’s regional office system throughout the province. Meanwhile the Government of Canada seems to have relied upon its traditional role with Aboriginal people under the Indian Act to make decisions about First Nations children, notwithstanding the statute of general applicability that was designed to ensure the same protections and services as ‘provincial residents’ to First Nations communities. It is difficult to understand how the federal government might have promulgated such legislation in the face of a well recognised incapacity at the provincial and municipal levels. There is no evidence of a realistic appraisal having been conducted of the feasibility of such a change, nor of a well considered transition plan from Federal to Provincial jurisdiction. Provincial child welfare workers involvement with Indian families on reserves did broaden when the government of Alberta began to expand its regional offices in 1959. A major shift took place that involved Aboriginal people, Federal and Provincial officials, and religious organizations. It is strongly speculated, however, that a collective awareness was lacking in terms of what was unfolding at the community level in the aftermath of closing the residential schools. This shift would also have resulted in the gradual exit of religious orders and federal officials from residential school system operations, which had turned into child caring resources. While this happened, provincial child welfare legislation was applied. In the case of Alberta, it was carried out by provincial officials, few of whom had had much to do with residential schools or federal administrative systems.lvii Provincial officials approached child neglect in aboriginal community with the use of off-reserve institutions and non-aboriginal foster families. While they became heavily involved with Indian and Metis children, the new service providers had little historical knowledge of the residential school system or for that matter of aboriginal cultures. Superintendent McFarland stated as follows.
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 49
Our child protection services in this province are in their infancy – not only must we get back to these famous ‘grass roots’ and start doing more preventative work with basic family problems but we must go back even further to the basic family pattern, and cultural environment of family life in this province to see that the seeds future neglect are not only not planted, but are not able to grow.lviii This process continues to unfold today, as the federal, provincial and local band government struggle to find new solutions to age old problems. Regrettably, the federal government has continued its now historical stance. Whereas it used to fund church groups inadequately and in a fashion that favoured the removal of children from their communities, and disclaiming any responsibility for the quality of programs; it now fails to invest in early intervention and preventative programs that would make a substantive difference to First Nations delegated agencies whose communities continue to lose their children to white service providers in disproportionate numbers; all the while continuing to disclaim responsibility for the poor outcomes that are achieved. Food The provision of food continued to be an issue for students in residential schools according to anecdotal information from former residents about the dismal quality and frequently inedible food. In addition a number of studies by dieticians have described the dietary deficiencies that existed in many of the schools Clothing The story of residential schools is replete with examples of handing down garments that have been used by other children in the institution, including shoes that had been worn by others, something that was specifically prohibited. Education The educational program devalued students in the very beginning with an assumption that they only had the potential to become farm labourers or domestics in the homes of surrounding white settlers. The educational curriculum provided for a minimum of classroom learning that consisted for the most part of a half-day of class time and a half-day of manual and/or domestic work. These conditions have been attributed to the inadequacy of federal government funding. In light of the half days spent working in the institution, it seems highly unlikely that the schools could have met the minimum expectations required by the law. While this practice has been connected to the importance of producing sufficient food to offset the limited per capita grants
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
provided by the Government of Canada, it also seems related to prevailing assumptions about the capacity of Aboriginal children to strive for occupations beyond those of household domestics and farm labourers. With rare exceptions, children completed their formal education by the age of 16 and few were provided with an opportunity for high school, professional, and college education. This attitude stands in sharp contrast to the IODE Report which provided the perspective of some esteemed child welfare professionals about Canada’s Aboriginal people.lix “The whole question of the relation of the Canadian and Indian population is under serious review from the angle of our failure to have afforded, through the years, opportunity for the interassimilation of a race, many of whose tribes have shown themselves intelligent, enterprising, gifted and self-reliant. There is grave question of where responsibility lies for those who have not [shown themselves to be intelligent, enterprising, gifted and self-reliant].” Religious Education It is patently clear that not only did children not receive religious instruction in accordance to the traditional faith of their parents, but the denigration of their parent’s beliefs and spiritual traditions as pagan was consistent with the churches’ objective of Christianisation. This continues to leave many Aboriginal people confused and ambivalent about their religious and spiritual belief systems. Recreation It is difficult to gauge the extent to which play was allowed in the children’s lives, although it is clear that this was provided to some extent. Accounts of former residents abound with stories of considerable time spent in chapel, study, work interspersed with some descriptions of organised sports, so it can be speculated that such opportunities were somewhat limited. What was likely most difficult was the constraint that was placed upon the students on interaction between boys and girls, many of whom were siblings or related to each other. Residential schools usually had rules prohibiting conversation between the genders and preventing them from associating together in the institution. Relationship with Relatives While visits from relatives were allowed, it does not seem that they were actively supported. Visits were usually conducted in formal settings and closely supervised by staff. Visits from parents were often discouraged and disparaged. One person who worked at the Sturgeon Lake reserve back in the 1950s recently described how the priests would point to the occasionally
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 51
inebriated parents who sat on the front steps of the principal’s residence to beg for food were pointed out to the student as prime examples of what they would become without the beneficial effects of the school. Mail was censored and every effort was made to remove any sense of connection to community and to parents in the belief that they would be a negative influence on the children. In many instances the residential schools were located at a distance from the community that required extensive travel by parents and relatives. While national standards called for institutions to accommodate both boys and girls so that brother and sister groups could be kept together and have the advantages of association, it was standard policy to prevent contact between the sexes, even for sibling groups and blood relatives. The IODE report spoke “of the grave responsibility of the agency giving care to children who still have parents of their own and to whom they are likely to return, is to see that the bonds of family loyalty, affection and responsibility are not weakened but are fostered in every way.” There is no evidence that such factors were a consideration until much later in the 1950s, when social workers hired to work with provincial superintendents raised concerns about the system that had been developed and the failure to follow commonly accepted child welfare standards. Accounts of residential school experiences describe an atmosphere of pervasive fear due to undue and severe punishments to children. It must have been terrible for children to be subjected to such treatment and to not have recourse to the protection of family. There are many accounts of the extreme loneliness of children separated from family and friends, some of which describe hazardous attempts to reach their homes over long distances in inclement weather that resulted in their death. As well as the breakdown of the extended family and kinship systems, the confusion created by the residential schools' indoctrination undermined the role of elders passing down traditions. The ban on speaking Aboriginal languages interfered with this "passing down" process. By going into the residential school, I missed knowing my mother. I missed learning how to talk Cree --I never really learned how to talk Cree. I was raised there, and they made us shut up every time we tried to talk Cree. I would have loved to spend more time with the grandfathers and grandmothers. We never went to visit them after our mother died--we never saw them after that.lx Prohibiting the use of Aboriginal languages at every residential school and enforcing this prohibition by the threat of corporal punishment discouraged the speaking of one's mother tongue. Young children were isolated culturally and geographically for a period of ten months a
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
year for most of their middle childhood years. This diminished the chance for Aboriginal children to gain respect for their elders, their language, and their culture, and to feel a sense of pride in their unique Aboriginal selves. Today child-rearing patterns among Aboriginal people have been severely affected and modified. In the process children’s self-esteem has been damaged and inter-generational communication has broken down because of the loss of language and the failure to transmit cultural values, beliefs, and customs. lxi Community Contacts Most residential schools were isolated and uninvolved with the local community, and there are no descriptions of their use as a resource for the adults and children who lived nearby. The relationship of the residential schools to the home and to the community was shrouded in isolation and secrecy, leaving the children vulnerable to many forms of abuse. Not only were Aboriginal children educated separately from the dominant society, they were also educated away from their own culture. In this setting, isolated culturally and geographically, the task of the residential school system was ensured: that task was the systematic, formalized transmission of the dominant society’s values, skills, culture, religion, and language. Their isolation led many students to experience themselves as alien to white society as well as to their communities of origin. In short, they did not really belong anywhere. Length of Stay in the Institution It was recognised that long institutional care in the institution should be avoided because of the weakening of family ties created by prolonged separation and a stay in an institution was to be brief. In contrast children were normally placed in a residential school from 6 to 16 years of age. By the time children returned communities or tribes found their children changed in terms of values. Children were confused. Instead of completely acquiring the values, skills, language, culture, and religion of the dominant society, the system created conflicts between parents and children. Over a period of time some pupils coming out of residential schools began to display the effects of their education and when they became parents themselves, they lacked confidence and awareness in child rearing. Records There are few case records on the children served, and those that are available provide a very limited record of their condition and development. ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 53
It was noted earlier that all alternative care services for children such as foster homes and institutions were to provide for some basic human needs. The following is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to illustrate the extent to which these common needs were not only not fully met, but in some respects totally contravened: Children’s Needs for Security and a sense of belonging There is common agreement that children have a basic need for security, stability, a sense of belonging and to count for something in the lives of others. In lieu of the sense of security that children need to develop fully as human beings, the accounts of residential school survivors resonate with negative experiences. This is not to deny that some former residents do report positive experiences. Why some children have better experiences than others is a subject of interest that is beyond the scope of this report. What is clear is that many have been subjected to traumatic experiences that continue to affect them and Aboriginal communities to this day. Abuse Many Aboriginal children were subjected to starvation, incarceration, physical and sexual abuse, and prolonged separation from families. In a 1992 study, negative boarding school experiences were recounted by a majority of respondents and include physical abuse (58.1%), being punished for speaking Lakota (37.9%), and sexual abuse by boarding school staff (22.6%)lxii. In the words of one former resident: I’ve heard some of those stories from older men. How they were treated. And one example was like when they went to bed or something, they were yanked out of bed in the middle of the night and dipped into ice cold water and forced to stand in the corner bare naked in front of everybody like for a day and it was just horrible. This older fellow was telling me that it happened to him. I think he was at an Alberta mission and he said he ran into one of the nuns who used to teach in there. She was in the old folk’s home in Northern Alberta. This was years and years later. He was already in his 50s by then and this nun saw him come into the old folks home and she said, oh, my son and she was trying to be all sweet and nice and thought he would be happy to see her and he said he looked at her and he just froze and she came up to him and he said he slapped her face. He couldn’t help himself. He had all that hate and anger in him for so many years he just couldn’t control it. It’s just awful things to cause a person to do that to a nun”. When he was a little boy in the convent he was raped every night. As a result of that how would you expect that man to even be a good father – he’d have so much hate.”lxiii Discipline and Punishment
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
There have been many accounts of severe punishment by staff. It is significant that the few directives issued from Ottawa to residential schools reiterated the importance of not resorting to physical punishment, leading one to easily conclude that it must have been an issue of overriding concern. The documentation reviewed is replete with requests to school principals to deal with staff who have been accused of overly harsh and severe punishments, and the resistance of the administration to deal with the concerns. We lived in such fear. Fear of punishment. It was the punishment that was really bad. They punished for everything: when you were lined up . . .lxiv Pervasive Fear Many accounts of residential schools speak to the pervasive fear that children had to live with for most of their childhood. The practice of cruel and unanticipated punishment left children in a constant state of fear and anxiety, as even if they were not personally punished, they never knew when they might be next. Corporal punishment associated with the Aboriginal language This form of discipline was devastating to the pupils. However, many Aboriginal parents resorted to using this form of punitive discipline with their offspring. This is understandable because the use of this "punitive discipline is the result of harsh treatment modeled for them as children by the staff" at residential schools. Many Aboriginal people who left the residential school system feared to speak their language and so failed to teach the language and traditional ways to their children. Of this fear to speak the language Haig-Brown (1988) wrote that "as adults many consciously did not teach their children an Aboriginal language so that they might avoid the punishments incurred through its use at school" (p.110). One of the tragedies of this fear of speaking one's Aboriginal language is the failure to take advantage of what a culture offers to help ease the hardship of parenting. In former times an intricate network of relatives could be depended on to help in child rearing. There has been a breakdown to traditional and cultural child-rearing patterns. Near loss or loss of language and the fear of speaking it has affected these belief systems and child-rearing values. Dakota Elder Eva McKay of Sioux Valley states "It's true that the residential school life has altered the traditional way of our people and was the beginning of the breaking up of traditional family life. We came out confused…and the hurt that we did not bring out but hid within us became a reality later in life.lxv
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 55
184.108.40.206 TO LIVE WITH OTHERS IN A FAMILY SETTING OR IN A SMALL GROUP AND TO DEVELOP
MUTUAL ATTACHMENTS AND A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR OTHERS
The failure to provide an environment that somewhat resembled a family setting where students could experience the development of mutual attachments and a sense of responsibility for others has led to repercussions that continue in a cycle of lateral violence, high suicide rates, addictions, poverty, failed relationships, and an inability to parent effectively. Effects on family and community life It has suggested that "the causes of the widespread breakdown in Indian family life are complex."lxvi Aboriginal people are all affected in some way whether they attended these schools or not. Even those aboriginal people who never attended residential schools have relatives or friends who still feel the effects. Those who attended residential schools find it extremely painful and avoid introspection of this highly emotionally burdensome and damaging experience; and those who did not attend are indirectly affected because they cannot understand why an educational experience should leave such bitter emotional scars. An indication of the “success” of the residential schools is that many children graduated with little notion of who they were as Aboriginal people. In the words of one survivor: Look at all these kids that have been taken away from the reserve. They don’t even know where they come from. They don’t know who their relations are or anything. There’s a lot of them that come back and say this. They don’t know anybody. The practice of separating children “from their parents and their way of life had a drastic impact on almost all Aboriginal families. The structure, cohesion and quality of family life suffered. Parenting skills diminished as succeeding generations became more and more institutionalized and experienced little nurturing. Low self-esteem and self-concept problems arose as children were taught that their own culture was inferior and uncivilized, even ‘savage.”lxvii Intergenerational Trauma We have parents who are bitter, and are passing their own bitterness on to their children. This vicious cycle has to stop. lxviii This generation of young Aboriginal people is the first generation that did not attend residential schools; but because their parents and grandparents attended, they are deeply affected by the wounds and bitter memories of early childhood experiences. Generations of breaking up Aboriginal families have severely undermined the role of the
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
extended family and kinship networks, causing that structure to break down, or in most cases, to be destroyed (Ing, 1991). Clinical and research experience among the Lakota reveal that Indian parents who were themselves raised in boarding school settings feel inadequate and overwhelmed in their parental role. Further, descendants of boarding school attendees also report a history of neglect and abuse in their own childhoods along with feelings of inadequacy as parents and confusion about how to raise children in a healthy way. This historical trauma has resulted in the impairment of culturally normative parenting styles and high risk for developing alcohol and drug abuse problems associated with ineffective and injurious parenting.lxix Loss of affection Before residential schools, in Aboriginal families, a general loving attitude toward all children prevailed, not just for one’s own children, but love for all the children of the tribe. An orphan or an adopted child was not in any way mistreated or set apart by the family, but was gratefully taken in and cherished. Aboriginal people have been noted to accord unquestioned acceptance of, and respect for, all individuals, irrespective of age or sex, not only for their abilities but also with considerable tolerance as well for their weaknesses.lxx In the words of a former resident: If you go and hug someone, you can just feel the tenseness, we hardly ever had that, and that began from the residential school, I think, because we never loved on another that way.” “They (our children) don't realize how hard we had it and they think we are just neglecting them. We just don't know how to show our affection to them. We don't know how and that's hard. It’s very interesting and we survived before, we didn’t have the dollar. We had love. We had respect for our elders and love from our children because we showed them love. They didn’t just send them away to school. They learned lots at home instead of being sent some place else to learn from somebody else and I think that’s why our kids don’t in a way respect us because we just sent them away somewhere else to learn all them other things besides love and respect. Among the damaging effects of residential schools, these are the most difficult to quantify and to validate, but as a result of being allowed to participate in many talking circles with Aboriginal people, and the opportunity to review a veritable treasure trove of historical documents I can see even more clearly that this is an important “legacy” of the residential school experience that will require more work on the part of Aboriginal communities at a fundamental human level. Conclusions
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 57
While it would be difficult to revisit all of this material and compare my views with those who were regarded as leaders and luminaries in this era, it seems clear that what has been described in this document is very much supported by the various reports and commissions of the time. By the end of the 1940s numerous studies of child welfare services had come forward. Collectively, the Child Welfare Committee, the IODE Report, and the Royal Commission in Alberta provided a clear picture of standards for child welfare practice. These included recommendations for the professionalization of child welfare services to children, the use of selection committees to identify suitable employees, ongoing professional development and annual conventions of staff, and a decrease in the use of large institutions in favour of small cottages and community-based resources. In addition, great emphasis was placed on supporting children in the home through individual casework, for example, enhancing the role of the family and community in supporting the child and decision making, and addressing economic deprivation to ensure that children were not removed from their homes because of poverty. The standards of service developed by the Child Welfare League of America which form the foundation for this paper were recognised by each of these reviews. Given the federal government’s obligations towards Aboriginal children it should have been aware of the standards referred to in these reviews in Alberta in the 1940s. There is no evidence that the federal government moved to any significant extent to revise its practices with Aboriginal children in accordance with the standards evidenced in these provincial reviews. The federal government was also clearly aware of the findings of the 1946 to 1948 Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Indian Act. Among the numerous presentations made to the Committee the submission of the Indian Association of Alberta provided specific recommendations for restructuring the system. In particular, it emphasized the importance of family relationships for the developing child and called for the development of a day school system, as promised in the treaties, as well as the curtailment of the residential system. It also called for the abolition of the half-day of manual labour and for the establishment of trained welfare workers on every reserve. While the educational component of residential schools underwent substantial changes following the Joint Committee’s work, the residential component went on largely unchanged. For the purposes of this proceeding, however, it is important to distinguish between options that improved the education of Aboriginal children from child welfare concerns.lxxi The department
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
believed that the needs of many Aboriginal students could be met by providing access to provincial day schools, and accommodation when necessary. In this case residential services were extended in order to facilitate attendance at day schools, presumably if the child lived too far away from a school to commute, and not because of child welfare concerns. The department also recognized that some children required residential services as a result of child welfare concerns such as neglect or abandonment. In these cases residential services were extended to address both the child welfare and educational needs. These cases were clearly more complex and involved additional issues around appropriate identification and placement following graduation or during summer holidays. At least some of the difficulties associated with implementing the policy of integration appear to have arisen as a result of disagreements over the number of child welfare cases and the number of children who continued to be admitted for extended periods of time, much like children had been admitted prior to integration. These ongoing admissions appeared to have been related to a number of factors. First, staff members of the Indian Affairs Branch were given the responsibility of identifying children at risk and planning for their care. Officials in the Branch made it clear that their employees did not possess the skills required for this job. Second, provincial services were typically not available for Aboriginal children that were in need, and were properly identified, so they continued to be admitted to residential schools for extended periods of time. Finally, there was disagreement and some confusion over how many children were actually in need of child welfare services and some concern that the Oblates were continuing to admit children, purportedly on the basis of child welfare need, even when these needs did not exist. These three issues continued to plague the authorities and First Nations communities throughout the period in question to the detriment of Aboriginal children. While concerns had been expressed by social workers hired in the early 1960s and there was great unease with the role and purpose of the residential schools expressed in various reports, little had changed until the report commissioned to the Canadian Welfare Council and completed by Caldwell in 1967 produced strong evidence of the shortcomings of this model of care and education. The major conclusions and recommendations of this important report mirror and support much of the salient facts proposed in this document. Caldwell’s report supported Canada’s push toward a greater integration of Aboriginal people with mainstream society and the
PREVAILING STANDARDS AND RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS 59
desire to phase out of residential schools, a task that would be opposed by the Oblate order to the bitter end. It does not appear that Canada ever did develop an acceptable way to provide protection and alternate care for Aboriginal children, and this was to finally be taken over by the province in accord with the direction proposed as early as 1940. This, of course, continued to create the same outcomes for children and their families, a scenario that continues to affect child and family life today even delegated agreements between Canada, Alberta, and First Nations to provide child welfare services with and by Aboriginal people. While not wishing to sound overly cynical, it is important to recognise that until we have the collective courage to allow and support First Nations communities in the development of child, family and community services that are in keeping with their values, traditions and spirituality, nothing will change in any substantial fashion.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
At the age of seven, they took us from our homes They cut off our braids Told our parents they would go to jail Without fail If they did not send us to residential school Our parents were not fools They knew they were going to be used as tools for the priests and nuns What a process they put us through Took away our culture, language and tradition They shamed and sexually, physically, mentally abused us All in the name of the Lord As we grew older
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
We could not forget the past It would for generations last What priests and nuns did To a once proud race Now we have alcohol and drugs to make us forget Our ways are lost But not by choice But by who ruled at the time
- Ron Soto Member of Sturgeon Lake First Nation, Alberta
THE STURGEON LAKE COMMUNITY AND THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM
THE STURGEON LAKE COMMUNITY AND THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM Our first step was to create a community consultation process that confirmed a general dissatisfaction with the current child welfare system and a strong desire for change. Specifically, an important theme identified in the consultation was the desire for a health/wellness perspective to inform whatever new system was created. The participants indicated that healthy children depend on healthy families who feel connected to, and supported by, the community in good times and in bad, and that this principle must underpin whatever ‘helping’ system is created. In July 1997, I had asked two members of the Sturgeon Lake Band as the Alberta Children’s Advocate to initiate a community consultation process, with the results to be used to guide future action. These representatives were Margaret Kappo, and her mother, Mrs. Mary Kappo, a highly respected elder. The community child welfare project generated particular interest among members of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation which had been providing child welfare services since the early 80s. Sturgeon Lake is a rural community of approximately 800 First Nation individuals plus an equal number who live off reserve. Margaret Kappo facilitated several meetings in this community and local interest increased with each meeting. The involvement of a large proportion of community members indicated a remarkable support for the goal of improving the ability of the child welfare system to protect and enhance the lives of children. At the initial community meetings, considerable fear and uncertainty about the child welfare system were apparent. A talking circle format helped to create a supportive environment and to provide participants with a safe and familiar opportunity to voice their concerns. Individuals present when the initial Child Welfare agreement was originally implemented in the mid-80s expressed disappointment over how the system has since evolved. They had envisioned significantly greater community involvement in the development of services for children and families. When the originators of this new system reflected on more than a decade of local control of child welfare, it seemed clear that the original goal of creating a system that was responsive to community conditions and input had not been fully achieved. According to many community members, the present system could sometimes be as oppressive and culturally insensitive as the one it had replaced. As time progressed, participants in community meetings developed a fundamentally different perspective on the child welfare situation in Sturgeon Lake. Fear and confusion about child welfare were still evident. At the same time, however, participants began to evolve into a
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
“planning group” as they gained a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for addressing problems in the system, rather than leaving this up to politicians and professionals. This planning group identified several barriers to community members’ involvement in child welfare. These included: • • • • • Fear of child welfare and of having children removed Fear of being judged inadequate parents Fear that the politicians would not listen Confusion about how decisions were made, and Fear of community gossip.
In addition to these individual-level barriers, the planning group identified what they perceived as problems with the child welfare system itself. These systemic problems included: • • • • • • Policies that prevent many community members from direct involvement in child welfare programs as foster parents, drivers, and visit supervisors Lack of emphasis on prevention and early intervention Lack of preparation when children are returned to the community after an out-ofhome placement Poor access to needed social and financial resources Lack of information regarding programs and entitlements Poor relationships between the community and agencies involved in delivering services to children and families. Participants also identified a number of positive aspects of the current child welfare system. These included: • • • • • • • Delegated authority to deliver child welfare services Local child welfare committees that do function well Community interest in providing support for children in care Culturally sensitive child welfare workers at the community level Involvement of the Elders at the community level Greater numbers of children remaining in the community, and The involvement of the Children’s Advocate.
THE STURGEON LAKE COMMUNITY AND THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM
Having identified and reflected on the barriers, problems, and positive aspects of child welfare in their community, the planning group moved into an action phase. The action phase focused on increasing community input into the development and implementation of programs affecting children and families in Sturgeon Lake. Patsy Bohler, a Band Council member, represented the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation at the political level of the child welfare system. To increase and diversify community input, the planning group invited people from agencies that share responsibility for child welfare. This included representatives from Alberta Family and Social Services and the Sturgeon Lake Band Council. Workers from a neighboring child welfare district office were invited and joined enthusiastically in the discussions. Several foster parents from other communities attended because of a desire to ensure that the children they care for remain connected to their home community. This was indeed a community that ‘welcomed strangers.’ Planning group members emphasized the need for child welfare programs to include traditional healing approaches. They also spoke to the importance of working in cooperation with tribal elder, such as having pipe carriers’ act as teachers and leaders to help youth become more aware of traditional spiritual ways. The planning group’s most important message, however, was that the community wished to reclaim their legitimate right to have a primary role to play in the protection and well being of their children. The planning group discussed one example of how the system currently restricted community members’ involvement in child welfare. Policy precluded many band members from serving as foster parents, drivers, or visit supervisors because individuals with a criminal record or a claim of child abuse substantiated against them were automatically disallowed from such roles. However, it was widely recognized that many people whose names appear on a criminal record or child abuse registry had lived without problems for many years, and were in fact leading exemplary lives. The planning group argued that the existence of a record should not by itself prevent individuals from assuming child protective roles. Changing this policy to incorporate more appropriate criteria for evaluating an individual’s ability to work effectively with children would entail no threat to children’s safety. In particular, this policy should incorporate the opinion of the community regarding any individual interested in assuming a child protective role, as in such a small community everyone was well known. Advocacy efforts by community members succeeded in changing this policy with the local director of Child Welfare, an action that validated the efforts of the community members involved in this process.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The communities’ vision of a safe place for children led them to initiate an important process of building upon that experience to identify what contributed to and what worked against the achievement of their vision. The participants began with an idea of an improved and friendlier child welfare system. This led to a broader vision: one of child, family and community wellness. This vision is informed by the stories of the people of Sturgeon Lake. As these stories were told and heard, healing began to occur. As they become empowered, they were able to give more fully of themselves and to contribute more. As the people of Sturgeon Lake compared their original hopes for a locally controlled child welfare system to the system that had actually evolved, they were inspired. They believed that, by building on the lessons of the past, a healthier community could be created – a community of wellness that would give their children the nurturing and healthy home they so deserve.
RECOLLECTIONS The following recollection by a survivor of the residential school and community member is presented because it illustrates in a matter of fact way what life was like from the eyes of a child. It illustrates the movement from the care of family to one of depersonalization by having numbers assigned to them and being subjected to a very rigid routine after a life of relative freedom in the community. The experiences of physical punishment, sexual abuse, lack of privacy at bath time, isolation from family and community, poor nutrition are interspersed with bittersweet memories of Christmas pageants and hockey games that briefly interrupted the routine and monotony of institutional life. While touched on briefly and from the perspective of a child, the life of the nuns who cared for them, far from their own homes and without respite, is touched upon and calls for closer examination. This except clearly illustrates how the residential schools failed to meet established standards of care in Canada during that era.
I was seven when I went to the residential school – I started in grade one. Some of the kids – the ones with no parents - were put in earlier, at three or four years old. The government wanted me in school at the age of seven. I started in grade one and went right up to grade nine. We lived in a log house by the lake – they started upgrading the reserves then by building houses, with lumber. I used to live with my auntie and grandfather and his wife, they had chickens and cows and pigs. When I was in residential school, there were as many as 65 girls there. They used to number you, “1” was the oldest, right down to the youngest girl – I remember there was a number “65” once. There were only girls there – the boys had their classes in their own dormitories – so there were only the girls and the sisters. I started remembering from when I was number 42. After that, I went right up to number 25. Every year about five or six new little girls would come in. Everybody had to get up at six in the morning, kneel down by their beds and pray. After the prayer they had to fix their beds nicely, like in the army. Then we had to wash ourselves – our faces and hands and hair – we only took a bath once a week, and that was on Sunday. There were only eight tubs in the room, and there had to be two girls in one tub – and we had to use the same water for everybody, for 65 girls.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
There were sad times and good times too, sometimes. We would go on a picnic, which was the best thing that happened to us. Once a year in June we’d go. At Christmas, some girls didn’t go home, so we’d get presents and have Christmas dinner, which was the best dinner of the year. At Christmas they’d let whoever was left in the mission sleep in – we were allowed to sleep in until 8 o’clock – that felt like a treat to me. When we’d get up, we’d see the sisters all lined up with their candles, singing Christmas carols right around where the basins were in the middle. That was the big treat of the year. The sisters didn’t go home to their families, they all came from Quebec. They just stayed there year after year. The only time they were allowed to leave was when they were transferring to another mission. The sisters cooked the food. We grew the potatoes, and then we had cows, chickens and pigs. They had brothers there who grew the cabbage and carrots and whatever. There was a shack in the potato field where the hired workers lived. There was a house where the father lived, and buildings all around. There was a barn, too.
Mac Papastesis and Cyprien Moses in front of the barn Sometimes I would stay at the mission all year. When my mom wanted us out, she would come and get us. My dad died when I was six, and I went to the mission when I was seven. Some of the kids stayed there all the time – some of their parents worked in camps, out of the reserve – it was hard for the kids to go home because their parents were not home, they were out working. We had a Christmas concert every year. Everybody was in it – the boys and the girls. People were allowed to come and see it. It was nice. I was a hopscotch dancer in the concert, like the Scottish people. We used to do the Nativity play on stage. They’d make a donkey suit and put it on these kids, and the kids would walk around like a donkey. They wouldn’t put Mary on its back, because it would flop, so Mary would walk beside the donkey and pretend to be on it. It
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
was kind of neat, the way they set it up, because we couldn’t have real animals on the stage. They were pretty creative in those days. I baked, I cooked, I sewed on sewing machines, and I knitted. The only thing I didn’t do was crocheting. I beaded, made moccasins, made gloves. They would send them to an exhibition in Edmonton once a year. One time I got first prize for my gloves, so I got twenty dollars – they took ten dollars, and then gave me ten dollars. They used to have a big box of stuff that they would send once a year to the exhibition in Edmonton. There was a piece of stuff from each girl that was old enough to do something. They made them do it, then they’d stamp it or mark it, then whoever came first got twenty dollars – they’d take ten off and give you the rest. But then we never got paid for doing our chores in the mission anyway, so that was just part of the routine. We had to look after the youngest girls. It’s just like being at home – the oldest looked after the middle ones, the middle looked after the smallest ones – that’s the way it was in there too. There were days, like the day that I got so sick. I had a boil on my neck – I didn’t know it was a boil – I just felt a lump. I didn’t tell anybody about it. One evening we were all sitting around – we used to sit around in the evenings from eight o’clock to nine o’clock, and then we were sent to bed at nine. All the girls were talking amongst each other, and then all of a sudden all I saw was black. I just keeled right over, and they didn’t know what was wrong with me. Six girls had to carry me to my bed. They gave me the smelling salts, and when I came to the sisters were standing around my bed. They said, “Margaret, what’s wrong? Tell us.” I showed them the lump – they wanted to know why I didn’t say something, but I didn’t know what it was. One sister used to make her own salve, an ointment. She went down to the kitchen, and then came back with it in a little silver container. She just put that on gauze and stuck it right on it. She left one girl there to look after me. The next day, she came to check on it – which salve sucked all the stuff out of that boil. The sisters were kind of like nurses put together as doctors. We never had hospitals in those days – just one nurse for the whole reserve. She couldn’t be all over when she was needed. If something was really wrong, they’d get one of the workers to drive to the town to get her, to give her a message – there were no phones in those days. That’s how come they were mean – because we couldn’t contact anybody about the way they treated us. If we had a phone in those days, we would have contacted somebody about the way these kids were being mistreated. Somebody would have been sure to let somebody know, but we couldn't, so we just had to endure what we got.
We couldn’t even chew gum. If we were caught chewing gum, we had to stick it right on our forehead or on our nose. Can you imagine standing in the middle with gum on your nose – you’d looked like a clown. The sisters had a little candy cupboard, something like that. This girl knew how to open the doorknob, by hanging over the transom and stepping on it from there. They had gum in that canteen. When she’d steal it, she’d share with everybody who knew that she was doing that, so that we wouldn’t talk. Sometimes you’d get a handful of gum, and you’d pass it around. Some of the kids would come back from home with some money, so they’d by some gum from the canteen and share it with the other kids, with their friends. They had chips in the canteen, too – we were allowed to have chips. Sometimes they would make us make our own. They had a potato slicer to slice them really thin. Then they’d deep fry them and put salt on them. Then we were allowed to eat them. The ones that you buy are dry – these were deep fried and wet. I never ran away from there, but my sister did. She got a real good spanking with a big black strap, about ten times, with her pants down. Sometimes they’d run away two at a time. You should see that big black strap. The sisters or the father would give the strap. I never got it, but I could feel it when they got it. You were watching and they were hollering and crying. You’d feel sad for them because you were looking at them getting it. That was the worst thing of all, seeing them get whooped with that, seeing it leave marks on their bum. The boys got that too, but they were in a separate place. They had their own sisters that looked after them, and we had ours. The boys were more likely sexually abused by the nuns than we were. One night I was sleeping, and I woke up to go to the bathroom – you used these little containers, because you didn’t go outside in the middle of the night. I just finished going to the bathroom, and I was going back to my bed when I heard a rustling noise from downstairs – where the sisters’ rooms were. All of a sudden I heard a baby cry twice, then after that I heard nothing. To this day, I still wonder what happened to that baby. It must have been one of the nuns, because none of the girls were ever pregnant, so it must have been one of the nuns. The baby cried twice – the cry of being born – and then nothing. When I turned sixteen I was still in school. I tried to behave from the time I went in till the time I was sixteen, because I didn’t want the nuns to spank me or anything. But when I turned sixteen I thought, “This is my last year here, I’m not coming back.” I went to school one morning, and the sister told me to put the stepladder behind the door. She was standing right in front of the door,
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
so I couldn’t move it. All of a sudden she just slapped me right across my face. I grabbed her and hung her on the coat rack, then just walked into the classroom. You should have seen the kids, they were just clapping and hollering, and she was just kicking away in there. Finally somebody put her down, and when she came in she sent me into the hall. I went into the hall and the sister who was looking after us was sitting there and asked me what happened. She said that it was not my fault, and to stay there with her. She said that when Sister Superior got home that we’d go see her. The sister who I had hung on the coat rack was there before me. Sister superior and three other sisters were sitting on each side of her. Sister superior asked me what was going on, and I asked her if she just wanted the sister’s version, or if she wanted to hear mine too. “If it’s only her you want to hear, I might as well just walk out of here and not bother saying anything, then you can punish me all you want. But, there are always two sides to everything.” She said that she would hear my side of the story, so I told her. I said that there were lots of kids that were listening to her (the sister), because we were all lining up to go into the classroom when she told me to put that stepladder behind the door. “If you don’t believe me,” I said, “go ask the girls that were behind me.” Sister superior said that wasn’t necessary, just tell her what happened. I told her that the sister asked me to put the stepladder behind the door when she was standing right in front of it. So I was waiting for her to move so I could put the stepladder away, when all of a sudden she just slapped my face. I asked her if she would like it somebody slapped her face if she was standing there with a stepladder in her hand. She said no. Well I didn’t like it either, so I grabbed her and I just hung her on the coat rack, then I just walked into the classroom. The nuns started giggling! Sister superior said, “Go Margaret, there’s no need to punish you – she’s getting punished.” I never got to hear what the sister’s punishment was, because I was sent out of there. Later that day, I was washing dinner dishes downstairs. One sister came in. She said to go in the steam bath. Someone told me there was another sister in there waiting for me. One sister grabbed me by my hair, but then I grabbed the both of them and just twirled them around. I slapped one… They couldn’t hold me down, so they got two more to come and help them. That’s when they slapped my face and gave me a bloody nose. I guess they tried to get even with me, but they didn’t. I told sister superior what happened, and they were all shipped out that year. The food they gave us wasn’t worth feeding to children – it wasn’t good enough to feed the dogs or the pigs. They fed us all kinds of stupid recipes that you’d never heard of – that I’d never seen
before. Put together, it was a well balanced meal, but it wasn’t worth eating. It didn’t look good enough to eat. They mixed scraps together, something like that. .Two years before, my uncle was the chief. We were having dinner when he came in there. The sisters told him to go eat, that they would feed him what the father was eating. He said no, that he would eat with the children. They gave him what we were having. He looked at it and said, “You mean this is the slop that you are feeding these children? The government is paying lots of money per child each month, and this is the slop you’re feeding these kids? Here, you eat it!” After that, they really tried to cook good food. They fed us potatoes, fish and roast. They didn’t want the chief to come back in there and eat the slop that they were giving us. Before that, they fed us scraps from their food. They’d leave it in the pantry for days then they’d re-cook that and feed it to us. They’d just mix everything together. They’d put vegetables together in one big pot and mix it all together. We didn’t know what it was. We weren’t allowed to eat moose meat because it wasn’t government inspected. We had fish on Fridays. The only time we had a good decent meal was on Christmas, with the turkey and stuffing and everything, and dessert. All that was good, but it was only once a year. There are some people who just dislike others for no reason. Even if a little girl tries to be nice, they dislike her so bad that they are just constantly after her. “Do this, do that” – it’s ridiculous the way those sisters treated those girls. Especially if there was a loner who didn’t have a sister or a brother, or someone that was slow in learning – they’d bang her on the head – it was just ridiculous. You can’t blame a person for being a slow learner. They have to learn gradually, you can’t expect them to be so smart in just one second. But the nuns expected everything to happen right away. There are some people who you can tell are slow learners, so you try to be nice to them, you try and help them. But they (the nuns) didn’t. If you tried to help them, you were told to let them do it on their own. They were mentally abused. And the way they swore at us in French. When you keep on hearing those same French words, you gradually learn that they are dirty words. There were lots of guys who were sexually abused by the nuns. I haven’t heard any of the girls complain about being sexually abused by the Father or anything. Some of them probably did, but you just never heard it. When I was there I never heard of anybody say they were sexually abused. I can’t really say that I saw it, because I thought I saw it in a dream. To me it was a dream. I was sick that day, and I could have been delirious. I thought I saw four boys come out
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
of one of the sister’s rooms. I can’t say for sure – I could have been delirious and just dreaming. To this day I can’t tell if it was a dream or if it was real, I just can’t tell. I heard lots of kids say that they were sexually abused at earlier ages, but in my day I didn’t see nothing like that. We used to have fun too. Sometimes I would work in the bakery with two other girls and we’d have a good time. We would go to the lake in the winter, when the boys were playing hockey. There were teams that would come from Valleyview and High Prairie to play against the boys on the lake. All the girls were allowed to go down there and cheer them on. We had on our winter jackets, our moccasins and our winter socks, and still we were half frozen by the time we came back. We would be there for about two or three hours watching them play. It was a sight to see. We were allowed to go skating, too. We were skating with the boys’ skates. We weren’t allowed to go swimming in the lake at summertime, though. The only time we were allowed to swim was at the picnic at the farm, where there was a little stream, and they used to leave us with our bathing suits when we were there. That was the only place we were allowed to swim. We were never allowed to go in the lake. The boys and the girls were allowed to swim together at the farm. We could play anything we wanted to at the farm when we were picnicking. The boys and girls used to slide down the bales of hay, play ball, anything we wanted to play. We all got together – there was no thinking that we were boys and girls. We were just happy. There was no dirty stuff in those days. We were just being boys and girls. We were allowed to cook whatever we wanted to eat. Some of us were selected to cook for the other kids, so if we poisoned them, it was our fault and not the nuns’. The boys were allowed to play guitar in the mission. They’d have concerts, where you’d play whatever you knew how to play. If somebody would sing a song, they’d play the song for that person. Lots of boys used to play guitar.
Lawrence Badger - A star was born
They used to call your name, and you’d have to go up and sing. There was no being shy about it. We used to watch movies on this great big screen. You paid 25 cents to get in, just to go see a movie. My mom used to give us a dollar, and we’d pay for the movie and pop and popcorn. A dollar used to last us all evening at the movies. The movies were usually Randolph Scott movies, or The Man with the Iron Mask, or Bionic Woman. They were nice movies, not like now. Now in the movies, it’s all sex. It was really nice to watch those movies.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
SHARING CIRCLES 77
SHARING CIRCLES The preferred format for telling stories was the sharing circle. This entails having everyone sit in an unbroken circle and traditionally the person holding a traditional object such as a stone, feather or other such object has the floor and can speak to whatever is on their mind. The other group members listen respectfully until the speaker is finished and passes the object on to the next person. In our sharing circles because of our desire to share our stories with others, the speaker held a small tape recorder so that the stories could be transcribed. This is one of the circles in which people reminisced about their history as a community with the Mission school. This group reflects upon the pain of being called savages and having their parents described as drunks who were worthless. It touches upon the parents trying to hide their traditional spiritual practices when the children came to visit in the summer, for fear of being reported to the authorities and being punished. Once again the theme of constant work, with the boys working on the farm and the girls completing domestic work such as sewing and cooking. It was clear that their future roles would be limited to that of domestics or farm workers, as few people in authority saw them as capable of anything else. A tremendous lack of understanding is experienced with such problems as bedwetting, where humiliation and extreme measures such as dunking in cold water were applied. Medical care even for serious injuries was not available, resulting in death for some and permanent handicaps for others. All in all, the experiences bring for a feeling of worthlessness and lack of respect by their caregivers. When asked about the positive elements of their experiences, the most that this group could muster was that it made them stronger, so that they might survive the vagaries of the life that awaited them. The conversation also touches up the loss of attachment being parent and child, as institutional life interrupted normal parenting activities, to the point where one participant relates her desire to rid herself of two of her children so she might be freed up to pursue her own desires. A feeling of powerlessness is evident as the participants describe the infamous clapper that ruled their lives and the control exercised by the Indian Agents and the School over them and their parents. Amazingly, in spite of, or perhaps because of , these painful experiences, the participants can still call forth a powerful sense of humor that helps the lessen the tension and pain t eat these memories evoke. You moved around a lot. Parents followed the work. So the kids who had to be in school were in Joussard at that time but you are saying now that the Sturgeon Lake School was still here but it was a day school only.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
In my time the baby class was the first school and the second class was Grade 3, 4 and 5 and the third one was 6, 7 and 8. Upstairs the boys used to sleep up there on one side. And later when we finished our Grade 8 at 14 we learnt how to be homemakers and we used to have sewing machines up there where we’d make all the kids clothes. I remember one time Florence, Lena’s mom, was told to cut out undershirts, flannelette undershirts, and she wasn’t paying attention. She was just cutting and cutting and cutting and when she took them apart they were all cut in half. They were supposed to be whole. So when the girls were doing homemaker, learning that kind of stuff, what were the boys doing? They were learning how to work outside in the garden because they raised their own garden and chickens and everything. So they were learning farming. You were saying earlier, when you were saying about the alcohol, how that started affecting things. It sounds as if it was almost around the 60s, early 60s. Because that’s when they had what they call the sixties scoop and children got taken into child welfare. I think it was around that time. I think I had moved over there already. Because I remember two stayed with me. Then Dave used to stay with me, just two of them and the rest were over there. I was over there already. That was the time I wanted my children to be taken away so I could have more time to myself. So before lunch we were talking about Sturgeon Lake residential school being a place for kids in need. Something was going on in their families so then Joussard took over that role and some of the kids were put there because they were having some stuff going on, or their folks were moving around a lot for work or whatever which is also part of this history because I remember in the old times too some of the people would be gone all the time trapping or whatever. In that time you had to send your kids to school. It was not if you need to send them or send them while you are moving. They had to be there. Kids had to be there at the mission in September otherwise you got in trouble, even if the family stayed around all the year. I remember my dad used to work for farmers all over and we used to move our horses and we missed two months and an agent came looking for us all over. And she found my mum and dad where they were and they brought us to live at school. Indian agents have a lot of power. Just like child welfare workers, in some ways, or social workers in a different way. What they were called doesn’t describe what they really were. It’s just somebody who gives or feeds you. They give you your rations and social workers give you
rations but they are going to take your kids so they are going to look for them. So it’s like they are Indian agents. I think after a while families got used to not having their children and they didn’t take full responsibility and the bonding wasn’t really there so that took a lot of responsibility from parents and they were used to not having their children. But that’s why they’re suffering because there’s no bonding. Being at residential school ... parents of residential schools didn’t have the parenting skills that they had like raising their own families at home. You watch your mum and dad what they are doing and then you do it but if you are never there.... And that’s where they lost respect for their parents. I’m not affectionate, eh. I’m not. Well I love my kids and everything, but I’m not affectionate to go and hug or whatever. Like I’m not, because we’re missing . . . We weren’t allowed to do that [hug] in the mission or even hold hands; even with your best friend you couldn’t do that. It was a sin. You can’t even say it because it wasn’t said to you. Love was a forbidden word and it’s such a beautiful word today but it was not said to us. The one we were supposed to love was God but it seems like it’s the wrong word. The only times we were with the boys or anything like that was in school and even in school we were separated. The girls would sit in front and the boys would sit in the back. We were always separated. It seems like there was no bonding. You were alone in the convent and when I started school we went home only 3 times, for a day at Christmas and New Year’s I think and just for the summer. That’s what happens like when you don’t understand. It’s like you mix the languages, the Cree, the English and the French and you make one word out of all three. So they didn’t really teach us anything. They took away our language. They were French and they tried to teach us in English. We make our own words now. So even if your parents were living nearby, you weren’t allowed to see them until Christmas? They stayed 10 months. There was no contact at all, hardly. In the winter months it was hard for them. Two days out of the 10 months you went home to visit your parents. That’s worse than prison.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
It was worse than prison. We had certain times to talk, certain times to go to the bathroom. There was somebody up there we would get a spanking or whatever. Wet their beds. Can’t go to the bathroom at nights. The discipline was very, very strong. Very harsh. I remember there used to be somebody that comes around checking the beds and if you were sleeping they came and checked under your bed. If you pissed the bed and if you did you had to get up and you washed the sheets and then you go and stand in line.... ... Until the morning, yes. And what I didn’t like was you had to line up to go to the bathroom. There were pails there, about six, and you would line up and all the people are lined up and you have to go right in there. There were six pails on the floor and the lights were on. There was no privacy and then another thing too. You had to be clean. You had to show your bloomers. You had no paper in the toilet. That just reminded me, I experienced that. That’s degrading a human being actually. Your bloomers, every night, and we had no toilet paper. Margaret, who’s going to be clean if there is no toilet paper? Catalogues. You always got a square, two squares. But us, we didn’t have any. We had catalogues. There were no newspapers. They’re a little softer but we didn’t have any. No catalogues, well we had grass or leaves. And yet we had to go show our panties. Not panties, bloomers. You know something? You could make an album of it for the kids to see what they went through. Write a book or do something because it’s important. They don’t realize how hard we had it and they think we are just neglecting them. We just don’t know how to show our affection to them. We don’t know how and that’s hard. Are the children learning to be affectionate? Oh, yes. Now it is but then another party steps in and now you can’t discipline or correct your children. When you do [try] you get another form of abuse now. They call it abuse. And it isn’t abuse when you are trying to discipline your children and some of the children they take
advantage of it. They turn it around to their own advantage and then they admit not knowing that it is discipline. Like at one time it was okay to physically punish children and now the law says it’s wrong. Not to over do it but . . . Like when I was growing up I was told by my parents not to hit them with your fists you had to.... And never hit them above their legs. If you did something wrong, your parents told you to go get a switch and switched you. Sometimes by the time you got your switch and brought it back, everything was forgotten or forgiven. You didn’t get switched but you learned something from that. Our Sisters had a ruler. On our knuckles. They would clap their hands and we had to jump up. So what was that? It was called the clapper. If we were talking or anything... It was a signal. It was made of wood. One little thing like laughing and that was a signal you had to get up. You had to get down ... if you’re playing and they clap at you, you had to stop talking right now. If you were playing outside in the yard and you heard that clapper you had to come rushing in. Like a little bell. It’s like being in the army. They used to use that on our knuckles. Some of the good ones here, but us bad ones over there. So it was a signal thing? Yes and a weapon. There was no talk? That was our communication with the nuns. And then another thing, if you didn’t listen to that clapper and you kept on talking, you had to go stand in the middle and the kids were right around [you]. You had the notice and you had to stand there until you asked for pardon. If you didn’t quit then you had to go stand there. Or if you were fighting or arguing you had to go stand right in the middle.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
How long did you have to stand there? Until everyone had asked for a pardon. So how did you do that? Until you were tired of being stared at or standing there. Some were stubborn and they would stand there for weeks. They [would] only go to school or for dinner and then they would return to stand there. If you didn’t ask for pardon, you didn’t go to the movies, didn’t go to play, just standing there until you did. So what if you were not guilty in your own mind? For example, you didn’t hear the clapper or something and you weren’t guilty so you’d stand there and stand there but if you said pardon me then you were admitting to what you were accused of even if you weren’t, right? [Even] when it’s not your fault that something happens or it was an accident, you still had to go and ask for pardon. There was no mixing. You had a number from the tallest, then you went down that way, all the way down and you had your place. You had to go sit there. Like the number 1 had to go sit over there and they just go on like that. It didn’t go by ages, it was size. You had a number. When they gave out your clothes, they just called out the number and you had to know your number so you could pick up your stuff. Did you have the same number all the time, or each year? No. [It was] different every year. Because it was [determined] by size and not by age. Even with the beds, you used to have three rows, eh? Bigger ones over there, small ones here, and middle size over here. You had to sleep sometimes with your hands like this [outside the blankets]? Do you remember that?
You had to sleep with your hands like this and we all had to turn one side. We couldn’t face each other so we had to turn all to the one side with our hands this way. If you put your hands like this between your knees here. They used to consider that dirty. If they didn’t see your hands? They would check, yes. We had it easy, eh? So everything was controlled. You couldn’t sleep anyway you wanted, what ever position you wanted. You couldn’t go to the bathroom when you body needed to go. They assigned you times to go. You had to get up when they assigned you, what you spoke, they controlled. They controlled our religion. They kind of more or less forced the Catholic religion on us and they didn’t have to. We believed in our religion and it was different for our culture and [according to them] it was bad. The nuns taught us what was good and what was evil. The dances and feasts were evil. We were worshipping a different God. There’s only one God but they invented another one, I guess, for us. And even when we used to go home for the summer the older folks like my dad, they used to do that in the Indian way. They used to send us to bed. So we don’t know anything because they’re
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
scared they’re going to hell. So that’s why I don’t know anything. Because if I told on them, well sometimes as a kid without meaning to, and the cops could come over here so they didn’t tell us anything. Well even later on like people used to play cards. They used to be even scared of playing cards, eh? As soon as the cops came around, everybody would run. We lived in such fear. When I’m listening to this, I now realize how everything was so fearful. We couldn’t chew gum, yet they sold it. They used to put it on the hair or here [pointing to nose], and you ended up with sores after a while. Why did they put it there? Punishment! Because you were not supposed to chew gum. I remember Martha’s sister ------ used to wet her bed. The Sisters used to put a cardboard behind her back. I don’t remember what she used to write, “Wet Bed Dorothy” or something like that. She used to have to wear that for a long time. Not only her but others of us [who] wet our beds all the time. They never checked what was wrong, or what the problem was. It could have been kidney problems or dysfunction or whatever. They didn’t check these things out. They punished you for wetting the bed. Getting up early in the morning and standing there. So when this was going on, this is the girls, were the boys checked by the nuns too or did men check the boys? No, nuns checked the boys. So that kind of doesn’t make sense. They are trying to separate the boys from the girls. It would be interesting to see how the boys were treated compared to what the girls were. Well some of them had it rough too I guess. I’ve heard some of those stories from older men, [about] how they were treated. One example was like when they were yanked out of bed in the middle of the night and dipped into ice cold water and forced to stand in the corner bare naked in front of everybody for a day. It was just horrible. This older fellow was telling me that it happened to him. I think he was at the Joussard mission and he said he ran into one of the nuns who used to teach in there. She was in the old folk’s home in High Prairie. This was years later. He was already in his 50s by then and this nun saw him come into the old folk’s home and she said, oh, my son and she was trying to be all sweet and nice and thought he would be happy to see her. He said he looked at her and he just
froze and she came up to him and he said he slapped her face. He couldn’t help himself; he had [kept] all that hatred and anger in him for so many years [that] he just couldn’t control it. It’s just awful the things that [could] cause a person to do that to a nun. I know where I used to live down east, there was a lot of orphanages and they were run by the priests and we used to play hockey and sports with them and you’d see quite a few of the boys going around with wet underwear tied around their necks like a necklace. They used to do that to the boys who wet the bed. Sure we could have said no when they disciplined us that way, but we thought it to be normal and that everybody had to go through that. If we refused to do anything then we were punished in more severe ways. Sure, you could wash your blankets and whatever you had to wash but it doesn’t stop then. So we had to give in. We more or less had to or it would go on. It was worse. What would happen to a child that had something wrong with it, but wet the bed? At first they used to wash and they would stand up in there but if it didn’t stop they had to wear this thing, like she said [earlier] but they never checked for medical reasons. It wasn’t their fault but still they had to suffer because of that. It’s like you had to give up your will to survive, I guess. Yes. And another thing too when we used to get sick and everybody used to get sick, do you know what they gave us for our medicine? Crème de menthe. Like a cough syrup. Some of them gave brandy though too. Cod liver oil. You probably had it in capsules, they had it in liquid. We had a bath once a week. And yes, you had to go. Everybody took turns. Was it from youngest to oldest? I think so, yes. I grew up with that too, I was the oldest of six girls so I had the dirty water. They used to have their favorites to pick on too. They picked on the same ones. I don’t know why they done that but... I think most of the nuns would be in jail still if they had that for abuse. They would all still be in jail. They used to pick on me because my name was ------. The priests and the nuns didn’t like it. They liked me; they actually didn’t really pick on me either.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
How much religion was practiced? Was that a daily thing with prayers? From 5 o’clock in the morning to 8 o’clock at night! We used to go to bed at 8 o’clock. You used to get up first thing in the morning and get on your knees, then you’d go to breakfast and you had to say a prayer then. After breakfast, you’d go to school, then you’d pray there for a while, then you had Catechism, every time before you leave, after dinner, it’s the same thing. Dinner time. After dinner, after school in the evenings you would say your rosary. And benediction . . . Yet they never taught us what the bible really was about. No bible. No, you never saw a bible, only theirs what they carried, but they never passed the bible around. So how could you love somebody? They were telling us you have to love God, not knowing who God really was. Can you really trust in God? And then they declared themselves as serving God. God’s people and we weren’t. We were.... So they were telling us that they were God’s people and the way they were treating us, how much could you love God then? Remember Sister ________? She was a native nun. And she had asthma. So these two sisters, who they had their bedroom in our dorm, eh? And they put her over here because she had asthma. They used to get mad at her because she was a native and she used to cough. I used to feel sorry for her. I hope they suffered before they died. If they’re dead. They probably died. I know she used to think herself so good looking! How did she come across that way? Well the way she ran the staff, it wasn’t just physical abuse, it was verbal abuse. She used to have names for everybody. I remember giraffe and butching or whatever they called it. All kinds of names for girls, different kinds of names, they never even really used our names. Because the way she acted. You know,’ I’m good looking!” And she used to iron, what you call those? Garments? She used to iron hers real high. The others used to lay flat and hers also so.... and always smelled good. But Sister ______ was not that good looking. But I really got her one day. You couldn’t read comics at the time. Well, we did but just Flicks the Cat and all those, no westerns. But the boys used to read these western comics. They could. So Ronnie, he used to lend me some on the sly. So he loaned me one and I got caught. So Sister Lawrence took that comic away and she put it in
her bedroom. During the night I snuck in her bedroom and I forget which one, maybe Felix the Cat, I went and traded it because I was scared of Ronnie. You know that procession we used to have? Was it before Easter? On Good Friday, yes. They say Jesus was crucified when he died, on Good Friday, the priest used to prostrate himself in front of the altar, like he was dead. And then one time he really fell asleep, he was snoring away there. We didn’t know what to think, the first time we saw it. So what happened then, when he fell asleep?
1960 anniversary of priests I don’t know. Somebody woke him up I guess. They should have had the clapper there! So they were like those Spanish dancers . . .
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Something like that. Castanets? Yes, but they were rectangle. Did they have a leather hinge on them or something? No, wood. They were hollow inside and at the end they would clap. What about the priests all this time? All the Sisters were like this, what about the priests? What were they doing? Nothing! They just hung out while the Sisters did all the work? Some of them were bad. They were administrators for Indian Affairs. How many priests? Two, and then we had Brothers. The Brothers used to work the farm land.
Brothers Dugas, Mathis and Deshaies They were the ones who trained the boys then?
What about that other fellow that used to come here, I remember? Do you remember him? The hired guy. There were lots of them. What did they do in the gardens? Provide the food for all the kids for the winter? Yes. The kids used to plant all the spuds. Who used to take care of it during the summer, when you went away? The Brothers I guess. They were there year round. We had to dig them and separate them too. The root cellar is still there, but I guess it must be filled in. There were men there, with the priests, the brothers, and the hired man. The females, there was the nuns and they had hired women. But that was in later years. They didn’t have any when I was there. The girls did the laundry, the ironing, and their clothes. Oh, the Sisters clothes? Yes, and the priests’ clothes, all the ones that worked there. I remember that Father had a house there. We used to have to go clean that house and the church after school. Once a month we used to change assignments. The kitchen, the bakery, and the church. When I was about 11 or 12 years old and working in the bakery I was by myself with a baker and I was cutting ... before school, this happened before school. When you got up you go to church and then we would go in for breakfast, then you had to do your chores before school. And you couldn’t play, you had to work. So anyway when I went in and started cutting my bread and Annie was doing the dairy. She had to prepare the milk and separate the cream from the milk. The milk didn’t come in right away so she said I’ll help you and we’ll get yours done and you come and help me or I’ll be late for school. She was getting worried that she would get in trouble if she didn’t get the milk done and it had to be prepared at that time so it would be ready for dinner. Anyway where the bread came out, it flipped over so the bread got stuck and I said hold this for a minute and I’ll straighten this out and I did straighten it out but a big blade came down
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
and it cut my fingers off like this [showing fingers]. When you lost your fingers, did they take you to hospital? Yes, they did. The thing is when you needed them, they were never there. But anyway when I cut my fingers Annie just froze. “Go, she said!” So I grabbed my hands and I was looking for the nun, and you have to go to a certain one, you can’t just go to (just) any one. Just the one that was responsible for us. So I ran up to the second floor and she wasn’t there. So I went up to the third floor and there was nobody there so I ran back down and here she was in the basement just two or three doors down. She was in the dining room and finally I said I cut my fingers. I didn’t even want to open my hand. She said, “Well, let me see.” and I said, “Well, I cut them off.” So she finally took me to the pharmacy and from there they tried to fix it and then they rushed me to High Prairie. But I blacked out because I lost too much blood. There was never any sorry you know, or any compensation or even them saying well we shouldn’t have put you in there. Wow, 11 years old. I can’t imagine. And it affected me for a long time. Cause nobody ever really told you. I thought I would never get married because “who’s going to put a ring on this finger?” Then I found out it was the wrong finger. But when you were a kid, you have these thoughts. “I’ll never be able to use a typewriter; I’ll never be able to play an instrument. There are lots of things like that that happened. That’s just my story.” These things, they gave us chores like that. The boys ... it’s not just physical abuse or mental abuse. They were people who’d lose their fingers. I got burnt one time and now my legs are kind of, I don’t know [showing burnt legs]. There are lots of things that happened to kids in school. And do you remember, you had a leg you couldn’t walk on and you missed a lot of school. Yes, they kept me upstairs in my bed for about 2 or 3 weeks. I banged it on the cement going to the school. The boys had a wood building and it had cement all around and I had to walk by there to school, and I slipped, and they kept me there for 2 or 3 weeks and my knee was just... Her leg was green, all kinds of colors.
Lena Standing Ribbon at a Community Dance Or what happened to the really, really sick kids? Did they not allow them to go to a hospital? Well there’s quite a few of them that died in there too. We weren’t really always sick or anything. No, not in my time. It’s just the ones that had T.B. but they sent them away to Edmonton. There was no hospitals close by at that time, so they had no choice. The sick kids were kept in the infirmary and that’s where I was for a long, long time because I was very, very sick. They took her to High Prairie hospital and she must have got infection because they sent her to Edmonton but it was too late. Her parents didn’t even have time to see her because they were out in the bush. By the time they got here she was gone to High Prairie. She was forced into a tub of hot water. She knew the water was too hot, yet they forced her in there and she burned by sitting in the water. How old was she? Maybe 7 or 8. How did people deal with that? I don’t really remember. And even our tonsils, lots of us ... I had mine taken out. I don’t know why.
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Was there a general belief at that time that tonsils were not necessary? I remember when I was a kid my cousin just went into the doctor’s office and he did it in his office, just took his tonsils out, then went home right away. And glasses too. Yes, that’s true. A lot of us didn’t need glasses. I’m sure I didn’t. That happened in the North West Territories too. They used to come in and put these eye drops in their eyes to dilate the pupils or whatever and a lot of kids ended up having to have glasses after that because Indian Affairs was paying for it. Every Indian had glasses. It’s like braces. When I had braces every other Indian kid I ever saw had braces. But then you see that pattern over and over. You see it with doctors and pharmacies where they are prescribing all the drugs. People in their 30s and more are wearing braces. In those days did they have very many people trying to commit suicide, like today when these kids get under pressure that’s the first thing they go for? I don’t think there was anybody who really wanted to commit suicide because you were afraid of going to hell. You constantly had somebody watching over you and you saw everybody going through the same thing so you knew you weren’t the only one. And then maybe after when you disciplined you, you didn’t feel so guilty because you paid up and you went to confession. I think what we will do now is go and find some good things so we don’t go away feeling like ... there’s some positives I think and so we’ll do that and then we’ll just have a little closing circle. You know this is good in a way because it lets you know what happened. You can go out and buy all the books you want on native history but like one native lady told me that was written by a white man. But like this is true, what we are hearing now. And it’s not a story from somebody who wants to sell books. For me, I really feel a lot of things were taken away from me but I can joke about it now and I don’t dwell on it. I let my wounds heal. All that what happened made us stronger yet. We need to stress that to the people for them to hear the good side of it because you learned a lot in it and get stronger. There’s always a good side. To heal up the wound and not dwell on it, picking on it and picking on it till it drives you nuts, you have to let the wound heal. So your point, we need to get on with it and let our wounds heal.
When you reopen a wound, it never heals, so just let it heal and look at the positive side of it. There are a lot of things that we learned. We were taught cleaning so that we know how to clean the house. They are not there to raise the kids and they don’t have the love that we should have, we can clean, we can cook, we can make gardens and all those things. We can endure all kinds of abuse and we can endure verbal abuse or criticism and you can stand those things and there is a positive side and that’s what we have to look at. Just like loneliness, when you’re lonely, you work at home and in the evenings go some place and talk to people and expect them to help you. I don’t know how this community is going to do it or what they are going to do about it. But part of it is this kind of stuff, we should be doing and it’s a positive. We can talk about the negatives what happened but on the other hand we can also look at the good things, just to keep a good balance. Because there was some positives, like we learned to be stronger, more resilient, and we learned certain skills there. Mine? Discipline and what else? You mean self-discipline? Yes. You would discipline yourself, but I don’t know if you would call being run down and being humiliated is self discipline. But there are things that stick with you and you are afraid. Fear comes from the low self esteem. You are afraid to face people. I know I have that problem. I was so shy but I still went to work because supporting my family was more important. I had to go on, but a lot of times I couldn’t face people because you’d hear that just about every day, someone being run down and hearing things like the nuns used to say daily, such as being a sinner, a savage, dirty. There was a lot of stuff that went on. Peeing in front of everybody there, that was degrading. It was. So we have that in us that we have to bounce back and I finally got rid of my shyness but there are a lot of people that haven’t gone about that. When people are drinking there is something that is bothering them that makes them drink. It could be right from the convent because you were always ... you couldn’t really talk, like you couldn’t be outspoken. If you were out of line with words, you were disciplined. You couldn’t even talk your own language. Maybe some people haven’t had any counseling or don’t even care because they think they are below dirt. Sometimes [when] you feel these things you think there is no hope for you. But there is, that’s what they need, counseling. So there are lots of different kinds of healing, our
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
talking about convent and mission but you have to give the people a positive [message] for today, healing for today. That’s how I see it. That’s just my opinion. You know I go through this guilt because the Sisters would call me a savage. Your parents are nothing but drunks and all this, so we ran away from there. So they found us and they brought us back and gave us a long talk. And to top it off I wrote a letter to my parents telling them all of this. They read my letter, they opened it and they said, you can’t send this out because it’s more damaging when it’s written. Well that’s what they did to me when I went to school in McLennan; they opened our letters and read them. They read them all before you even got them? Yes, that was in McLennan where I took my grade 9 and 10. But still, the positives. Nina what were the positives for you? The entire positive is that I am taking care of myself. I am going to counseling for low esteem and guilt feelings. Even when I went to this Nechi training this past week, I felt that I was a big dummy of all those people that had degrees and everything. When I see my children I still feel guilty. It is just like you feel ashamed to talk; everybody’s around you and you have to say what ever you want to say and some of them just cry before they tell their stories. I didn’t go over there for nothing, I was lonely and I didn’t have a place to go. I was drinking so I asked somebody and I went to see them in Edmonton. I felt ashamed at first. I didn’t even want to talk, it’s like everybody was laughing at me. I’ve been a drunk, spending all my money on booze and everything like that, but after I talked it was different. I felt different. It’s like telling my stories. I went there for six weeks. The first two weeks I would come home Friday just to find these people drunk in my house. My Uncle Adam passed away. You learnt lots of surviving skills [in the mission school. Yes, sly ones too, to be sneaky. We used to steal vegetables, put them in our bloomers. They used to bring me bannock and I used to have beans and spuds and I mixed them up and make a sandwich. So positives from that experience of residential school or child welfare, whatever. Something to go away feeling up. One word Nina. I’m still learning how to survive.
Self survival. Flo? Strength I guess. I can endure practically anything. Colleen? We didn’t have that experience. From what you see and observe. For me it is freedom, I wasn’t part of that experience and I’m thankful. So you’re thankful for learning from your grandmother’s experience. Seth (a visiting foster parent), how about you? Well what I’ve learnt a lot is that you can buy just about any book you want but it will never educate you the way these ladies have educated us today. Is there one word for you that would tell these ladies what you have learned? Well how strong they are. And one positive from residential school. I don’t know. Strength!
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
LOVE SOUP 97
Florence Chowace I feel the need to teach the young people today, they don’t understand the love that we have for them and I think that they need to know that we love them, our children because they have been affected by us not knowing how to show our love for them and today’s society to show our love is buying them something and that’s not really what they need. They need the hugs and to hear that we love them because we don’t know how. As soon as you try to hug somebody well you feel bad, because it was not shown to us by our parents because they were not there and it makes children think that they are not loved but they are but it’s us that don’t know how to show it. We need to put that love back. I help my daughter Florence at the restaurant about 3, 4 days ago and one of my nieces asked me what kind of soup it was and I said love soup. I made it with love. And you should have seen the people that we had in there and need that soup, I need that love but people are crying for it and little things like that makes a person happy. We were just amazed
THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
with the people that wanted the love. You’d think that they didn’t but they do. We didn’t think they were up there, they have a job and all that and the love that they want. The young of today should know that they are loved. We’ll do anything for our children so they have to hear that, from the elders, from their parents, and I think that’s one thing we should do first of all. The parents are suffering too because they were raised without the love that they should have had and that’s what took us away and that’s a negative and sometimes it hurts me because that’s the thing that every human being needs and they don’t know how. I think sometimes we feel that if we tell them that they might say well, what are you talking about? You never showed it. You are afraid of that. You feel that still in here and that’s one thing that the convent took away from us. They were never parents and they never gave birth to a kid.
A NEW VISION TAKES SHAPE 99
A NEW VISION TAKES SHAPE The second stage of this journey undertook further consultation with the people of Sturgeon Lake. The intent of this stage was to create a clearer and more community based vision of the kind of healthy community that was desired by the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. The core of this vision was rooted in the stories of the people in this community, related to their contact with oppressive systems such as the Residential Schools and Child Welfare historically and currently. Therefore, one of the necessary activities was to hear and to collect these stories. We were convinced that by following this oral tradition, consistent with Aboriginal culture, community members could begin to heal as the silence regarding the impact of residential school experiences on the Sturgeon Lake community began to break. This helped to highlight the intergenerational effects that interfered with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual life of community members. We hoped that it would create a spirit of reconciliation between community members that would replace the legacy of physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse left by the residential school experience. We came to more fully recognize the extent to which this experience had profoundly impaired the political, ecological, and economic conditions of the community. The sharing by community members of their residential school experiences generated painful memories of shame and oppression, but it also generated positive memories of experiences that have contributed to a spirit of strength and resilience. A core group of participants who met for 18 months came to realize that that they had the capacity to help others and were prepared to do so. Like Gandhi, the participants believed that they could release the chains that keep them prisoners of their memories by first fully facing them and then by letting go of the past. We were convinced that we could only recover from the trauma of the past by changing the conditions under which we lived today. We came to the realization that while our problems are undeniably real; many of them were created by our perceptions of the world. If we could change our thoughts, we might be able to achieve a different reality, and that we could be the change that we wish to see (Mahatma Gandhi). This journey began with a desire to ensure the survival of community members who did not feel secure as a result of their negative experiences with oppressive structures. By recounting their stories, community members had an opportunity to reflect upon their earlier childhood
100 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
experiences as adults who now have a greater awareness and greater power, and who can deal with these realities in a more purposeful way. The community was seen to possess an innate wisdom that could be tapped by creating an atmosphere of trust in which each member could be helped to feel valued for the special gifts that they have been given. A core group of our members were trained as community counselors who could share their experience of healing with others who had lived similar experiences. By building upon these unique gifts, the community began to tap the deep wellsprings of its own resources and strengths. Thus began the development of a collective community consciousness of what needed to happen for the total community to heal. We encouraged the full acceptance of each member for who they were and tried to promote a feeling of belonging and safety for all of the participants in the forums and meetings that took place. This phase of our journey aimed for empowerment through the sharing of our stories in a supportive, safe environment that engendered the collective power and support of community members. The intent was to develop a community based “wellness vision” through the sharing of personal stories recounting past experiences and their subsequent impact on individuals and their community. We envisioned a sharing process that would help counteract the effects of residential school experiences and improve the spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological health of the community. A community needs analysis was conducted to achieve a higher level of understanding of the issues that were of import to community members. We continued to gather community stories from survivors of Residential Schools and their descendants. This was seen as an ongoing task that would form the basis for all of the work that will take place in the course of this project. The learning that occurred was intended in part to serve as a basis for the development of a course for helping professionals that would increase their understanding of the residential school experience and its impact on Aboriginal families and communities. Finally, a community counselor training program was developed to train six members of the core group in the skills required to support survivors of the residential schools from their community. As the community members shared their experiences in the residential schools and their stories were transcribed and shared with others, a greater awareness of the impact of the abuses experienced in the residential schools upon individuals, families and the community as a whole
A NEW VISION TAKES SHAPE 101
was created. This information was made available to community leaders who have acknowledged that healing from these experiences should be a community priority. Our journey was intended to help create a clear vision of the kind of community desired by the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. We believed that the core of this vision was rooted in the stories of the people in this community regarding their contact with oppressive systems such as the Residential Schools and Child Welfare historically and currently. Therefore, one of the necessary activities was to hear and to collect these stories. We believe that this formed a solid foundation for the next phase of our journey. The following summarizes some key learning. They see the results today in: • • • • • • • • • • • The pain of abandonment The loss of culture and language Lack of parenting Lack of love experienced as children Inward pain Sickness of mind Imbalance of mind and spirit Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse Family breakdown Difficulty in creating and maintaining relationships
In addition, the following issues arose that need to be addressed: Some feel that the residential school issues are nothing but “old bones” that should be left alone. They did not feel that talking about such things will help, and they fear that they will simply resurrect painful memories. • • • • • • There are walls of mistrust and dishonesty between people. There is a sense of hopelessness among many. The residential school experience has stripped many of the knowledge of who they are. There is a fear of the police. There has been a loss of traditional sense of sharing. There is a sense of undue entitlement on the part of some people.
102 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Traditional healing methods and the wisdom of the elders informed the process that was undertaken. This helped to ensure that the wisdom and experience of those who have come before us would guide us. It was hoped that the common sense of those who have suffered from these painful experiences and who had since transcended this pain would give them with the strength to be of service to those who have not yet reached this stage in their lives. Some participants have found a safe place where they feel they belong and where they feel free to tell their stories. They have come to realize that they have important gifts to share and are more willing to assume responsibility for their own lives. Survivors build upon the inner strengths that they discover in the healing process that has begun, in part, with a series of helping networks that foster clear and helpful communication between community members. Self-help and empowerment have become the community's primary goals. We are seeking new ways to create a younger generation that is well prepared for life in both worlds. As the seventh generation – the one capable of change, it is time to recognize and support their leadership and empower them to create the change that is necessary if we are to survive as a healthy people. We can do this by finding better ways to treat them as gifts of the creator, and by supporting the family, the school and the community in nurturing, protecting and guiding them. An example of how this is beginning to occur will be included in a description of community theatre wherein youth from the community wrote, produced and presented a play on community issues from their perspective to community members. We hope to break the intergenerational cycle initiated by the residential schools by learning healthier ways of relating to each other – in and between families, between peers and with our community. One successful way has been by the creation of cultural camps in the bush for youth and elders, where community members can connect with each other in a natural and relaxed setting. A great deal of community support exists for the notion of bringing youth and the elders together to reinforce a stronger connection to Aboriginal tradition and culture before this generation of elders disappears. It is felt by many that the “baby elders,” who are heavily involved in this initiative, will play an important role in this process. This generation is now taking on the necessity to “parent their parents,” and carry a dual role with them and their children. It was felt that the best setting for this to occur is in year round cultural camps in the bush, where youth would be outside of their usual environment and more receptive to some of the important
A NEW VISION TAKES SHAPE 103
messages that need to be imparted to them. The camps could promote a greater understanding of their history, the learning of the Cree language, traditional crafts, gathering and using healing herbs, and traditional fishing, hunting and trapping skills. Because some elders were considered to be afraid of change and lacked trust, it was suggested that the youth could help to rebuild this sense of trust with the elders. More specifically, youth related to a particular elder could be enlisted to approach that person to ask for their help and contribution to this work. The following possibilities have also been raised in the course of our meeting with community: • Involve the community more greatly in determining the school curriculum. The school curriculum could be expanded to help youth recognize family and community behaviours that have resulted from the residential school experience. The school curriculum could include traditional healing knowledge, as well as the culture and history of the community to help inform and educate community members about their rich tradition and to counter the negative effects of historical oppression. • • • • Work with local nurses/doctors and an elder to teach youth the power of nature’s hidden gifts (local herbs). Find ways for youth to learn more about the history of the community and to gather the ancestral knowledge located in the collective memory of the elders. To continue the collection and documentation of stories to build a stronger sense of community identity and cohesiveness. To finalize the documentation of the community healing journey in the form of a book and film. This book is the final product of that intent and a film documenting the Journey toward Empowerment has been well received. • An appreciative inquiry approach to community development that seeks to build upon community strengths and assets rather than working from a deficiency perspective has prevailed. Community residents have identified the following strengths as a starting point in their inventory of community assets. Artistic Ability • • Music Singing
104 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
• • • •
Many community members are well educated. There are many smart people, whether or not they are formally educated. The bounty of nature surrounding us could enable us to be self-sufficient in the event of a natural catastrophe. The community is known to welcome strangers and is open to assistance from others. • • • • • • Talking circles should be instituted and hugging should be encouraged as a way of communicating affection. Workshops should be held to educate professionals regarding the impact of the residential school experience. Public education regarding the residential school syndrome should take place. We need to find new ways of healing from the legacy of pain. Provide forums wherein the elders can share within a climate of safety. Build trust among ourselves - Identify the issues - Deal with them - Build healthier relationships • Create greater visibility of the issue by such means as: - Bring out the residential school pictures - Find ways to describe and celebrate local history - Bring forth the messages of the survivors • Find new ways to come together and build community - Community picnics - Support the formation of women’s groups - Explore new ways to have everyone contribute so the same people do not always have to carry the load when they volunteer for the community • Create a sense of appreciation for what people contribute to their community
A NEW VISION TAKES SHAPE 105
• • •
Create a loving community where we can learn to love nature, the animals and each other Create hope Learn to own our behaviours
Community participants have identified the following outcomes that could result from this project. These will guide the overall direction of this project and ultimately serve as a set of indicators of success.
• • • • • • • • • • • • •
Acceptance Feeling of self-worth Capacity to accept compliments Learning to own our behaviour Learning to love nature, animals To see hope flow into our lives Finding ways to come together as community Respect Self-esteem A sense of belonging
The following specific outcomes were achieved to a considerable extent: Existing self-help groups for survivors were supported and maintained, and additional support systems and helping networks established. Community members developed an increased capacity to generate creative solutions to community and family problems and to the long-range issues that require attention, as community problem-solving skills improved. • Sharing circles invited representatives of the residential school systems, child welfare systems and other systems that have been experienced as oppressive, to participate in a process of reconciliation. • • Traditional cultural approaches explored and implemented. The self-esteem and feeling of potency of community members was enhanced.
106 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
New training programs and workshops have been developed and implemented for local people interested in the healing process, with an increased emphasis on the rediscovery of traditional approaches.
Survivors of the residential school system are participating in the delivery of a new course for health and social services professionals that has been created to assist them in working more effectively at a community healing level.
The development of peer support circles will provide an ongoing source of support to community members that are expected to last long beyond the funded portion of this initiative. An appreciative inquiry model of community practice has focused on community strengths, and helping to create a legacy of positive approaches to the community. The development of an attitude that views the community from the perspective of the “glass half-full rather than halfempty” on the part of community members to view themselves as assets to the community who can take their destiny into their own hands is the overarching stance of the community as it continues its journey.
FIRST NATIONS’ I.R.S. 107
FIRST NATIONS' I.R.S. – Ron Soto
Lying, sleeping and entertained with visions of fancy, you are totally unprepared for what is to occur in the next instant. A fire-truck goes by just outside of your window; bells clanging, horns a blowing. Habitually, your first reaction is to rollout of bed, lazily made the sign of the cross and murmur the soft repeating phrase, "Let us bless Him." you fully awaken and then realize you're no longer housed in Residential School but back home in your room. Climbing back into your warm bed, supine, I begin to wonder what my life in Residential School was really like. How did it compare with certain other individuals’ experiences? How did those others cope with the Residential School’s strict rules, guidelines, and life style? Following are three related interviews, statements, and circumstance, pertaining to experiences endured, and suffered, in what was known then as the mission life. This is one mission in life that will never end for the memories linger on and on and on and on.
108 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Its 6:30 a.m. the penguin coloured habit worn by Sister Michael nears Lena's bed. The sister shakes Lena hard and whispers harshly, "Get up lazy bones; it is time to get up!” Lena realizes she has left her blouse hanging at the head of her bed signalling that she plans to attend the early morning mass. After dressing she must traverse the l00 yards from the girls’ residence to the church, clement weather or not. This morning, the cold wind off of Sturgeon Lake snakes in and around her bloomer clad thighs, arresting what little warmth she had been harbouring for this trek. After church services Lena trudges back to the girls’ refectory for her morning repast. Before masticating on her seemingly daily ration of lumpy, tepid porridge, she must first imbibe in her daily dose of cod liver oil. Lena asks herself again for the 1000th time, "If this stuff is so good for me, why must it taste so bad?" Repast over; Lena then endeavours to complete her daily chore. All of the girls have each their own individual chores to do daily. These tasks could entail any chore; peeling potatoes, sweeping, dusting, to emptying chamber pots. Lena's favourite chore was that of decorating the sisters' chapel. Not only did she enjoy exercising and exhibiting her decorative skills but it was also the chance for her to enjoy her daily nip of the forbidden fruit; mass wine. She chuckles today when she ponders the amount she must have pilfered throughout her years of nipping. Lena hated the task of serving the priests in the main dining room. Crisp bacon, fried fresh farm eggs, steaming hot coffee, sweet jams - oh, the aromas. She hated having to carry this food from the dumbwaiter to the main table. She knew that when she finished this chore she'd be going down to the girls refectory and sitting down to her lumpy porridge, powdered milk and the proverbial yucky-tasting cod liver oil!! Today, many years later, Lena still often wonders "Didn't someone actually care? Lena had had suffered a serious knee injury, in a fall of her own making. After the injury, Lena said, "I was left upstairs, alone in the girl's dormitory. It was a lonesome, hurting time. Lena’s knee had swollen to mammoth proportions and had also turned a sickly blue colour. After three weeks of suffering alone, she was finally brought to High Prairie for medical attention and treatment. She ended up having to stay in the High Prairie hospital for a month. Today, Lena suffers severe arthritic symptoms from that injury and since has had subsequent surgery. Her quandary is "why wasn't the proper medical attention administered or addressed sooner?"
FIRST NATIONS’ I.R.S. 109
But, to Lena, her biggest and most tragic loss in her years of Residential School Tutelage, were her parenting skills. She never had the gentle guiding hands of her parents or grand parents in her upbringing, only the strict disciplinary regime of the Residential School format. As Lena was growing up in this system, she was yelled at, punished for each trivial infraction. So when Lena became a parent, she thought that since this was the way I was raised in Residential School, this is the way I shall raise my children. Wrong! Lena and many of today's First Nation former Residential School participants suffer from this bad parental syndrome. Jenny was a rambunctious type of girl prone to antics and actions of the comical sort. Her favourite prank was making faces at the boys when the sister (nun) wasn't aware of her actions. Jenny fingers gingerly the tip of her nose as she relates of one incident when she was caught chewing gum. Her punishment was to adhere the wad of gum to the end of her nose. This was not the full extent of the punishment, Jenny also had to keep the gum affixed to the tip of her nose for the duration of time that nun saw fit. Jenny said, "On that certain incident I had the gum stuck on the tip of my nose for so long that a sore had begun to fester under that wad of gum." Today, Jenny takes great satisfaction in the pleasure of chewing gum whereever and whenever she wants! Jenny also remembers the morning pilgrimage through the wind, rain, and snow to church most mornings for the 7:00 a.m. mass. Jenny didn't let the weather bother her - it was the drill of marching, two by two, like little soldier girls she hated. Jenny used to think we're little ladies we don't have to march - not like those ugly boys have to. Jenny remembers having the wool pulled over her eyes and it sure weren't her bloomers! She, being rambunctious, was promised a reward if she'd behaved for one whole week, so she behaved. When Friday finally arrived, Jenny was just about at wit's end in her anticipation of her reward. The sister (nun) told Jenny, "Hold out your hand." Jenny complied. She looked into her hand and to her utter disappointment; she had been given one peanut! Jenny was devastated; she had been on her best behaviour for one whole week, all for one measly peanut! Neither Jenny, nor any of the girls were allowed to have any contact with the boys, but Jenny said they still managed to have long distance courtships. The most common place for flirting and courting was done of all places in church. If a boy was interested in a certain girl, he called out to her making a seeking, questioning throat clearing a-a-hem. If the girl was interested in the questing boy, she'd be the one answering his beckon with her own sultry, sexy-sounding a-hem.
110 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The sexier the answer the more the girl was supposed to care for the caller. This was the (a-hem) method of declaring mutual interest in each other. Jenny thinks to this day that all of the nuns must have all been graduates of "ear pulling school," because it seemed the nuns were so adept at this frequent type of punishment. Sometimes the ear pulling was so severe there were instances of the partial tearing of the earlobe, at the base where it joins the head. One incident of cruelty stands out in Jenny's mind. It seems one of the girls had the misfortune of wetting her bed. The girl's punishment - to stand, wrapped in her soiled sheets for the majority of the day in front of the rest of the girls. What a humiliating and degrading experience the girl must have undergone. Jenny's biggest loss in the time she spent in Residential School was time itself. Time she could have spent growing up attended and doted upon by her parents and grandparents. Never being able to bring home school projects she had made, never having the time to show mom and dad the ‘A’ she got in Arithmetic. Time spent instead marching in two lines, marching two by two. I personally have spent 10 years in the Residential School System. The first six years were spent at the Sturgeon Lake Residential School. My final four years were spent at the Joussard Residential School. It was there I spent my last year of schooling in 1964. I look back fondly at the years in the Sturgeon Lake school for one good reason; Father Roué. Father Roué is the epitome of the name, father. He was the father to all of his Residential School children. In my opinion, if it hadn't been for Father Roué, we might have suffered worse or maybe even to the extent of some of the horrific experiences told about other Residential Schools3.
Although I talked to people who attended a Residential Institution, where they were
abused, they refused to be quoted in an interview. Some said it was better to let sleeping dogs lie. Others could not speak to me because they were in the process of filing a legal suit.
FIRST NATIONS’ I.R.S. 111
My personal quandary concerning the actions of the administrators of the menial and corporate punishments in Residential School System still leaves me in a dilemma: who is really responsible? What was the government's true participation behind the Residential School program? The federal government has always wanted to "whiten" the lifestyle and heritage of the First Nations People. Here in the Residential School system, was the ideal situation and convenient means of which to alienate the native peoples from their Elders, tongue, and customs. Did the government institute with the religious orders (Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Church, etc.) these strict guidelines in return for monies to be received for the running of these institutions (schools)? Did the government ask them to wear down and destroy the First Nations native values through this strict regime of discipline?
112 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Somewhere in this system, these sometime inhuman atrocities must have been reported to the authorities at one time or another. Yet no record can be found, the public was kept in the dark. How come, only now, people are beginning to see the true light? Were the churches pawns in the government process of the "whitening" of the First Nations Peoples? Still, why did the Church have to use such drastic, hurting, lasting mental and physical scars inflicted yesterday that will continue to have drastic and adverse effects on the First Nation Peoples and their children for many moons to come? Now today we of the First Nations understand why every spring most people fear the I.R.S. (Internal Revenue Service). This I.R.S. taxes each of us on everything you have and own, and if you don't pay your taxes, they take everything away. We, the First Nations People also had an I.R.S. which has tried to take away everything we knew and stood for. Our I.R.S. is the Indian Residential School. They tried to take away everything we held sacred and dear, -- our heritage, our tongue, our beliefs, and our way of life, but we survived! Today, no bell rings its strident tone to awaken me - I sleep contented for I have paid my dues to the I.R.S.
FLO’S STORY 113
My name is Flo Chowace. My dad was Xavier [Muskiwenau]. That’s how he was registered when he first registered. My mom was Isabelle [Galiette]. I don’t really know her history that much, but I know that her dad was from the Alexis Reserve, and she never went to school. My dad went to school for 4 years, so he was one of the first ones who entered residential schools when they were opened. I don’t quite know their history at all, except what I know is that my parents, before I went to school at 7 years old, they taught me how to liberate, I guess, to have respect for my people, for everybody that is older than me. I learned that from when I started to understand stuff, they started teaching me this before I went to school. To have respect and to share – that’s in our culture – to share everything. In our culture I think that was why we ended up losing most of our land, because that was the belief of our old people of long ago, that they learned to share. They never took anything for themselves, but they shared our land, and now we’ve got hardly any. We over shared. I guess that’s why my parents started teaching me to share and not to be stingy and all that stuff, and to have respect, and to obey elders. To obey what you’re told or what you’re asked to do, never to just stand around, but to help people, and to help anybody at all. That was one of my teachings from my parents and I understood that right from before I went to school. When I first went to school, when they told my mom and dad that it was time for me to go to school, I kind of knew what school was because my other brothers and my sisters before me had all gone to school and I knew that they don’t come home. I didn’t really know my older brothers
114 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
and my sisters because I didn’t grow up with them from the beginning, because they were in the school. When they were 16 or 17, then they lived their own lives. They’d go get married or go away or whatever they did. One of my brothers was a soldier. He went to the war, and I didn’t really get to know him. I never really did, then after he got married and had his own family, so I don’t even really know my brothers and my sisters, the older ones. The younger ones I do – I believe I’m closer to my younger siblings because I grew up with them a little bit more than I did with my older ones. That’s one of the things about the residential schools is that the closeness of the family and the bonding is taken away. When I went to school, what my mom and my dad had taught me, I took in. And then when I started school I didn’t know a word of English. I didn’t know what to expect, because my mom never went to school, and she never knew what it was really like in there. So I wasn’t really prepared from my mom. My dad had an idea, but he never really liked the idea of anybody going to school. So when I went to school they were talking English, the first thing we did when I got in there was that we were supposed to take a bath. They changed our outfits – they gave us clothes to wear, they cut our hair. They put stuff on our hair, so that we didn’t give them all this stuff. They assumed that every person had bugs and had sores or whatever. They all thought the same. Even if you didn’t have bugs, they still put it on you. Half the time I was just following everybody, because I didn’t understand. When they told us to “line up,” I didn’t understand what “line up” was. “Sit down” – I didn’t understand that because my mom didn’t know how to talk English. So the first thing I did was, to feel like a dummy. I thought I didn’t know anything. I thought I was stupid, because I didn’t understand. In a way I think I started blaming my parents, because they didn’t prepare me. When I first started going, by learning to respect others, when they started treating you…not even asking to cut your hair and all that, and more or less stripping you off. Just right away, they just change you right away. They give you other sets of clothes; they wash you down as if you were dirty. When you don’t understand, you wonder “what the heck is this.” To me, maybe there, at that time, I kind of blamed my parents – where are they – how am I supposed to survive this, how am I going to go on. “I don’t understand,” I thought “I’ll never learn anything.” They told me I was supposed to go in there and learn, but I didn’t realize how bad it was. Anyway, I tried, and I tried hard to understand the words that they said. Even when you talked to other kids they had to talk English, but sometimes they used to throw some Cree in there. And if they got caught, they got scolded and punished, so they used to sneak in
FLO’S STORY 115
words, and kind of tell you in Cree. And that’s how I finally survived through it, I guess. Even when we just started school, I was terrified because I knew that this was school and I didn’t know nothing about it…I’m just standing there, being scared, not knowing the language. Going to school was something that I wouldn’t want anybody to go through. To begin with, some of our teachers were French – they had an accent – and they didn’t even really talk good English. Coming from an Indian background, dealing with all these things – the accents and all – sometimes I wonder how the heck we ever survived. It was hard. The first years you were there, you were like a total dummy, stupid. And then a lot of times we were being called stupid, I’m sure, because we didn’t understand. There were others in there that were younger than me who, because their mothers and dads had gone to school, knew how to talk English. That made me feel more stupid. How could they understand English when I couldn’t? I became very shy and very stupid. On top of being called “dark,” “dumb Indian,” “stupid,” “can’t you learn this, can’t you understand that?” my self esteem was down right from the beginning. I think that’s why I became a very shy person. I couldn’t look at people. I couldn’t talk to people, especially white people. I could talk to my own people in my language – I didn’t completely lose my language. I couldn’t talk to those who were looking after us before and after school, because they were French, right from Montreal. They couldn’t talk good English, so we didn’t really learn anything. They should have taught us properly, and explained to us, and be kind to us, and then we would have succeeded in our education. They didn’t push us to study. They were there to change us, not to teach us. They should have educated us properly, and then today we would be more educated, so we could be bilingual. We had the chance to learn French, and we should have had teachers to teach us English properly, but they didn’t. They didn’t want to teach us French or anything. We could have been really educated in there – we had the time! We had all the time in the world to learn different languages, but they didn’t want that. The things that hurt me most were the things that they stripped us of that – our identity. You started hating yourself – they stripped you of your one set of clothes. If you had long hair, they cut it off. They start stripping you right from day one, as soon as you go through the door. And then they strip your language, they strip your beliefs. You’re taught to respect, but how can you respect somebody when they are calling you down, when they’re calling you “dummy” or “stupid,” and what ever else the call you in French. If I knew French, I could tell you all the
116 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
names we were called under the sun, because I know they called us down in their own language, so that we wouldn’t understand. It seems like they were always mad, always angry. If I didn’t get them mad, somebody else would, and it just went on. There was no love in them. That was something else that they stripped us of is love – from our family – and there was none in there. There was no affection there whatsoever. You’d get hurt, scratched or a gash on your head or whatever, and there was no comfort from anybody, not from the ones that were in charge of you. And anyway, the ones who were there, they couldn’t really express their feelings – they weren’t allowed to really touch anybody – like it was a sin or dirty or something. There was no closeness at all, even if you were cut and bleeding, and you’re crying as a little girl. There was nobody there to comfort you at all. Then you start thinking “what kind of a world is this, what kind of life is this?” You couldn’t understand them, even if they were talking nice, I didn’t understand because there was nobody there to really explain. All the little ones were kept to one side – we weren’t allowed with the bigger girls – we were separated, so we were all in the same boat, really. That’s what I really don’t understand – it was so cold in there, everywhere you went. Even when you went to bed, there was nobody there to tell you a story, nobody there…You just had to go to bed. It was terrible. There were times when you got so lonely. After I had been there for 2 or 3 weeks, I started blaming my parents, I think. What were they telling me, to respect somebody who is calling me down, who is calling me “stupid” and “dumb,” who is talking a different language. People were getting scolded and made to kneel down. I didn’t know what kneeling down was, I had never knelt down before I went to school. They used to make us pray all day – in the morning, before school, before breakfast, after breakfast – every time you were going to eat, which is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing…but not by force. They were forcing us – maybe if I knew what I was saying, maybe I would have had more respect for their religion. But I didn’t. I’d be standing there and they were praying. I didn’t know what the heck to say. We’d learn from others, but they were just reciting the thing. You didn’t know the meaning whatsoever. They should have taught us. It was supposed to be a Catholic school. I think they took away our spirituality. When you don’t have spirituality, when it’s stripped from you…They would say of our ancestors “How could they have spirituality? How could they have known God? They were pagans, with nobody here to teach them.” Then they tried to push their religion on us. They didn’t explain – they said to go to church, to kneel down and to pray. You prayed, not from your heart, you just prayed along with the other people. It was in Latin. How
FLO’S STORY 117
could you understand what you were saying? If you didn’t understand what you were saying yourself, then how could God understand what was coming from your heart? Nothing was ever explained. The only thing that was explained to you was that if you talked your language, you were going to get punished – you’d end up standing in the middle for hours. That was the only thing explained to you. Or if you got caught chewing gum, they put the gum on your nose for hours, or maybe days. That was explained to you. If you talked back, you got punished – that was explained to you. If you don’t listen, you’re going to get punished – that was explained. But other things that should have been explained were not. There should have been somebody there to teach you how to talk, to help you along. They never did that. You had to follow everybody, from when you got up in the morning. If everybody was walking downstairs, you couldn’t be walking upstairs. They would push you, make you turn around and walk the way everybody else was walking. You had to walk that way everywhere, two by two, like in the army. But I think they were better off in the army than where we were. At least in the army they get to get around seeing the world. We were prisoners in our own land, our own community. They never explained anything good. They never explained why we had to give up our language. They never said that we had to give up our language for a while, to learn English. We were just forced not to talk it at all, and forced to talk English. That was one thing that was strict. They tried, and some succeeded, in stripping us of our language. They stripped us of the start of life – that’s where learning really starts is in the beginning of life. Some of our parents, the ones that hadn’t gone to school – like my mother – were able to teach us. My mother wasn’t poisoned with all this stuff. My Dad went to school. He was always quiet. He was a good provider – we never went hungry – but I still blamed them in the first years, for sending me to residential school. I can see now that my Mom didn’t know, because she never went to school. How she got away with not going to school was because she was in Fox Creek, out in the sticks, so my Grandmother didn’t want her to go to school, so she got away with not going to school. I consider it very lucky for me. I see her as a successful woman – she used to make all the moccasins for the school. She did all these things – she could survive out in the bush – she knew how. When you’re a little girl, you get confused. You start school thinking that you’re stupid and dumb and everything else. Everything that I learned in the first seven years of my life, before I went to school – I dropped that. Why should I have respect for these people when they treat me
118 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
this way – cut my hair, strip everything off me, don’t let me talk my language, strip the love that I had for my parents. I grew up kind of confused. Confusion came into my life at an early age. I didn’t understand my spirituality. When you don’t have spirituality, you don’t have love, you don’t have passion, you don’t have respect. There are a lot of things that you don’t have when you don’t have spirituality. My Mom believed in the Creator, she taught us to try and be as good as possible and to obey and be respectful, because somebody is always watching over you – I believed that. To this day, I know there is somebody watching over me, or else I would have never survived. When they stripped that – they don’t believe they stripped that, but they did. The only way you could be right was to go to confession, and they forced that on you. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong. After growing up there for two or three years, you had to start going to confession and communion and all that. You had to go to confession and tell all the wrong doings that you did – that they explained. Anything that you did wrong, you had to go and tell the priest, you had to get forgiveness. Sometimes you didn’t even do anything wrong – you were watched all the time – so that’s when I became a liar. You were forced to go in to the church and make up your sins. You didn’t know what to tell them, so you’d make up sins. They also said that bad thoughts were a sin – everything, anything. Even eating meat on a Friday was a sin. I am studying the Bible now, and they were so wrong, so wrong. If they had explained the Bible to us, but nothing was ever taught to us properly about God. If they would have taught us about God the proper way, we would be better people, but they confused us more. Stripped of the bonding with your parents, stripped of the love that you should have, the caring and the spirituality, your self-esteem. You have nothing left by then. No hope. The only thing you were hopeful of was when you would turn 16, so you could get the hell out of there. That’s the only thing you look forward to be to turn 16 so you could get out. You didn’t look forward to an education, or to other things in life, because you were never taught what you could be. They only thing you were taught was how to plant potatoes and how to dig them out. And that wasn’t even teaching you – that was making you earn your own potatoes. They didn’t even teach how to properly plant a garden - that was never taught in there. They had the chance to teach us properly. We could have been gardeners, we could have been florists or farmers – but they never showed us anything like that. They only thing we knew was that they were stripping all those thing away from us, and they made us very bitter. When you’re stripped of all those things, you start losing respect for the one who is looking after you, the one who is supposed to be working
FLO’S STORY 119
for God. They gave up their lives to serve God, they sacrificed their lives for the Indian people, they gave up all that and they did it for God. That’s serving God – to strip a child right from the beginning, stripping them of everything. It didn’t take the whole Catholic Church. It took one teacher, maybe two every year – the nuns who looked after us, and then the superior and the priest. It didn’t take a whole army to change us, but they were very strict. They could have been nice, but they weren’t. Some were nice. When you see others talking back or doing something wrong, when you see them being punished, you feel sorry for them, but you can’t do or say anything. I remember seeing one girl being beaten. She was against the wall, and the nun was just beating her. There were maybe three of us there, and she had her head turned against the wall, and she was kicking her, kneeing her in the back – just beating her. The girl was yelling “Don’t!” Finally somebody must have run down to tell her sister, and her sister ran up and yelled for the nun to stop, that she was reporting her. And then she (the nun) finally let her go. They (the girls) were under a different program, social services or child welfare, so the nun let them go. She (the girl being beaten) didn’t cry – she was so mad, I guess – and she must have been used to it, too. She was beating her for so long – look how long it took for that girl to go downstairs, two flights I think, then all the was down into the kitchen (where her sister was), then to come all the way back again. But all that time, and even before I got there, she was beating her up. Only when the other girl got there and said that she was reporting her, then she (the nun) finally quit. You couldn’t do anything, because you got the same thing if you tried to stop them. The only way this girl got the nun to stop was by saying that she was going to report her, and then finally she just let her go. Some of them got beaten for such little things that happened – sometimes you can’t help it, you never plan it – but things happen in there, and you’d get punished for an accident. You’d get punished even if you wet yourself. Sometimes you couldn’t help it, they’d only let you go at certain times… Sometimes you’d have more water, or have bladder problems. Even when you were sick or had problems, you couldn’t explain that to them. Only when everybody gets sick, like when everybody had the mumps and was falling down, then they knew you were sick and sent us all to bed. That’s another thing – if you were sick, there was nobody there for you. You were by yourself in your dormitory. You had to be almost dead to not go to school, and there was no one there to comfort you. Even when you’d lose someone who was close to you, you couldn’t even go to the funeral, and there was nobody there to talk to you about it.
120 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
I think they did a lot of damage from day one, and those are the things that are affecting us today. We don’t know how to express our feelings toward our children, our parents, our relatives, our own people. The love that we should have had for each other was stripped. Our parents that had gone to school before us, they didn’t know how to raise us right. Like I said, I was lucky that my mother never went to school. But there are some parents who were maybe even worse off than we were when they went to school. Things were a little better for us – we had washing machines, electricity and water. The first ones who went to school there probably didn’t even have running water. What they went through, I think, would have been even worse. I don’t know for sure, because my dad never talked about it. He said “All I had in my mind was running away.” Finally he did, because he only went to school for 4 years, he only went up to grade four. When I asked him how it (school) was, he said “I didn’t like it.” He didn’t know how to talk English when he went in there…He ran away and was brought back, but he finally succeeded in running away, and he went in the bush. He stayed out there until he was 16, and then he came out. That’s all he said, though, was that he took off from there. He never said why he took off - that’s all he said. He used to read his Bible. I don’t know whether he was really trying to find out about things…He used to go to church – we used to go to church in the summer time when we went home – and my dad used to go with us. You could see that he loved us, but he had problems expressing himself, giving us hugs and all this. Before we went to school, yes. But when we came out for the summer – smarter, I guess – we were starting to learn broken English, and we would say “This is how we do things in the convent”…and he would say “This is not how we do things here.” We thought our way was the right was, you know, it was supposed to be a better way. At the convent they would say that this is how it is, their way was forced on us. Nothing was explained – why we had to speak this language, believe in this religion – nothing was explained. You’d just become a body, more or less, with no moral values. Everything is stripped, you’re filled with hatred, and you feel prejudice. They degraded us in there by calling us names, that we were savages, we were dirty, we were lazy, that our parents couldn’t look after us properly. How could our parents know how to take care of people? “That’s why we’re here, that’s why we had to give up our lives outside this place, to serve God,” that’s what they said…Then you’d feel bad, that they (the nuns) were doing all this for you. But it still wasn’t enough. The way they degraded us, it was terrible. We had to be woken up with a clapper – not woken up with “come on, it’s time to
FLO’S STORY 121
get up” – it was a clapper. We had to jump up right now, get on our knees right now. We had no control over ourselves. Then, after you got dressed, you all had to go and wash up, all at the same time. Brush your teeth, comb your hair, and clean up. Then you all had to line up to go to the washroom, in front of everybody – no privacy whatsoever – everybody watching. That was so degrading. When I think of it now, how could they have been so cruel? There was no respect for anybody from them. Not even for you to go to the bathroom – they had to watch that. They’d give you only so much toilet paper. It was so bad, so degrading. You still had to respect them; you still had to obey them, even after doing that every morning, every time we went to the bathroom. I used to prefer going to the outhouses – at least you had a little privacy there. It was from 16 year olds right down to the little girls – it was so bad. Sometimes it just makes me wonder, how could anybody be that way? Why did they do that? Who ordered that, I don’t know? Why did they do that? There was no reason at all to enter into our privacy, to watch over us even to go to the bathroom. How could they even imagine doing that? It degrades a person, your self-esteem, to live a life like that. Every morning, every evening, you had to sit there in front of people to go to the bathroom. There wasn’t even a curtain there, and it was a pot that we had to go in, not toilets. They would have been better off to send us outside, even if it was 8 or 9 o’clock at night, even if it was cold. Why was there no privacy? You couldn’t even be yourself. You couldn’t even sit there and enjoy when you had to go. It was terrible. That was French white people who did that to us. Who ordered that? Did the government order it, or did they do it themselves, so that they would have full control over us? I think that why a lot of times we can’t do anything on our own, because everything was told, you were even told when to go to the bathroom. How can you grow up to do anything on your own? You wait for somebody to give you a little shove all the time. The way we were degraded was so terrible. When you sit and think of it, it just boils in you – it makes you angry. How could they be that way? How could they treat human beings that way? They treated those chickens and cows better than they did us. Even when a dog was running around, everybody would try to pet it – a dog even got better treatment than us. I bet we wouldn’t have been allowed to kick it – if we did, then they would have just gone and pet it…How can anybody even start to think to treat a human being that way? When they were entrusted with us, by our parents, to treat us right. But they didn’t. They just mistreated us. They fed us, we had a clean bed – we cleaned our own beds – we washed our own clothes, the same clothes all the time. The only time we changed our
122 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
clothes was to go to church on Sundays – we’d put on a hat. We grew our own potatoes…Come to think of it, we really did it all ourselves. We had to mend our clothes if they were torn, we cleaned our own bathrooms, and we cleaned everything. They didn’t actually look after us – we looked after ourselves. They made us look after our own selves, by calling us down. As far as people looking after us, and caring for us – I don’t think so. We could have been so much better off if we didn’t go to school. We would have had respect for each other, loved each other, cared for each other, and been there for each other. But they stripped that. We could have been better people if they would not have interfered. We might not have talked English, but today I don’t think we would be fighting. We wouldn’t be angry, the way that we are angry at the White race. We might have respect today for them. But the way they treated us in there, I think we all became racist. I don’t know whether we are or not right now, but when you really start checking yourself out and thinking things back, it makes you angry. When it gets you angry, then sometimes you get racist. If somebody says something, we get angry, we start rebelling within ourselves. I think sometimes we don’t even blame them, we blame ourselves because we took all this, we learned to take shit. We learned to take all those things that degraded us, all the things that were stripped from us – we just let them have it. So sometimes we get mad at ourselves – how come I couldn’t stand up for myself? – You start thinking of yourself as being a coward. So there are all kinds of things that this created – it turned out bad. I don’t think it was a good idea to ever enter the Indian in the convent. Sure they learned, but they didn’t really teach us the way they should have. If they had taught us, we would have been bilingual; we could have had three languages. We could have spoken fluent French and English, if they would have taught us properly. If they would have allowed us the self-esteem that we started with, instead of putting us down – humbling ourselves to the ground – I think we would have succeeded. I think we could have pushed on for more education if they would have encouraged us to be professionals, to be teachers, doctors, nurses. But they didn’t. If they would have taught us from the beginning, even to be carpenters – now we’re taking carpentry here…but they should have done that when we were going to school, right from the beginning. They could have taught us how to dress up, what was out there in fashion. But we had these old clothes that were probably 50 years old already, by the time we got them – they were just yarn on top of yarn, patches on top of patches. There was no fashion. To curl our hair was only done towards the end. But they never taught us how to dress up, how to be fashionable. There was no teaching. And encouragement? There was no
FLO’S STORY 123
encouragement of any kind for anything. Maybe the odd one would tell you “this is good.” There were a lot of talented people there. A lot of them knew how to sew, but did they encourage them to be a seamstress? We had the time in there – lots of people could have had different careers. And to be parents, there was no teaching for how to raise your children – they should have taught us how to care for and treat a baby. But there was nothing whatsoever about what a baby was, how you should treat a baby or bond with a baby. There was nothing from them – they were not parents themselves. They couldn’t say they knew how, because they didn’t have children themselves. This went on for ten years. Ten of our most important growing years. We were taught to be dishonest, there was no respect, and it was all those things, instead of teaching us the proper way, encouraging us. We were never taught to be good citizens – just to do this and do that, and all for their own benefit, not for ourselves. The everyday things, like getting in line – that’s what they taught us. If you were a little bit out of line, they’d come and turn you – you had to be right in line. You had no control over yourself. I sometimes think that’s why we don’t strive enough – we were always waiting to be pushed around and told what to do. You couldn’t do anything on your own. If you were to go ahead and do it, you got into trouble. You had to do things on time all the time. I didn’t know how to show my affection to my kids. I felt kind of like the nuns after a while. When I first started having my children, especially my two oldest ones, I was terrible. I was trying to follow the nuns. My house was spic and span – everything had to be clean and straight. If my kids didn’t comb their hair - I remember one time I cut their hair, because they didn’t comb their hair. I was very strict with them, until my dad talked to me. I didn’t really show emotion, I couldn’t hug them. I did love them, but I couldn’t say it – I still have a hard time to say “I love you” to anybody, because I never heard it. I just thought they didn’t need it (to be told I love you), because it was never said to us. Even our parents didn’t say it, because they didn’t know us. After you have lived in a convent for ten years, you’ve lost a lot of bonding from your parents and other relatives – they didn’t know you. We were raised without love. I still have a hard time saying “I love you.” Sure, I say it, but…Sometimes I’m kind of strict with them, but growing up I was very strict with them. I’m not now, but before I was very strict with them, until I started realizing that it was not doing them any good. I think it hurt them a lot. I could never express myself. Even when they went to school, I think it affected them. Growing up with no selfesteem and no encouragement, I didn’t really encourage them all that much. I was not involved
124 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
in their school and all that. I didn’t want to push them to go on, because that’s what I went through – I was pushed, I was forced. So that affected my children – I didn’t push them, I didn’t encourage them all that much. In my 20s and my teen years, I was starting to re-learn the world. It’s a hard transition in your teen years. You start getting involved with other people, you start having a family. You don’t really know how to act with other people when you come out of there. It affected me, and it affected my children after that. I love my kids – they know I love them – but as they grow older, it’s harder to express my real true feelings. I love my kids, but I didn’t show them enough. I don’t know how to show it. I don’t know how to explain myself, how I feel towards them, because I was never taught that. When they were young I showed them, because I had that. But as they grew older, it was a different stage in life. It was hard to talk to them about the facts of life, because you were never taught that – it was a dirty thing. Sometimes it’s hard to know, when a person is being affectionate to you, you hang on to that, because you think they are really caring, and the next thing you know, they’re not the right one, but then you’re more involved. Some people probably know that they can get away with that, with a young person, and then you get into the wrong relationship, just because you think “Oh, somebody cares.” Then you end up in the wrong relationship, and it’s not planned, because we were never taught to plan our lives. We were never taught to plan our education, encouraged to go on. Sure some of us in the later years did, but we really never had any graduates, because we were not pushed to go on further. Maybe you would have made a good doctor, or a good nurse. There was nothing like that, ever, that was encouraged. Even to say “you’d make a good farmer” or “you’d make a good mother” – but nothing like that was ever said.
ANOTHER SHARING CIRCLE 125
ANOTHER SHARING CIRCLE I was two years old when I went into residential school. My mother died and my father couldn’t take care of me. None of my relatives wanted a baby that little to take care of, so I was sent to residential school with my sisters. I basically grew up there; I stayed until I was 16. I would go home once in a while. When my sisters got married, I would stay home for the summer, or I would stay with other relations. That’s the only time I learned about the Indian way of life, because I was raised by nuns and priests. They wouldn’t let us speak Cree, but I learned anyway, on the playground, I guess. I went to school, and then I got out and got married. There was a little group, about the same age, who kind of all grew up together. First thing in the morning, you had to jump out of bed and kneel on the cold floor to pray. It seems like we prayed a lot. We prayed, and then we got up and washed our faces, then we went downstairs and went to church and prayed some more, then went back and had breakfast. We prayed before breakfast, we prayed after breakfast. We prayed before school – we prayed all day! I remember when I first started school, they were teaching the Cree language then – I don’t know why they stopped. They had it for about a year, but they didn’t continue, I don’t know why. At first they taught us the alphabet, and you had to know your numbers. You had to talk English – you were not supposed to talk Cree. But first you had to learn English, because we could not talk it. And they always called you dumb and stupid – stupid savages. Once, I was cleaning upstairs, and the nun told me to go downstairs and get Lysol. I thought she asked for Lisa, my sister. So I went downstairs, got Lisa, who was terrified, and brought her back upstairs to the nun. I said “Here’s Lisa,” and the nun said “Not Lisa! LYSOL! I said LYSOL!” I got a big slap on the head for that. [Laughter] One of the nuns, Sister Emma Margaret, she used to teach us arithmetic. Most of the kids were stupid, really stupid, they couldn’t understand it. I think she made up her mind then that she wasn’t going to teach it, because we weren’t going to learn. So she would make everybody take out some paper - the boys were really good at drawing. She would get the girls to do beading and everything like that. We would do that all day long – I don’t think we did any schoolwork sometimes. We would spend all our time doing beading and stuff, so most of us were really stupid – lots of us didn’t even belong in grade nine, but they would put you up anyway. The school inspector would come sometimes, and then she (the sister) would teach us something really fast, a bit of division or something. We were scared when he came, because he would look
126 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
at what we were doing, he would ask us questions. It was like that. I don’t know how they ever put us into grade nine – maybe grade five [would have been more appropriate]. I couldn’t do arithmetic – she never explained. When you got to the page you were supposed to be on, instead of making you understand, she would go on to the next part. So many of us got lost way back then, and we never caught up. She would give us books to read, and we would just sit there until it was time to go. I was good at reading – I used to read all the time – I think most of us could read. But she would scare us when the inspector was coming, saying that he was coming to see what we were doing. But he was actually there to see if they were teaching the right thing. But she put it on us that we had to be good and all that. That’s why she would jump ahead all the time, it didn’t matter if we didn’t understand, and she would go on. You can see where our education went – we learned nothing. [Speaker 1] I think they didn’t have the patience, and they should have! [Speaker 2] I think they had a schedule to follow, and if they didn’t do it, they would just hurry along. Because they had to finish a grade in one year, and if they were too slow, they would never finish. [Speaker 3] I don’t think they held anyone back, they just passed everybody. I was behind, and I didn’t even know it! First thing I knew, I was in grade 9! [Laughter] We didn’t know anything, because the teachers weren’t doing their job, those nuns. Maybe they weren’t qualified. They never explained anything. Even today, I’m very bad at what they now call math, what used to be arithmetic. I always think that I would like to take a class in math, just to understand it, you know? At my age now, I would like to do that. I would like to take some kind of a course in math. In the dormitory, there were three rows of beds.
ANOTHER SHARING CIRCLE 127
There were 45-50 girls, and two nuns would sleep in the corner, with the curtain drawn around their beds, one at one end and one at the other end. It was like a jail. You’d go to sleep, and then they’d be walking around. You had to lay one way – you had to lay on your right side. You couldn’t lie on your back or on your other side; you all had to face one way. I guess that was so we didn’t talk to each other or something. I couldn’t lie that way because it was on my good ear, and I wanted to hear everything that was going on. So I’d look for where she (the nun) was and turn around, then when she came by I’d turn back. The nun was always there at night – she’d just watch us. I don’t know what she expected us to do. One time we snuck out, and we got caught sneaking back in. The nuns woke up the priest to give us the strap. He brought out a big wide strap and gave us five each. When they asked us where we were, we said that we went out for a walk – we were really out dancing all night! It was just like a jail, a penitentiary. That’s what it was like, when they took us from our parents and put us in there, like we did something wrong. Everybody was crying, little kids crying because they didn’t want to stay there. They’d get so lonesome. It was a sad day, when you had to go back to the mission.
128 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The nuns cooked the meals, and we were assigned to the kitchen for a week at a time. We had a different job every week – bakery, laundry, the church. It was nice in the kitchen, when Sister Suzette wasn’t there. She’d yell, and she had that rough voice. She was always mad, and for some reason she was always picking on me. She’d talk so mean – even if you didn’t do anything, she’d talk really mean to you. I think these nuns; they took a vow of poverty and of chastity. I think it made them hard. They were so mean to little kids, when they should have just loved them, but they didn’t. I remember when my mother died, they didn’t comfort me. I guess everybody had a different outlook on being in the convent. We didn’t learn cooking or anything like that in there. They didn’t teach you anything like that. When I got married, I didn’t know how to cook. I cooked – burned - my husband’s porridge for a month straight, because I thought that’s what everybody ate for breakfast. When he asked me if I could make something else, I was so upset that he didn’t like my porridge…He asked me for pancakes, so I had to learn how to make pancakes. It was awful...We had porridge for breakfast every day of our lives, and bread with lard on it. For a special treat we would have black molasses, mixed with bacon grease. That was good. Everyday we would have soup for dinner, and then for supper a kind of stew. We would cut up potatoes, and cook that with the leftovers from the priests and the nuns. They used to eat like kings. Many a time when I was in the kitchen, I used to go and steal from the pantry while they were eating. I stuffed myself with dried apples, dried prunes, dried dates and everything else. They had everything in that pantry. Can you imagine how much money they got from the government for everybody in there? I guess they were able to buy this and that for themselves. When the time came for our family allowance, they got that too. Our mothers and fathers didn’t get it – even in the summer. Sometimes when the families had a lot of meat, they would bring some in for the children. They would bring fish, eggs. We barely ever had desserts. We used to have cake once in a while – once in a blue moon – or Jell-O or rice pudding. They used to make some kind of bannock, or biscuits of some kind. That was good. At lunchtime, we would get raw vegetables – carrots, turnips and cabbage. You never really went hungry when you were in the convent, if you ate it. But some of us, if we didn’t like it, wouldn’t eat it. The bread was homemade all the time – I don’t think they bought it. It was the punishment that was really bad. They punished for everything: when you were lined up, you couldn’t talk. In church, you couldn’t sleep – I used to fall asleep all the time in church.
ANOTHER SHARING CIRCLE 129
The service would go on and on…If I wasn’t waving at my boyfriend, I was falling asleep. Church used to be in Latin, and we didn’t understand Latin. We were made to go to church, even if you were sick, you were still made to go sometimes. Some people would faint in church, and they would just take them out – it would add a bit of excitement, anyway. By going into the convent, I missed knowing my mother. I missed learning how to talk Cree – I never really learned how to talk Cree. I was raised there, and they made us shut up every time we tried to talk Cree. I would have loved to have spent more time with the grandfathers and grandmothers. We never went to visit them after our mother died - we never saw them after that. They had visiting in the convent every Sunday, and whatever parents wanted to come and visit with their kids could. I’d always look out and see if somebody was going to come and visit me. My father would come sometimes, but he would never ask for us. He would always ask for his other kids. One time he asked for us, and he brought us apples. He had a little knife, and he would peel our apples for us. And then he quit asking for us…I guess he didn’t want to keep bringing us apples. There were other kids in there – they used to call them Mr. Hill’s kids. Mr. Hill was a child welfare worker. He had orphans that he would take under his wing, and look after them. He would send them to different missions. I think he’d pay for them. He looked after them. For Christmas, they’d all get presents – really good presents. He was good to them – they got skates and all kinds of stuff. I didn’t know my birthday until I was 12 years old. Everybody was having birthdays, but I wasn’t paying attention. Then I thought that I must have a birthday too, because every year they said that I was older. I asked Father Roue, and he said that yes, I have a birthday. He looked it up and said that it was January 22. I was really happy that I had a birthday! I never got a birthday present until I was 15, and my sister bought me a camera. I still have it. That’s when I started taking pictures all over. It’s good talking about your childhood. We started out like little orphans. Maybe that’s why we’re so close now. We used to have charges, everybody had to have somebody to look after, somebody younger than you. I remember Lena was my charge once. She was bigger than me – she was tall. Instead of me telling her what to do, she used to boss me around [laughter]. I didn’t want her for a charge. You had to look after them, make sure their hair was combed and all that, that they brushed their
130 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
teeth and were dressed properly. When you went out, you had to make sure they were in line. You had to teach them English, but you weren’t allowed to talk Cree, so I don’t know how that worked. Everybody had a number, so they had to learn their numbers. You were called by your number, your towel and clothes were identified that way. They would call out your number when it was your turn for a bath or whatever. Your number was on your comb, your brushes, and your toothbrush – even on your cutlery. If you got caught with somebody else’s number, there would be a really big mix up, and then you’d really be in trouble. Some of them would do that, if they lost something, they would steal somebody else’s and put their number on it. Then the other person would get in trouble, even if they were telling the truth. There was a lot of good that came out of there, too. Knitting and sewing – they used to teach us stuff like that. I used to just love listening to one nun sing – I thought she sounded just like an angel. I don’t know how angels sound, but I thought she sounded just like an angel! They used to take our tonsils out for no reason. Everybody had to have their tonsils out. Every year they would take four or five children’s tonsils – I could hardly wait my turn, because you got to go to High Prairie. You stayed there for three or four days. Your teeth, too. I never had a toothache, but all my teeth are filled on the top. The dentist probably knew how to make money from the government, because they would get paid for each person. I remember getting glasses when I was seven. Maybe because I didn’t know how to read or write, since I didn’t know how to talk English, so they started thinking that I was blind. The other kids used to make fun of me all the time. The nuns and the priests were put there to help us. They really thought they were helping the Indian children. The government ordered them to come on to the reserves and take the Indian children. I don’t think they knew the kind of damage they were doing to the Indian people. It’s not really their fault; it’s the government’s fault. I don’t know what they had in mind to do with the Indian people, when I think about it. They wanted to make us more like White people, more civilized – like we were savages or what? But it wasn’t right. That’s why Indian people don’t know how to do all kinds of things, like parenting and things like that. I don’t remember anybody ever hugging me. I learned from the mission, many things. I took that with me. I taught myself how to cook and learned from my mother-in-law – she was helpful in ways – she taught me how to wash, and rinse and hang things. That’s how I learned.
ANOTHER SHARING CIRCLE 131
Most of all, I missed my childhood years, no doubt about it. Being with our mother and father, being together as a family. We had no family life together. We didn’t really know our relatives, not until much later. But we’re together now.
132 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
THE IMPACT OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCE ON FAMILIES 133
THE IMPACT OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCE ON FAMILIES This chapter describes the impact of residential schools on families as gleaned from the literature on this topic and based on the stories of the people who lived in these institutions as children. While the themes are generic and apply to many communities, the quotations that illustrate them are almost entirely taken from conversations in Sturgeon Lake. According to R.F. Davey, Director of Education Services for Indian Affairs, (Davey C1.3376A) it seemed clear that “neither the Government nor the Churches appeared to have any real understanding of the needs of children, let alone the needs of children who come from a seriously disadvantaged group. The method of financing these institutions by per capita grants was an iniquitous system which made no provision for the establishment and maintenance of standards, even in such basic elements as staffing, food or clothing.” Residential Schools and Aboriginal Parenting It became clear from the stories of community members that their experiences in the residential schools had a negative influence on the capacity of Aboriginal people to parent their children. This seems perfectly understandable when one considers that between the late 1800s to the early 1970s, Aboriginal children from age 3 to 16 were removed from their homes, many forcibly, and placed in residential schools, where they stayed from September until June each year. During this annual ten-month period they were isolated from their parents and from the rest of Canadian society. Breaking up Aboriginal families by putting young children in residential schools was encouraged from an early date by government legislators and enforced by representatives of the church and by federal government Indian agents. According to Hayter Reed, a senior Department of Indian Affairs official, the total separation and isolation of Aboriginal children from their families was important to effectively ‘socialize’ the children. The greater the separation of the children from their families and communities, and the more isolated they are, the more success could be anticipated (Milloy, 1999). This practice removed the responsibility for child rearing that had traditionally been carried by the full extended family and the community from the Aboriginal culture and entrusted it to a government whose stated policy was the assimilation of Aboriginal people into the dominant society, a policy that could only be implemented by completely removing the children from the influence of their parents and communities. Aboriginal children were therefore not only educated separately from the dominant society, they
134 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
were also educated away from their own culture. In this setting, isolated culturally and geographically, the task of systematically transmitting the dominant society’s values, skills, culture, religion, and language was ensured. To ensure English language acquisition, speaking an Aboriginal language was forbidden and punished by corporal punishment. All aspects of the Aboriginal child’s life were regulated and monitored from morning to night by their caretakers to ensure compliance to this rule. In the words of a former resident: First thing in the morning, you had to jump out of bed and kneel on the cold floor to pray. It seems like we prayed a lot. We prayed, and then we got up and washed our faces. Then we went downstairs and went to church and prayed some more then went back and had breakfast. We prayed before breakfast we prayed after breakfast. We prayed before school--we prayed all day! Aboriginal people are all affected in some way whether they attended these schools or not. Even those Aboriginal people who never attended residential schools have relatives or friends who still feel the effects. Many of those who attended residential schools have found it extremely painful and avoid speaking of this emotionally burdensome and damaging experience, while those who did not attend are indirectly affected because they cannot understand why an educational experience should leave such bitter emotional scars. The practice of separating children from their parents and their way of life has had an impact on almost all Aboriginal families. The structure, cohesion and quality of family life suffered. Parenting skills diminished as succeeding generations became more and more institutionalized and experienced little nurturing. Low selfesteem and self-concept problems arose as children were taught that their culture was inferior and uncivilized, even ‘savage’ (Martens et al, 1988). Taking small children from their parents, and keeping them away from their influence caused parents and children to become strangers to each other (Unger, 1977). This was especially damaging for Aboriginal communities that were structured around the unique inter-relationships that exist among family, extended family, clan, band, and tribe (Lucas, 1989). In addressing this unique family pattern Lewis (1970) described the kinship structure, embodying a network of valued relationships, as one of the important keystones of the culture. The actual structure of the society included large extended families, and children, who were highly valued, occupied a central place within it as maternal and paternal grandfathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins all actively participated in child-rearing (Fischler, 1985; Cross, 1986).
THE IMPACT OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCE ON FAMILIES 135
It is important to understand the traditional context in which Aboriginal children had been raised prior to considering the extent to which established standards were followed. The sharing of child rearing by several persons was a traditional custom honoured and practiced by all North American Indian tribes. During periods of hunting and gathering, most nomadic tribes naturally assumed this standard of protecting children. Children were continually under the watchful eyes of tribal elders, siblings, cousins, aunts, or grandparents. As a result of this nurturing and security Aboriginal children were strongly tied to family, clan, and tribe and the extended family supported families because responsibilities were divided among many members of the community, and no single person was overburdened with the care of a child. Traditionally, Aboriginal communities were structured around the unique inter-relationships that exist among family, extended family, clan, band, and tribe (Lewis, 1970). Of this family pattern, the kinship structure was the most important foundations of the culture. The actual structure of the society included large extended families in which children central (Fischler, 1985.) The traditional Aboriginal family "included maternal and paternal grandfathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins who all actively participated in child-rearing (Cross, 1986, p. 284)." Parenting skills and child-rearing patterns are terms that are reflected differently in each culture. The term parenting is problematic for Aboriginal cultures. For Euro-Canadians a parent is generally a father or a mother, and the parenting role includes child-rearing; in Aboriginal cultures several members of the extended family and the community are involved in childrearing, in spheres of activity that, in Euro-Canadian society are parental. The broader term child rearing is thus a better term to describe the things that in Euro-Canadian culture come under the rubric of parenting, and the latter term may infer the more inclusive child-rearing patterns. Thus, the removal of Aboriginal children from parents to be raised in residential schools deprived those children of a cultural legacy. They missed the tightly knit community of extended family and relatives who shared the task of child rearing by providing nurturing and security. It is also important to note that by the 1940’s the Aboriginal communities had been weakened by several generations who had been through the residential school experience, graduating from schools which had subjected them to severe regimentation and often physical, sexual and emotional abuse that left them with an overall fear of authority. The legacy to this generation was an impaired ability to transmit a sense of culture and identity and a vulnerability to the loss of culture, language and Aboriginal spirituality. They suffered from broken relationships between,
136 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
not only the generations but with each other as a result of the violence and atmosphere in which they had been raised which ended up creating tremendous mistrust. In addition, the ability to parent had been seriously diminished as the generations failed to develop parenting models upon which they could base their ability to raise their children. In addition, this generation often failed to develop methods of discipline that were consistent with their culture, leading some to replicate the rigid and often violent methods of discipline that had been imposed upon them with their own children. Haig-Brown (1988) emphasized the lack of positive role models because children learn parenting skills by the way they are parented, and for many Aboriginal children who spent ten years or more at residential schools, one must conclude that these children had limited experience as family members. Atteneave (1930, p.30) recollects that "Neither they nor their own parents had ever known life in a family from the age they first entered school. The parents had no memories and no patterns to follow in rearing children except for the regimentation of mass sleeping and impersonal schedules.” This lack of positive role modeling, brought on by the education process at residential schools, has taken its toll in the Aboriginal family in Canada today. When the family structure is weakened or destroyed the culture and society cannot help but be affected. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Indian Act, convened from 1946 to 1948, (Crown documents C1.3376A; C1.1618; C1.3159A and C1.2029) was instrumental in redefining federal policy with regard to residential schools for Aboriginal children. In its submission to the Committee the Indian Association of Alberta (IAA) noted that the treaties provided for the establishment of schools on reserves and, among its many recommendations, advocated that the residential school system be curtailed in favor of day schools (GOV DOC CA1, YC3-14 20th. Parl. Sess. 1947, No 1-20, pp. 571 ff)). The IAA emphasized that “No child can develop as he should, without the care and affection of family life … [and the] restrictions, discipline, exclusive use of English, etc., in the Residential Schools are now recognized as having a harmful effect on immature minds and bodies. The IAA noted that there may be some situations where residential schools are needed to meet local needs but they should continue in operation only if requested by the Indians themselves, and in these cases they should be properly funded, equipped, and staffed (p. 579). In the words of one grandmother: “I'm granny. Long ago, as far as I know, our people had their way of raising their families. Like we had the grandparents, we had the aunts and uncles and then
THE IMPACT OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCE ON FAMILIES 137
we had the parents themselves. Our grandparents were there to teach us. They were our teachers, if we wanted to know something we approached our grandparents and they taught us what they knew and our aunts and uncles were the people that told us when we did something wrong. When we did something wrong it wasn't our parents that scolded us or told us what we did was wrong. It was up to the aunts and uncles. They were the ones that disciplined their nephews and nieces and I still see that sometimes today. Sometimes one of my sons when his nephews do wrong, he tells them they did wrong. He doesn't wait for the parents to tell them, he tells them. That's the way it was long ago and the parents were there just to love their kids. You gave love to your kids and your kids loved you in return. The children didn't have to be taken out of homes and when they were orphaned or the parents were sick, the rest of the family was there to just take them in and look after them. There was no such thing as who is going to take care of this child, somebody just said you can come home and live with me. I'll raise you and take care of you and that was it.” Children were continually under the watchful eyes of tribal elders, siblings, cousins, aunts, or grandparents. As a result of this nurturing and security the Aboriginal "child's self-concept is strongly tied to his family, clan, and tribe…and bonds formed early within this structure."(Blanchard & Barsh, 1980, p. 350) Furthermore, the extended "family structure provided support for families to live in a wholesome, non-threatening way" (Lucas, 1989, p. 9) because "child-rearing responsibilities were divided among many members of the community, and no single individual was overburdened with the care, discipline, or feeding of a child." (Cross, 1986:284) Thus, the removal of Aboriginal children deprived them of a tightly knit community of extended family and relatives who shared the task of child rearing by providing nurturing and security. This practice of separating children from parents and the parenting role model is singularly responsible for many of the problems related to child care now found among Aboriginal parents" (McKenzie & Hudson, 1985). We know that children learn parenting skills by the way they are parented, and Aboriginal children who spent many years in residential schools had limited experience as family members (Haig-Brown, 1988). Atteneave (1977: 30) recollects that "Neither they nor their own parents had ever known life in a family from the age they first entered school. The parents had no memories and no patterns to follow in rearing children except for the regimentation of mass sleeping and impersonal schedules.” This lack of
138 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
positive role modeling has taken its toll in the Aboriginal family in Canada today. According to one mother: Being at residential school…parents of residential schools didn't have the parenting skills that they had like raising their own families at home. In addition, communities found their children changed in terms of values. Instead of fully acquiring the values, skills, language, culture, and religion of the dominant society, children became confused and this created conflicts between parents and children. Over time some graduates of residential schools began to display the effects of their education and demonstrated a lack of confidence and awareness in child rearing as they assumed their role as parents (Ing, 1990). By the 1960s, a generation of Aboriginal parents who were not given the choice of raising their children began to show signs of "abrogating their responsibility as parents” (Caldwell, 1979, p. 21). The research indicated that a pattern of expectation had developed among some Indian parents that the residential school system provided a carefree way of living without children (Metcalf, 1975; Caldwell, 1979). One community member recalled it this way: It’s what we lost, but it's what let us in the zoo when they gave us the drink. We didn't wish to look after our kids, we would rather go and drink in the bars and buy our own liquor and everything. That's when we really lost it because we didn't know how to control it (the drinking). Even I wanted to send my kids to a group home . . . I wanted mine to go so I could have time to drink but they wouldn't take them because I don't know, maybe I was a good parent? I think after a while families got used to not having their children and they didn't take full responsibility as the bonding wasn't really there. They were used to not having their children. But that's why they're suffering because there was no bonding. It has also become clear that some Aboriginal children were subjected to starvation, incarceration, physical and sexual abuse in the course of their long separation from family (BraveHeart, 1999). In a 1992 study, negative boarding school experiences were recounted by a majority of respondents and include physical abuse (58.1%), being punished for speaking Lakota (37.9%), and sexual abuse by boarding school staff (22.6%) (BraveHeart-Jordan, 1995). In the words of one person:
THE IMPACT OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCE ON FAMILIES 139
I’ve heard some of those stories from older men. How they were treated. And one example was like when they went to bed or something, they were yanked out of bed in the middle of the night and dipped into ice cold water and forced to stand in the corner bare naked in front of everybody like for a day and it was just horrible. This older fellow was telling me that it happened to him. I think he was at an Alberta mission and he said he ran into one of the nuns who used to teach in there. She was in the old folk’s home in Northern Alberta. This was years and years later. He was already in his 50s by then and this nun saw him come into the old folks home and she said, oh, my son and she was trying to be all sweet and nice and thought he would be happy to see her and he said he looked at her and he just froze and she came up to him and he said he slapped her face. He couldn’t help himself. He had all that hate and anger in him for so many years he just couldn’t control it. It’s just awful things to cause a person to do that to a nun. When he was a little boy in the convent he was raped every night. As a result of that how would you expect that man to even be a good father – he’d have so much hate. This generation of young Aboriginal people is the first generation that did not attend residential schools; but because their parents and grandparents attended, they are deeply affected by the wounds and bitter memories of early childhood experiences. The breaking up of Aboriginal families has severely undermined the role of the extended family and kinship networks, causing that structure to break down, or in most cases, to be destroyed (Ing, 1990). Descendants of boarding school attendees also report a history of neglect and abuse in their own childhoods, along with feelings of inadequacy as parents and confusion about how to raise children in a healthy way. This historical trauma has not only resulted in the impairment of culturally normative parenting styles, but in a high risk for developing alcohol and drug abuse problems associated with ineffective and injurious parenting (Brave Heart, 1999). The residential schools also introduced new and dysfunctional behaviors, such as the use of severe punishment in child rearing. Before the residential school era, the use of physical discipline was uncommon in most tribes, but parents who had been spanked and hit while attending residential school responded similarly to their own children (Horejsi et al, 1992).
140 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The nuns were so mean to little kids, when they should have just loved them, but they didn't. I remember when my mother died, they didn't comfort me. It was the punishment that was really bad. They punished for everything: when you were lined up, you couldn't talk . . . We were made to go to church, even if you were sick, you were still made to go sometimes. Some people would faint in church, and they would just take them out--it would add a bit of excitement, anyway. This contrasted greatly with the general loving attitude toward all children that prevailed in Aboriginal communities prior to the residential schools, not just for one’s own children, but also for all the children of the tribe. Orphans or adopted children were not mistreated or set apart by the family, but were gratefully taken in and cherished. Aboriginal people were known to accept and respect all individuals, irrespective of age or sex, not only for their abilities but also with considerable tolerance for their weaknesses (Bull, 1991). Many mothers in our talking circles spoke of their inability in demonstrating affection for their children. If you go and hug someone, you can just feel the tenseness, we hardly ever had that, and that began from the residential school, I think, because we never loved on another that way. They (our children) don't realize how hard we had it and they think we are just neglecting them. We just don't know how to show our affection to them. We don't know how and that's hard. Many Aboriginal people who left the residential school system feared to speak their language and so failed to teach the language and traditional ways to their children. Haig-Brown (1988:286) states, "As adults many consciously did not teach their children an Aboriginal language so that they might avoid the punishments incurred through its use at school." One of the tragedies of this fear of speaking one's Aboriginal language is the failure to take advantage of what a culture offers to help ease the hardship of parenting. In former times, an intricate network of relatives could be depended on to help in child rearing. There has been a breakdown in traditional and cultural child-rearing patterns. Near loss or loss of language and the fear of speaking it has affected these belief systems and child-rearing values. In the words of one community member: As an Aboriginal nation and Canadians we should be proud who we are and teach our children to know who they are and I think once they know that who
THE IMPACT OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCE ON FAMILIES 141
they are . . . they will make progress and they will be proud of themselves and there wouldn’t be so much low self-esteem. Before the white man came we survived. We need to teach our children to be proud of who they are and to identify themselves as Aboriginal people so they can be proud people. Dakota Elder Eva McKay of Sioux Valley states, "It's true that the residential school life has altered the traditional way of our people and was the beginning of the breaking up of traditional family life. We came out confused…and the hurt that we did not bring out but hid within us became a reality later in life (Assembly of First Nations, 1989). Children’s Needs for Security and a Sense of Belonging There is common agreement that children have a basic need for security, stability, a sense of belonging and to count for something in the lives of others. In lieu of the sense of security that children need to develop fully as human beings, the accounts of residential school survivors resonate with negative experiences. This is not to say that some former residents do report positive experiences. Why some children have better experiences than others is a subject of interest that calls for further exploration. What is clear is that many have been subjected to traumatic experiences that continue to affect them and Aboriginal communities to this day. Discipline and Punishment There have been many accounts of severe punishment by staff. It is significant that the few directives issued from Ottawa to residential schools reiterated the importance of not resorting to physical punishment, leading one to conclude that it must have been an issue of overriding concern. The documentation reviewed is replete with requests to school principals to deal with staff who have been accused of overly harsh and severe punishments, and the resistance of the administration to deal with the concerns. Pervasive Fear Many accounts of residential schools speak to the pervasive fear that children lived with for most of their childhood. The practice of cruel and unanticipated punishment left children in a constant state of fear and anxiety, as even if they were not personally punished, they never knew when they might be next. We lived in such fear. Fear of punishment. It was the punishment that was really bad. They punished for everything. Corporal Punishment Associated with the Aboriginal Language
142 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
This form of discipline was devastating to the pupils. However, many Aboriginal parents with this experience as children resorted to using this form of punitive discipline with their offspring. This is understandable because the use of this punitive discipline was one of the parenting models provided by the staff at residential schools. Many Aboriginal people who left the residential school system feared to speak their language and so failed to teach the language and traditional ways to their children. Of this fear to speak the language Haig-Brown (1988) wrote that "as adults many consciously did not teach their children an Aboriginal language so that they might avoid the punishments incurred through its use at school" (p.110). One of the tragedies of this fear of speaking one's Aboriginal language is the failure to take advantage of what a culture offers to help ease the hardship of parenting. In former times an intricate network of relatives could be depended on to help in child rearing. There has been a breakdown to traditional and cultural child-rearing patterns. Near loss or loss of language and the fear of speaking it has affected these belief systems and child-rearing values. Dakota Elder Eva McKay of Sioux Valley states "It's true that the residential school life has altered the traditional way of our people and was the beginning of the breaking up of traditional family life. We came out confused…and the hurt that we did not bring out but hid within us became a reality later in life (AFN, 1989, p. 59). Effects on Family and Community Life To live with others in a family setting or in a small group and to develop mutual attachments and a sense of responsibility for others is a critical part of preparation for adult life. The failure to provide an environment that somewhat resembled a family setting where students could experience the development of mutual attachments and a sense of responsibility for others has led to repercussions that continue in a cycle of lateral violence, high suicide rates, addictions, poverty, failed relationships, and an inability to parent effectively. MacDonald (1985:252) has suggested that "the causes of the widespread breakdown in Indian family life are complex." Aboriginal people are all affected in some way whether they attended these schools or not. Even those aboriginal people who never attended residential schools have relatives or friends who still feel the effects. Those who attended residential schools find it extremely painful and avoid introspection of this highly emotionally burdensome and damaging experience; and those who did not attend are indirectly affected because they cannot understand why an educational experience should leave such bitter emotional scars. An indication of the
THE IMPACT OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCE ON FAMILIES 143
“success” of the residential schools is that many children graduated with little notion of who they were as Aboriginal people. In the words of one survivor: Look at all these kids that have been taken away from the reserve. They don’t even know where they come from. They don’t know who their relations are or anything. There are a lot of them that come back and say this. They don’t know anybody. Many would agree that separating children from their parents and their way of life has had a dramatic impact on most Aboriginal families. Family life suffered as parenting skills diminished and succeeding generations became more and more institutionalized as they received insufficient nurturing. The result for many Aboriginal people was low self-esteem and a diminished self of self as they were taught to believe that their culture was inferior and uncivilized (Martens et al, 1988).
Intergenerational Trauma Ing (1990) states that many parents were bitter, and passing their bitterness on to their children. While a generation may not have attended a residential school, because their parents and grandparents did, they are deeply affected by the wounds and bitter memories of their early childhood experiences. Generations of breaking up Aboriginal families have severely undermined the role of the extended family and kinship networks, causing that structure to break down, or in most cases, cease to be. Clinical and research experience among the Lakota reveal that Indian parents who were themselves raised in boarding school settings feel inadequate and overwhelmed in their parental role. Further, descendants of boarding school attendees also report a history of neglect and abuse in their own childhoods along with feelings of inadequacy as parents and confusion about how to raise children in a healthy way. This historical trauma has resulted in the impairment of culturally normative parenting styles and high risk for developing alcohol and drug abuse problems associated with ineffective and injurious parenting (Brave Heart-Jordan, 1995). Loss of affection Before residential schools, in Aboriginal families, a general loving attitude toward all children prevailed, not just for one’s own children, but love for all the children of the tribe. An orphan or an adopted child was not in any way mistreated or set apart by the family, but was gratefully
144 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
taken in and cherished. Aboriginal people have been noted to accord unquestioned acceptance of, and respect for, all individuals, irrespective of age or sex, not only for their abilities but also with considerable tolerance as well for their weaknesses (Bull, 1991). In the words of a former resident: It’s very interesting and we survived before, we didn’t have the dollar. We had love. We had respect for our elders and love from our children because we showed them love. They didn’t just send them away to school. They learned lots at home instead of being sent some place else to learn from somebody else and I think that’s why our kids don’t in a way respect us because we just sent them away somewhere else to learn all them other things besides love and respect. Among the damaging effects of residential schools, these are the most difficult to quantify and to validate, but as a result of being allowed to participate in many talking circles with Aboriginal people, and the opportunity to review a veritable treasure trove of historical documents it is clear that this “legacy” of the residential school experience that will require more work on the part of Aboriginal communities at a fundamental human level. Encouragingly, many communities are working hard on this journey and making gains that can set the stage for the next phase of their lives. One of their desires is to inform others of their experiences, especially helping professionals who have become such an integral part of their life experience and who often hold such power over them. The next chapter describes on such experience with a course co-taught by this community and the author.
THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL COURSE – A JOINT EFFORT 145
THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL COURSE – A JOINT EFFORT
Our First Class Lena StandingRibbon Jerry Goodswimmer Flo Chowace
One of our commitments in this collaboration was the development of a course on residential schools for helping professionals between the University of Calgary and the Sturgeon Lake community. The section describes how the course that was developed finally unfolded and provides comments about the learning that took place from the students’ perspective. Survivors of the residential schools from the Sturgeon Lake community who were involved in the journey were invited to share their experience with the residential school system, and their perception of its impact on themselves, their families and their community at the onset of this otherwise web based course. In a spirit of reciprocity, students were given an opportunity to present and share their learning with each other and with the participants of the first class at the end of the course. This provided a final opportunity for a dialogue that generated recommendations for the future based upon the collective wisdom of the participants. The following six Sturgeon Lake community members shared their experience and wisdom for two days with students. We are also grateful to many other individuals who gave of their time to this course that include David Nabew, Peter Kiyawasew, Joe and Elsie Moses. The following are selected postings on an electronic discussion board derived from students on this course. It is clear that the contribution of our friends from Sturgeon Lake had a powerful emotional impact on students’ appreciation for the meaning of this experience.
146 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Today's class was very powerful. The speakers from Sturgeon Lake were extremely effective at displaying the hardships endured in residential schools. The guest speakers were very courageous to tell their stories about what occurred in the residential schools. It is very sad to know that people were treated so poorly. Many of the speakers talked about how everything changed when they went to residential schools. From the sounds of it this is definitely true. I just find it so amazing that all of the speakers were able to share their experiences with our class after all that went on in residential schools. I commend everyone for having the strength and courage to share their stories. I know that I was touched especially to feel the courage that was portrayed by all of the speakers. I was so exhausted after class yesterday I came home and slept for several hours. I feel so humbled at the courage of those wonderful elders who shared their heartbreaking stories with us and I thank them from my heart. I try to feel what those children suffered, to empathize with their experience of losing the comfort of family, of being punished for speaking their language of suffering the abuse. I can only weep for them, listen empathetically, and weep with them. But that is not enough! David asks that we find additional ways to support the healing process and that is my goal. It is evident that this community has been doing a lot of work for the last several years, and through this project, they continue their healing journeys. The ultimate goal is to create a healthy community that is balanced in all aspects - mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. I've always been impressed with the native attitude about child rearing. A child is a special gift for the whole family and there is no parental attitude about power and control. Children are recognized to be individuals, not possessions of the parents, from the time they are born. The children who were scooped up and taken to the mission schools must have been in shock at the very different attitudes of their new caregivers, no touching, no love and harsh punishment for what had been normal "daily living" actions. Everything that nurtured them (i.e. smiles, laughter, familiar foods, and an unregimented daily routine) was gone replaced by a cold, frightening environment. I’m sure most of them would have gone into a deep depression and I marvel that so many found the strength to survive. It would have been better if the acculturation process had been reversed. The world of the mooniyaw would have benefited from the native childcare methods.
THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL COURSE – A JOINT EFFORT 147
I would like to thank everyone who spoke to the religion aspect, as your thoughts have helped me broaden my understanding and perspective. The part about the picture that hangs on the Blue Quills wall really struck me. I can't even imagine seeing something like that let alone being a child and seeing it and being taught to change who you are or you will go to hell. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best, "The evil that we do lives after us; the good is oft interred with their bones” (Mark Anthony's words from Julius Caesar). While there may have been some good people involved in the residential schools their memory will cast a fading shadow in comparison to those who caused such harm to so many. I'm constantly reminded of the Jewish Holocaust experience and I'm old enough to remember the liberation of those who survived the death camps, the Nuremberg Trials, the capture, trial and execution of Adolph Eichmann. (All of which set off the same kinds of emotions as this discussion board.) I know that one of the important healing techniques for many of the survivors was to be able to talk about the atrocities committed against them and have the world recognize those individuals for the evil people they were (even though some were already dead). Maybe it's time for recognition - of both the good and the bad individuals who operated the residential schools. It bothers me that the finger is pointed primarily at the institutions (i.e. the schools, churches, and government) when (if I'm getting the right message) the wrongs were committed by individuals on individuals. And if there were good people in positions of power how could they stand by when this abuse was taking place? I'm trying to understand the alternative point of view but, so far, I haven't read much that justifies the events as related by the survivors. Wow, these stories and the ones in the readings are so sad! As a mother I could not imagine how they felt, especially for the generation of parents who had been forced to live in the residential schools themselves. I too had a similar frightening experience at age 5 to stay in the hospital without parents and I had nightmares for a long time afterwards - so I am filled with compassion for those kids who were tortured, abused, and were so lonely all the time. I hope to help survivors of this horrible system. I strongly agree with you that the healing process of the Aboriginal people should be a shared responsibility. An apology from institutions that enforced residential school would be a part of that responsibility and would significantly contribute to the healing process. I also share your skepticism that an apology won’t happen soon. I am not a pessimist. I just think that the value system of people who created the residential schools does not allow them to see what they have
148 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
done. That does not make them less responsible for their actions; rather it tells us what should be included in the global changes of our society. We have to redefine how we value our relationships, health, environment, and whether our priorities are materialistic or spiritual or a balance of these two. So I think that people who made and supported the system of residential schools and who exercise their power in contemporary society are the same kind of people. They are raised in their families to see the world as made of ‘dominant vs. submissive’ relationships. I hope that First Nations people will learn to trust and work alongside us non-Native Social workers - there is more power in numbers and alliances, plus we can learn a lot from each other. Many people are interested in Native healing and the four principles: dialogue, consensus, decision, and action. While it is difficult to select representative comments from numerous and thoughtful postings that have been made, it seems clear that it is possible to create community between social work students and members of a community that has survived the oppressive structures of the residential schools and the Indian Act. A profound change has taken place in many of our students as they gained a greater understanding of what these Aboriginal people had undergone and the impact of this experience on their lives today. The simplicity, dignity and humility that formed the context for their expression made for a profoundly moving experience. This has become an annual event, as members of the Sturgeon Lake community join social work students to share their experiences, while the students share their learning with the community to assist them with new ideas in return. As the community engaged in further sharing, it seemed clear that much of the focus was on the negative aspects of their lives. At one stage the question was posed. What is good about this community? This created the stage for a more ample and creative discourse, one that opted to recognize the strengths and capacity of the people, and their ability to create a new vision for the future.
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE? 149
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE?
Destiny and Friend
Lena: I guess it’s like the good versus the bad and the bad versus the good in a sort of a way. I think we look at the bad side more then the good side; cause like me for instance when I go somewhere like Hobbema for cultural camp, the first thing I’ll ask is what happened and they’ll tell you the bad thing that happened on the reserve but nothing on the good, but that’s what most people ask is what bad happened while I was away and they never look at the good side of things. What good happened on the weekend on the reserve, it’s always negative. So that’s some of the concerns I have. When somebody dies people get together to help each other. That is one good thing about this community they come together to support the family. That is what I noticed about this reserve. Everybody joins in to help. That is one of the good things about the community. And some people are good at organizing things. They will start from scratch and they will do a good job. They just up and do it. People have good qualities in that too.
150 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
And right now I’m looking for a good hunter, I want to make some dry meat, I even had some people make me a meat rack at Vicky’s last week and now I need meat to make it. I want to store up for the winter and I know there is lot of good hunters out there, but I don’t know if they want to be asked. David: Those are some of the things I was talking about, we have people that are talented at moose hunting; we have people that can teach us how to cure this stuff but those are people that we never utilize or we don’t appreciate their talents. We are so used to complaining, and our [personal] concerns become the most important. How are we going to change things so we can start to appreciate some of the capacity we have on the reserve? Maybe we can start doing a different type of growing and I think that has to come in hand in hand with our Journey toward Empowerment. We are trying to empower people to take responsibility for themselves and to become more responsible. It has to be a realistic approach, but these are important ingredients in what we are doing. Lena: One of the positive things I have seen on this reserve for the past couple of years is that more people are sober, because they have role models on the reserve. There were not many way before but now there are. That’s what we need for our younger people, to see the older ones, and not only the older ones, sober. I have noticed that when they see sober people they say “there is a sober person, I better stay sober.” With my grandchildren when I’m around they don’t drink, so I try and be with them all the time. I think I did one good thing this weekend. Everyone was having a party after a tournament and I had no booze to buy so I couldn’t give a drinking party. These people wanted to go somewhere so I brought them home, no booze no nothing, and they sat around on the floor and on the chairs in my dining room and living room, and I just put a bag of dry meat there and that was our party. The next day they called it our dry meat party. So I feel proud of myself doing that. I didn’t have lots of dry meat but I just put it there and they went home about 1:30 and that was that, so I felt good about myself. I don’t have lots, but I was willing and the next day some people come here to ask for dry meat. They were trying to come and buy some but I don’t sell.
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE? 151
Alvina: I wasn’t originally raised here, but I lived near here before. There were many things I admired about Sturgeon Lake. Where I was raised we had to pay for everything that we wanted. You had to pay for transportation; to buy clothing, for your power, your rent, damage deposit and here there are a lot of good things that you don’t have to pay for. You don’t have to live side by side with people and you can choose where you want to live so you have privacy. The school here is nearby, which is good because you don’t have to buy a bus pass to get there like in towns. Now we have Head Start and daycare programs. There’s just about all the resources that you need: social Services, a band hall, a Health Center, a nurse, a dentist, these are all good things I see in Sturgeon Lake that I would have wanted when I was growing up. Where I had to go to Grande Prairie to make an appointment, now I just make one at the Health Center; the dentist comes two or three times a month; the nurse is here all the time and medical transportation is always on call. If you have a medical appointment a bus will transport you. If you need an appointment, they will make it for you at the Health Center. Everything is so convenient. There are many recreational facilities such the community hall, the skating rink, and ball diamonds. That’s what I like about the community, we have everything here. We have counselors that make referrals to treatment center for addictions. There are [social] workers here; which is another
152 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
resource. We also have a therapist; if you can’t make it to a psychologist or other therapist, one is available here. If there was enough funding, we would be able to put up more workshops to educate the community. That’s where I have mostly educated myself from being a real negative person, and ignorant. The workshops and going back to school are some of the things I had to do to retrain myself. I see a lot of people who are not afraid to do what they want to do. It’s their choice now whereas before they were afraid to do things for themselves. They would say things like “I don’t want to do it” or “I’m scared, you talk for me” but now I see a lot of people going forward to do things for themselves; they are not afraid to say how they feel or what they think. I see people being honest and trusting in themselves. Before I used to be afraid to hear a “no” but today I think it’s only a “no” and now I’m able to take it. I see a lot of our members say “what’s a no?” It’s not going to hurt me. The youth are even trying; when they come to see me and I try and encourage them when they say things like “well I can’t do this” and I say to them “yes you can,” but what you have to do is to try. So there are a few youths that are still trying and I see a lot of positive stuff there too. So education and attending workshops like we have here today, taking part and sharing are some of the things I see here.
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE? 153
Dorthy: I’m happy where I’m living although they call it skid row. But it’s nice and quiet and I like the meetings I go to on Mondays. I open up more where before I couldn’t even talk, but now I’m not scared to talk. I have seen a lot of young people who were ready to go into grade 12 and they quit. My grandson went to grade 12 and he didn’t quit but he was the only boy this year. I don’t know what’s happening to the young people they should just stick to school. Maybe they want to work or just grow up sooner, so that’s what I keep telling my grandson and granddaughter to just keep going to school. It’s a good school that’s what I think.
154 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
I went to Onion Lake a little while ago and you should have seen the young people dance; just the young people, even the little kids were playing drums. That’s what they should teach. The way they were dancing and the way the boys were playing the drums was good. People here should teach the young people to play drums and all the dances including round dances. They love sports they are so eager to go to ball games and swimming, but they have no transportation. They always hang around in bunches. The teen center closes all the time they have nowhere to go. They always hang around at the ball diamond; from where I live I see them all the time. Somebody should be helping young people with traditional things like dance, like Tracy does right now. That’s all.
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE? 155
Felix: I was born and raised just a little distance from here. I grew up here. I have been a councilor here a number of years. . . . The people in front of me talking about alcohol and partying all the time. Now you see not that much going on. I used to party myself. I never went to any formal workshops or anything like that, just one day I decided it wasn’t doing me any good so my wife and I said we will quit drinking. We never promised anybody anything. We just decided it wasn’t doing us any good. We didn’t take any programming or anything like that but we just managed to be able to quit. The strength we draw from our kids. There are a lot of things I appreciate; there was talk about round dances, it is a sober event it happens here on the reserve. We take part in those things and take part in the Pow-wows. We should be teaching these values about the drums and different things and I’m one to say yes we should do that, because after awhile it gets addictive and you can take in events across the country if you really want to. There are things that are being done now that we have committees. We have established committees that handle different things. I sit on the Family Services committee and there was another lady that was talking about having campouts, making dry meat, picking berries, and drying fish and that was supposed to begin today. We postponed it for two weeks and that will
156 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
put us right into the moose rutting season, so that elders such as the gentleman sitting over here can take part in the things he loved to do when he was a young man like calling moose. I saw him do that and he was one of the better callers. We were going to try and teach the young kids those things and have the ladies make the dry meat and dry the fish for themselves and even go as far as making the hides, but we couldn’t find a lady to do that even though we were going to pay her to do it. When I was a young lad I used to see my mother do those things. It is a labor intensive job and it requires a lot of care. I guess it could still be done because there are ladies here that want to start arts and crafts. I encourage some of traditional values [even if] I know we can’t go back in time and survive the way they used to along time ago. The trap line is different and the fur just is not there and the prices are not there either; but then we still have to survive. This individual here that was talking before me knows a lot about the drum and has talked to me about the drum. At one point when he was a young man that there was no such a thing as a radio. The old timers would entertain themselves by picking up the drum and just singing; to me that is a lost art, and they would have fun and tell stories and different things. I have sat and listened to some old timers that passed on. They told me different things and it was a good way of life where there was always humor no matter what. To me humor is a big part of healing because when I’m hurt have a lot of pain and when somebody cracks a joke, for that instant or maybe for a minute I will have forgotten my pain. Anyway that is all I have to share maybe that is too much. Alvina: So using myself as an example, about twenty years ago I always thought this community would never change, people would never change, and things would never change. But the reason I was feeling like that because I was not changing the way I was thinking and everything was negative. I was using drugs and I was an alcoholic, but what happened was because of what I did to myself through my alcoholism that created bad friendships and relationships. I had created a lot of pain for myself and there were some good people but because I wasn’t feeling good about myself I was seeing only what I wanted to see in front of my face and not anything further than that. At that time I thought all people drank, but not everybody was drinking at that time. There were a lot of people that had families and didn’t drink, but to me it looked like there was nothing good.
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE? 157
I always thought that nothing would change until I started sobering up and realizing that my life wasn’t going anywhere. When I would lose a job then I would end up hurting myself again but it was always somebody else’s doing. It was only when I realized that I’m doing this to myself and nobody else, and I would have to pull myself out of that gutter and nobody else is going to do it. I was relying on other people to do it for me, but there were also other people letting me know ‘Alvina you’re a good worker and you work all the time? Why are you doing this to yourself’? “I thought you guys were being mean and I didn’t want to hear that. I looked at it in a negative way, but it was a positive and it was from a person that had confidence in me where I didn’t have that. They saw me as a good person when I didn’t see myself that way. I always thought I was stupid and dumb, but that is not what people were telling me. I hung on to my old negative person and I just felt that was how I was and part of my upbringing from my family, not realizing that one of my parents grew up in residential school and she passed on the only parenting skill she knew. When I came to Sturgeon and I went home with a black eye, cuts and bruises it was Sturgeon
158 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Lake, not Alvina mouthing off. When I took responsibility for being mouthy and lipping people off when I was drinking [I realized] that I was going to get hit. While I had always said that Sturgeon is never going to change, it did change because I changed my way of thinking, my way of behaving towards people. I don’t think anybody wanted to sit beside me the way I was acting up. I was too good for everybody . . . everybody [else] had a fault, but there was nothing wrong with me and that was how I was with everything and everybody. When I became sober I had to start letting go of a lot of stuff . . . but it took a long time and I had to start with myself. If I didn’t want people treating me this way, then why did I treat people the same way? I would talk to myself a lot because I started treating my little girl that way and I remembered that I didn’t like that when I was young, I’m sure she didn’t like me never asking how she felt or what she wanted. It was always what I wanted . . . and I didn’t respect nobody’s feelings. When we did come back there were a lot of people that never drank all their lives but their families did. At the time when my husband was working as a counselor we had to go through a lot of struggles and I thought that nobody was ever going to sober up as there were too many people drinking. But we kept doing things like sober dances, taking people out to different communities, and powwows. One time we visited Alkali Lake [a dry reserve in British Columbia] and that helped me to develop a relationship with some of our community people for whom I had so much anger and to begin to feel more comfortable with them. I said if I didn’t take care of myself first I would have make a stink. But until I started sharing my pain even if it meant crying, [it was] good because at least I was going to know it hurt cause I’m now talking about it. I really like where I am today whereas twenty years ago I wouldn’t want to be here because I was still using. Everything looked ugly because my life was ugly. It was not other people, it was me. But now you can go through the rez and the yards are clean compared to years back, people are looking after their yards and their homes and I have seen a change in that. I see kids today walking around clean while twenty years back there were some families that didn’t have parents at all [because] they were using or drunk and that is when the [child welfare] system came in. I’m pretty sure some were sharing the parenting like [happened] in my childhood if the parents were separated. It was our grandparents or aunts. I think that is what I would like to see happen again instead of the child welfare system. If somebody is drinking or leaving their children, why
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT STURGEON LAKE? 159
call child welfare [when] you can call the aunt or somebody that has one or two children or has no children. That is my dream. Many people spoke of a brighter future with a sense of optimism in spite of all the difficulties they had experienced. Beyond reflecting on what on what they had overcome, community members wished to see happen to improve their lives. What they hoped for was fundamentally simple and human. The first speaker touches on an important and potentially negative force in their lives, that of the child welfare system. Others, as shall be seen, express a longing for a life they had known earlier as a fundamental part of their future.
160 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
VISIONING THE FUTURE 161
VISIONING THE FUTURE
Virginia: My dream is to get my house, get my kids and I’m doing it, but what hurts the most is that I’m doing it on my own and I have no one to turn to at times, and it hurts. They talk about keeping the circle and keeping the community together but that is not true. They don’t know what we mothers go through when we lose our children and have to say goodbye, but now my kids are coming back. It took me six years to find my children and I didn’t have to find them, they came and found me. I have a fourteen year old and she sees me once a month and now my other girls are coming to see me. I like that because it has been a long time. I got a phone call from child welfare yesterday and they told me “your girls really want to see you” and I told them “well I’m getting a new house, and I even showed them the house and I tell my girls, this is not my house this is your house” but you know I really hurt, I’m a hurting unit as I walk around this reserve. I look around and think am I going to fight here. There are so many jealous people and that is why I can’t wait to get out of here, I want to move to my house and I can’t wait to get out of the town site. I’m happy because now my girls get to know who mommy is and get to know me and I lost that with my kids. If something happens to you and then a good result comes about, I like that because I have been struggling for months. I’m the type of person that will never give up on my family and my children are coming back. I’m a hurting unit but people don’t know that I wear a mask and people don’t come up to me and say “Hi, how is it going?” I’m a type of person that gets very depressed very easy and people don’t know that I am feeling this way, I even wrote a poem about death inside. I talk about the death inside of me that hurts me that people don’t know about. Clifford: Less alcohol. There are some areas where we don’t even don’t want to visit an old couple like my auntie and my uncle. We don’t want to walk down that area because there is a lot of alcohol, so we don’t even go visit. It has been months. I think there should a center for the elders such as one in Edmonton called Operation Friendship. A lot of old people go there to play cards and talk to each other. A lot of times my uncle sits outside all day by himself just waiting for somebody to come by and talk to him. I wonder sometimes what he’s thinking because he just sits there until the sun goes down, but when he sees a lot of people drinking around there he goes inside [the house]. He practically has to hide, but if he had a place like that for old people to be with each other, talk to and play cards . . .
162 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Alvina: What I would like to see is people not being afraid of people. There is fear; they are scared to talk to people. The trust is not there, and people are scared to even share their pain. I can remember when people would come to the road and say ‘hi, what’s your name, where are you from, come in, have coffee, rest up’ even [if you were] just walking a little ways. I would like to see that happen again, just feeling free with no fear of anything. Just saying how you feel or “Hey, I need to talk to somebody’ and you could just take some time to sit down and have some coffee. “Let’s talk about it. I’m willing to listen to you . . . just feeling that whatever you do there is somebody out there and none of this competition where somebody always trying outdo you or trying to be better than you. That happens . . . when somebody wants to knock your program ...or your singing, what ever talent you have; they knock you down instead of giving you encouragement. I would not be afraid to walk into their home instead of having somebody looking at you really mean and leaving you wonder if you were in the right place. [I would like the] good feeling that there is no tension. [I would like to see] less alcohol and drugs, and for children to feel safe. I want to trust everyone without wondering if my child is going to be okay. [I would like to see us] actually sitting down with the children and passing on our teachings like used to happen with my grandparents when they gave us some needle and a thread and a button to sew and told us things about parenting that we would have to do when we were older. I was only six or seven years old and I did not want to get married because I [would] have to sew, but [they were] teaching me and preparing me to be an adult, so those skills were useful as I was growing up. That is what I would like to see again. I want to see a child come to me and ask a question and take time to talk instead of saying “Get out of here! I don’t have time for you.” I want to walk on ground like a soft sponge instead of bumping into ruts and tripping. I am always alert and watching. My eyes are constantly watching for warning signs. That is how I feel sometimes even as a counselor, because when you knock [at a door] you don’t know who is going to slam the door in your face or yell at you. I would like to see the elders not have to shut themselves out and for people to take the time to listen to their stories. The elders used to tell me about things like the way the trees are moving or even the animals to predict the weather, and I would like to see us acknowledge what they have to say and respect it instead of questioning if they are okay or whether their mind is drifting away. That is what I would like to see happen in the decades ahead, so with that thank you.
VISIONING THE FUTURE 163
Vyola: What I want is our culture and language back. We would have our elders, the youth, children and families be together to do all kinds of things. I guess I’m thinking about just getting back to the way I was raised by my grandparents. This is hard for me to talk about, because they are not here anymore. What I want to see for myself, is my grand kids being there with me like I was with my grandparents, because they were really into the culture. My grandmother taught me a lot of things like berry picking, and making dry meat and stuff like that, and that is what I would like to see for myself and other families. I want to see the closeness back the way it was. Just to be a teacher for the young children in the way it was done, in the old ways and with a lot of the respect. Nowadays the children don’t know what respect is. [This is not true of] all children, but one of the main things is learning to respect themselves, respect people, respect the community and actually all mother earth. I’d see the children having fun together and the people laughing, sharing and having get-togethers; the people now are not as close as they were before. That is one of the things I have in my family; closeness, but some people don’t have that with their children or grand children. That is what I would like to see; happiness with the children laughing and the little children speaking Cree and just being happy like it used to be long time ago Clifford: I probably see [my grandfather] talking with other elders about the good old days of how it used to be when they were young. I don’t think they had that much alcohol a long time ago. I’m sure he would like to talk about the old days when he used to go hunting and trapping, because he still talks about it now. When we were staying with him he used to talk for a good three hours straight, telling us stories of when he used to go trapping and stuff like that. Alvina: It was good to just sit with your grandma or grandpa and say “oh look at that bird.” Some days they would say “Oh it is going to rain.” And we would ask how they knew?” It was just by a certain little bird singing at an odd time. They call it a little rain bird in Cree. If a dog or horse acts in a certain way by gallivanting and playing [they can predict] what the weather is going to be. I used to sit there and listen to my grandparents, and while for me it was just an animal playing or looking at the trees at 6:00 in the morning. We didn’t have to listen to the radio to find out what the weather or the [next] season was going to be like. My father just looking at whether the stars are far or near can pretty well forecast a hot or cold winter. Those are some of things that I would like to see happen instead of that newscast that is lying again. I would tell little children not to be afraid to go sit with an elder. That is what I would like to see.
164 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Leroy: People forgiving each other, being helping each other, respecting each, getting along with long lost cousins and speaking to each other, getting close to each other. I have been gone for since 1972 and came back in 1989 so I sort of have an idea [about] getting back in touch with each other in the community, healing in the community, opening up to each other, talking, and sharing in order to heal. Hopefully more healing would have gone on over the next 20 years. There would be less drinking, less addictions, more of our culture and more people trying to learn speak our language again. We would be getting back to our customs, our belief systems and maybe our spirituality too. [There would be] sharing, a lot of sharing. I know when I was a kid there used to be a lot of that and I don’t see that today. Hopefully in the future I can see that again as we help each other. Dorthy: I moved back to Sturgeon Lake and I am very happy to be living here. There is a lot of stuff that the young people can do and the work will be starting pretty soon on the pipelines; so there won’t be many people being idle and drinking. There are good people here and a good school. I see a lot of neighborhood children going to this school. They seem to be happy going
VISIONING THE FUTURE 165
to this school, and when they come home they are happy and they play around. They are good kids and when I go home I have to put out the candy. A lot of kids come by but they all look the same to me, so I think they come twice. It is really nice living in Sturgeon Lake. It is a nice place, nice and clean. If you are ever in Canada, come and visit Sturgeon Lake. There are really good people here. Come visit, maybe even get a pen pal and write to us. Maybe the nine year olds could get a pen pal. A lot of us are widows. We could exchange letters or maybe do crafts. That will be good. They must do all kinds of crafts over there. We could make something and get a pen pal and send something to the people and show it to the women’s circle. I’ll be happy to hear from somebody from over there. Paul: My name is Paul from Sturgeon Lake. I’m just taking one day at a time, getting through Monday to Friday and I’m having fun in Sturgeon Lake. I would like to see more tourists come to Sturgeon Lake. I would like them to enjoy the lake. The way things are going the lake is shrinking and the moose hunting is changing, so be prepared for a change. Focus on alcohol; when not to drink and when you can drink. Focus on the youth giving them more [attention]; taking them to the leisure center and swimming keep them busy. You can talk to them while they are getting exercise and recreation. They are getting into hockey right now, but then on a Sunday there is nothing to do. It would be a good thing to go the pool to get your frustrations out. I would also like to see the culture come back from the elders. They could present the pipe ceremony and how to do it. We could have guest speakers come to talk to the youth to tell them what they went through. That is all for now. A major theme for many community members was the notion of a return to culture and community. This was expressed by some as being fulfilled by a cultural centre that where the community could come together to re-learn their culture and invite others to learn about their way of life. David Nabew sums up much of this thinking.
166 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
David: I guess we can all live in harmony. I went to a couple of culture camps this year and the things that I saw at the culture camp were good. It was almost as if the people acted different than we see them in everyday life. In the culture camp they were just laughing and having a good time. I don’t know if I was the only guy who saw it, but that is something I would like to see. We have our own culture camp at Goose Lake and we have some other really good places where we can make a great big camp. It could be similar to Vy’s dream where people get together and have a big learning multiplex if you will. But my dream is a little simpler. All you need is tents or teepees and go live there and you can learn from each other. There was a lot of good learning in those culture camps and that is what I would like to see. I would like to see our chief and council more involved in our community and more involved in the caring of our people. They like to tell us they are working for us but sometimes this is questionable. When I come back twenty years from now I expect to see a school where they are going to be teaching about our traditional beliefs, culture, spiritual, and values. When I come back twenty years from today I want to see our community that’s unified; that can be together, that can discuss things together,
VISIONING THE FUTURE 167
that can work together as opposed to fighting against each other. If we could take our negative energy and turn it into positive energy the things we can accomplish are phenomenal. We can accomplish a lot of things but we have to believe in ourselves. I would like to see people believing in themselves, taking responsibility for themselves and saying yes I caused this, yes I want to change this, this is my fault nobody else’s fault. But often we are so busy blaming everybody else we forget to look at ourselves and say “yes it is us.” A lot of people don’t realize we have choices in this world. We choose how we live. If we choose drugs and alcohol then of course negativity is going to come with it and we are not going to have the lives that we want. But if we choose a more positive lifestyle and take responsibility for ourselves and if we want to make things happen, then things can change. There are many things that I would like to see happen for Sturgeon Lake but I know in my life time I know I might never see it happen, but that does not matter. I think that as long as we strive for something it is bound to get better. Twenty years from today we are going to be able to say that some changes have happened and that we were a part of those changes. We wanted to change our lives so our lives changed but if we continue to do the things that are not good for us then we are going to be in the same rut twenty years from now. Hilda will be right the place will have gotten worse instead of better twenty years from now, but my dream is that our children will be ours and we don’t have to send them anywhere else. We’ll be able to take care of them like long time ago when the grandparents, the old people used to take care of and teach the young ones. That is how we became respectful, because the old people talked to us. Now that is something I would love to see is elders we can depend on. We won’t have to fight with our elders. We won’t have dysfunctional elders. We will have elders that will actually help us. That is something that I would like to see happen. It is hard for me to sit and listen to an elder knowing that elder is going to turn around and do the opposite from what he was talking about. We have to learn to live and walk our talk. Today when you go visit somebody it is starting to happen now where they invite you to have some tea or coffee and something to eat. But a few years back even that was gone. People could not visit you because you thought that son of a bitch just came to see what my house looks like or see what I have or who is here. They don’t care. We became suspicious people. We become scared people. We looked through the cracks of our windows to see who was coming instead of being wide open and proud. These are some of the things I would like to see happen
168 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
There are so many other things like water and our fishing that is being destroyed and we are just sitting here and we are not caring that our weather is changing. The seasons are changing and I wonder if I am I going to have a black Christmas or a white one because it has changed so much. We’ve caused all those changes but those are the things we don’t wish to look at. Our spirituality, I would like to see sweats happen without people criticizing the sweats. I would like to see people being doctored by our own people. We don’t even think about these things and I know I am just a guilty as everyone else. I look after my pocket book so I can spend my money on my addiction but we don’t care that much and those are things that we need to start doing. We need to look at each other as people. We are all people whether we are white, black, purple or what ever color we are. We are people, we all have feelings, and we all have thoughts. We need to remember this. We need to start on relying on our people and promoting our own people. We have a lot of smart people in Sturgeon Lake and yet we go and purchase traditional beliefs from the States or from anywhere else but here. But those people don’t know what happens in Sturgeon Lake and they don’t know what we need. We need to start thinking Sturgeon Lake. We need to start believing in our people and building our people up instead of pulling them down. Those are the things I would like to see twenty years from now and you guys are the ones that are going to tell me exactly how I’m going to get those things thank you. Lena: Well it sort of brings me back to teaching the children singing and dancing. That’s one of the things that we try and they are the easiest ones to teach, but the thing is they stop at the school; they don’t bring it home. You can express yourself more speaking Cree. It’s more meaningful and sometimes it is more fun; funny; not to make fun of somebody but the way you say it you make somebody happy. And like Felix said that here are people around here who can tan hides so perhaps we can bring the women together to help each other out. I know all the steps of how to make a hide, but I don’t want to be there alone. I need somebody to help me and to get together with someone else and make one whole hide. Felix: I guess that’s what we needed, someone who knows the older women and the younger generation. Put them together and we have the working knowledge of what to do. It’s great to be here. The camp it is going to happen. We are going to contact the school as we are trying to put the culture aspect in this thing, and send the kids for the afternoon to the campground and possibly make hides. We need the whole community to support one another but we need to have
VISIONING THE FUTURE 169
somebody in place, because most people will stand around and say “yes” but they don’t want to go ahead and do it. Vyola: One of the things I would like to see is a big healing center where everybody can go anytime and just be there to regain our culture and language. We would have our elders and families to be in together and do all kinds of things I’m thinking about. It is just getting back to the way I was raised by my grandparents. It is hard to talk about because they are not here anymore but what I want to see is my grand kids being there with me like I was with my grandparents. They were really into the culture and my grandmother actually taught me a lot of things. We used to go berry picking, and make dried meat and stuff like that. That is what I would like to see for myself and for other families. I want to see the closeness back the way it was. Just to be a teacher for the young children the way it was done in the old ways and with a lot of the respect. Today many children don’t know what respect is. That is one of the main things that we learn to respect ourselves, respect people, respect the community, and actually all mother earth. That is it.
170 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
YOUTH PERSPECTIVES 171
Cast – The Third Generation The Sturgeon Lake Youth came together to discuss how they viewed their community and what they believed needed to change. The following is an excerpt of a conversation with these youth that led to the production of a play and a film entitled “The Third Generation” that provided them with an opportunity to express their views. A copy of the DVD is attached to this book, as it tells their story more vividly than words can convey.
That’s a really strong theme of what you were talking about, the connection to community. A lot of you touched on different ways when you connect to the community, whether it’s with other youth, whether it’s with sports or whether it is different things. What is it that’s important to you about the community? What do you look for from the community? • Togetherness, support, love.
172 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
• • • • • •
Trust. Loyalty. Respect. Communication.
Is there anything that you need from the community to improve that or to enhance it? More workshops. More outdoor activities or activities where we come together and have good times.
Trust between each other, trust with adults in the community? Some are more understanding because people go through different things. Sometimes it’s the same thing but if it’s different…people just take it the wrong way. What kinds of issues do you see around you? • • • Anger. Jealousy. Greed. All that stuff. A lot of jealousy. Dishonesty. A lot of violence. People may tend to get violent with their spouses and even their friends – the people they love.
YOUTH PERSPECTIVES 173
A lot of people closing up, not sharing their feelings. Around here they don’t want to share; they just close it off.
What do you think would be the best way to pull everything together so that the rest of the community would be able to see what is happening? • • To have a community meeting? For the community to have a meeting about the issues. Yes.
How could you go about getting the message across, if you really wanted to find a way that people would hear this?
174 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
We could make a movie and sell it at our schools and stores. …because they would be watching it at home with their families, and they would get a better concept of it.
We are bringing a professional filmmaker for that session, so we intend to film the play. We could actually have something we could make DVD’s or VHS’s out of and share it with people. • See how they set up the movie The Res – they had the whole thing planned out and how they acted it out. Seeing the movie, some of the stories…watching it gets me mad because they are manipulating us in that movie…it’s a good show, but the issues are strong. North of 60…that’s another good one. • . . . From that show, one of the lead actors, she is part of this drama program, and I could see about bringing her up here to be a part of it. Maybe she could do some actor training…maybe she would want to come down if she is free. I don’t know if I can get her out here, but she would probably want to come if you guys want her help. That would be cool. If you were to come back in 20 years to Sturgeon Lake and you saw the community exactly the way you thought it should be, as a place to raise your children, your grandchildren…you have been away for a long time, and everything has changed and is exactly the way you think it should be. Tell me what you see. • • • • Nice green grass, no littering anywhere, no garbage on the ground. The parks would be all fixed. Everybody would stop and say hello, ask if you need a ride. You would catch all the crack dealers and everything… A lot of counseling, a lot of trust building and a lot of everything that we could do to work on each other in helping out. Going on this side of the community and helping out, going on that side of the community and helping out – all work together to make the community a better place for ourselves. • • • Everybody helping out, cleaning up…if you see garbage on the ground, pick it up and keep on walking. Better schools. We should get money for the schools…
Who do you think can make these things happen? Us.
YOUTH PERSPECTIVES 175
• • • • • • •
The people around us. The next generation.
If you were Chief and Council, what kinds of changes would you like to see? Better playgrounds, safer playgrounds. Asking them to take control of the weeds and letting the grass grow nice and green and tall… More traditional activities. Maybe like having a summer school for Native kids who want to learn the language. Open a youth centre… Perhaps to have all the Elders who know how to speak and do all this stuff, just to pass it down in one big camp. Do you think it would work? • • If you ask the Elders politely, get some of this and some of that…just for helping out the group or whatever. We could even have a course, like a Native course where we could actually earn something in the end . . . where you could get a prize or something like that, a reward. Whoever is the best could get a bike or something. Are you proud to be a Native? • • • • All the time. I’m proud. I wish I could be more Native…I don’t have the language, the traditions…you know how people have their certain things in their houses to protect from evil spirits . . . . Do you know what would be good about that is if the government actually supported it. Because of what they did with the residential schools and everything, what they took away from us they could at least give it back. • • • • Yeah. At least give some of it back to our generation, since they took it away from us. It’s not even our fault; we were just born at the wrong time. To have some Elders that actually speak Cree fluently, to have them come to help us out and we can learn our traditions. I went to _____, and they speak Cree…I thought that was right on. I didn’t think they spoke straight Cree…. They still do their old traditions.
176 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Every year do you think a lot of people would go? • There is a school in Calgary called the Indian cultural survival school, and it was open for about 20 years. The government paid for it. The teachings were all about history and the legacy of residential school abuse. Elders were on the staff and all the teachers were Native. It was one of the most successful schools in the city for many, many years. The government has done it in the past, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t do it in the future too. I will just finish with a little story. A long time ago, there was a person who was walking by the river, and somebody was coming down this river that was flowing really quickly, and they were drowning. So she jumped in there, pulled this person out of the river, did mouth to mouth and saved this person’s life. The village came around, and they were really proud of her, saying that she was a hero for saving this person. A week or two later, she was walking by the river again, and there was somebody else drowning. So she jumps in and saves that person – pulls him out, saves his life. People are just applauding her. Over time, she kept walking by the river, and every time she would walk there, people were drowning – the river was rough and turbulent and deep, full of rocks and pitfalls. She was so busy saving people from drowning, that finally they had to hire somebody to work with her – they had to give her a job and ask her to do this for a living. So they hired her, then they hired an assistant to work with her since so many people were drowning. After a while they got so busy that they had to hire a supervisor to make sure that they were doing this life saving business properly. Then they had to write policy manuals about how to save a drowning person -–you take off your shoes, you jump in the river this way, you grab the person this way – spelling everything out…finally they had this big business going on about how many people were drowning, how many people were getting paid to save them. Finally, this first person who saved someone from drowning started walking back upstream. They asked her where she was going, saying that she couldn’t leave since there was so much work to do, saving all these people. She said “No, I think I’m going to go back upstream and see who is throwing these people in the river in the first place.” • Who was it?
Monsters. Poverty, alcoholism, violence, people feeling lost, people losing their sense of who they are, people losing their sense of self-esteem, people being isolated from each other and not feeling the strength of their community, the support. All these things were the monsters
YOUTH PERSPECTIVES 177
that were throwing the people in the river. Part of this is to go back up river and ask what is making things in the community that we don’t want to see, and how do we go back and make sure that people feel safe, feel loved, and don’t feel threatened. And how people who feel pain in their souls don’t have to turn to alcohol or drugs to make themselves feel better, so that they can turn to each other. Those are the monsters throwing people in the river. Some people think that what has developed as an industry is really just something that deals with all the casualties – it’s saving people from drowning, but it’s not giving them a better life so that they don’t have to fall in the river. That is my philosophy, and that’s after 40 years in this business. I think you guys did a fantastic job. The kids sat on the stage and presented to them what they found, and it was one of the most powerful things that I have seen. It came straight from the heart. The youth told the story the way it was, the way they saw it, and that was what gave it power. It wasn’t somebody doing a study. It was coming from them. People need to hear it from youth if we are to change.
178 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
STORIES OF HOPE 179
STORIES OF HOPE
Participants in the Creating Hope for the Future gathering shared what had given them hope for the future. The following are excerpts of these conversations. It will be noted that perhaps unsurprisingly, they are related to relationships with people who touched their lives in ways that demonstrated respect and belief in their capacity as people. Some were brief and others permanent and ongoing. All were memorable. A red-headed balding Irishman . . . Where I got my first sense of hope, first sense of belonging somewhere was through a teacher when I was about 12 years old. [He was] a total stranger, a red-headed, balding little Irishman. I felt a connection with him when I first started school early in the fall and it was later on in the school season. I used to write a lot of poetry and that was my escape in dealing with my pain. I wasn’t paying attention in class and I was just zoned out of the classroom. I was writing some poetry and he hollered out my name and right away I hid my paper and my pencil. He dug it out and he read what I had written. For the first time I could connect with somebody ‘cause when he read it, I could see the tears coming out of his eyes and he kept telling, he said “don’t give up, life will get better, your poetry will get better” and so I still remember that guy, just seems like yesterday. An old man I had never have experienced my culture and it’s something our forefathers had done for thousands of years. This elder chose me as I was standing there beside the fire. I didn’t know what was supposed to be done. Everybody had their own little groups from the pow wow trail or from the sweats that they’d done before so I stood alone and didn’t know what was expected of me. This elder came and talked to me. Apparently we stood there for an hour and a half, it just seemed as though I stood there for fifteen minutes. He started talking to me about the creator and about the grandfathers and the grandmothers, relatives that had passed on. Explained to me about there is no such thing as hell. That is something that the priests had instilled in our mind. He explained to me the four principles of life, the four directions. He said “who’s Jesus?” I could not answer him because I learned all about Jesus through the residential school. Then he said “Jesus was never here, the man in the black robe…he said this in Cree…he brought him over in a big ship”. He said your grandfather and your grandmother never knew who Jesus was. And that day, that word stuck in my mind and ever since then, I have followed the traditional way of life.
180 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
My mother and the Creator The biggest inspiration in my life, changing my life around is my mother. I say “is my mother” because I truly believe that my mother is still with me in spirit. She passed on in 1980 and there were a few things my mother told me that I laughed at during that time. My mother told me three things. That I was going to quit drinking and I laughed at her and I said “me quit drinking? Never! I just laughed it off. The second thing she told me was you’re going to find yourself a woman that’s going to look after you and I said “who in the hell wants a drunk?” You see I wasn’t listening and I just laughed it off. The last thing she told me was “you’re going to get a good job” and again I said “who in the hell wants to hire a drunk?” In1983, I was lonely in the drunk tank and the turning point of my life [took place] in the drunk tank. I didn’t know why I was bloody and the officer wouldn’t tell me why I was in there and when I asked to get out, he said “no, I’m not letting you go”. That’s when I knelt down, I cried for the first time. I cried and I prayed to the creator and I said “I’m not bargaining with you this time, this time I’m serious.” He must have been listening to me because that was the last time I was in a drunk tank and that I drank . . . I was going to treatment. To make a long story short, I did quit drinking, I’m still sober today and I did go back to school and I got a good job. And then I got married, I got all these three things now. …My mom had left me a house, everything inside and one day I was at home there and it dawned on me that what my mom had said three years prior. My dreams and what my mom said, they all came true and here I thought I wasn’t listening to my mother A beautiful native man (an angel?) I was depressed and drunk so I crawled underneath the bench and fell asleep, passed out. This man picked me out from there, slapping me in the face, and he’s was just shaking me and I opened up my eyes and there was this beautiful native looking man. Oh he was so gorgeous and he had lions in his piercing green eyes. He said “what are you doing, what are you doing to yourself? Look at you! It’s 7:00 in the morning. Do you want to be picked up and thrown in the tank?” And then he was gone. I’d gone to treatment before and I tried to stay sober. That was an angel you know, that came to me that time. . . A black lady in Edmonton I have a buddy in Edmonton. She’s a black woman, the greatest woman you ever seen. I was feeling down one day and I was saying “geez, there’s so much prejudice and racism in the world you know and I have a hard time with that” and she says “you know Bert, if you look for
STORIES OF HOPE 181
prejudice and racism, you’re going to find it so you look somewhere else, you look for other things”. Just a kindly lady you know, just a couple of sentences and I’ve been good for three months so you find inspiration everywhere and you find it in this circle today. A social worker I had some trouble in my own life and ended up in some counseling and this counselor, as it turned out, happened to be a social worker. I remember describing to her a bit about how I was feeling and I saw her start to tear up and that profoundly impacted me because I felt like she really understood and that, from that point on, I decided I needed to be a social worker too. And then I started to hang out with kids, teenagers. I’ve always been very interested in teenagers, I think ‘cause I found being a teenager very difficult and so I’ll never forget one of the first kids I had a chance to hang out with and this was a young lady who was spending a lot of time in the downtown area and was on the brink of prostitution and she was living in this residential program and I was staff, very eager and very naïve and I remember asking her you know, “ why do you do this, why do you go run away, why do you go downtown and hang out down there and get yourself into all kinds of trouble?” and she said “because the people down there are my friends and they understand me.” I said “really”. She said “yeah, they watch my back for me” and that was so profound for me that she was so connected with people who, in lots of ways, unhealthy for her, that I stopped and really had to think about that, what she might have experienced in her life that the safest people for her were people who were selling her drugs, who were buying her body, who were, in some ways, hurting her and what that taught me was that I had to listen and really try to understand what it’s like for the other person. My dad I guess the most inspiring person in my life was my dad but I didn’t realize that until I had to do his eulogy and part of what I had to write were what he taught me. I guess one of the things he told me, at age sixteen I got pregnant eh and when my son was born and he was white, his dad is white and when he was born, I thought “oh my god, my mom and dad will probably hate me” and I brought him home, well he actually sent my mom to come and tell me, ‘cause I was going to give him up for adoption and he sent my mom to come and see me at the hospital and he told her to tell me that I better not give up my own flesh and blood, to bring him home and that everything was going to be okay. So I brought my little white guy home, he was bald and just pale and brought him home and here my dad, I got out of the cab ‘cause we didn’t have a vehicle, got out
182 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
of the cab, here my dad walks out of the house, he just goes like this…and he was crying, he took my son, he was crying ‘cause that was his first grandchild that was white, of course, but anyways what he told me was, he said, “now that you have a child, you go back to school, you finish your schooling and be somebody.” God I took up believing and trusting in God because I couldn’t trust anything else. And He was always there and He never left me. My creator was there all the time and that’s my inspiration. I’ve learned to forgive and to start trusting little children, people, adults, I try to help them in every way I can today. My children and my caseload I think my very first inspiration came following his birth when they handed me my child and said “now you got to nurse him” and I’m looking down at this kid whose like all gooey and I’m thinking “aw yuck” but then you realize and I realized at that time that life isn’t only about me anymore. I had to take a lot of thought about how now I have to be responsible for this little helpless child who has nobody else in the world but me to protect him and make sure he gets everything he needs in life and make sure he’s loved and you know, he gets everything he deserves. So that was my first little bit of inspiration. Now I’ve got two more that followed so I’ve got three of my own who show me every day and give me strength everyday to keep going and to keep strong and keep working for my family and for my people and then now I work with kids on my own case load who also give me strength because I see their resiliency in everything they’ve gone through and I know I’ve done some of my job when you’ve got the world’s baddest kid on your caseload, so you think and they don’t want to talk to you and they don’t want to reach out to you and you’re just the most evil person ‘cause you’re the social worker but you know you’ve done something when they start calling you and saying “how are you doing?” or just calling to let you know that they’re okay. So that’s my inspiration in knowing that I can make a difference in the lives of, not only my kids but also the other kids out there who may feel abandoned or may feel alone and need somebody out there to help them out. My family We’re talking about inspiration and hope which has been the theme for the last several hours today. I mean, I’ve been blessed by having a very supportive family. My mother, my father, four siblings and I say by being supportive, a lot of times they were the ones that pushed me. Being
STORIES OF HOPE 183
the youngest in the family, I was constantly being compared to three older brothers that were faster and smarter and better then I was. I was always convinced them they were wrong and I was the faster, smarter and better one but that love that we had in our family is very much where I get my inspiration. Lucky to have many people in my life Just thinking a lot, I’ve had loss in life and crisis and people leave my life suddenly that were very close to me and I still think of myself as a very lucky guy. I grew up with lots of love and hugs and that’s not something to be taken for granted when I hear the stories that I’ve heard today. I had my tailspins but somehow I was taught by those people that have come in and out of my life to find joy right now. The life you want is not some other place down the road, it’s right here and share laughter, talk, visit and enjoy each other and what really brought it home for me is my son’s got diagnosed with autism and so there’s the realization that he will not be a person on his own maybe, that he will be forever vulnerable and the big thing we realized when we heard it, we went to a drive through on the way back from the hospital and we thought “well what do we do?”, the one thing that was said was as long as if he could talk to us, if he could tell us he realized he knew joy, he knew what it was like to feel happy and to feel love then everything else is icing on the cake, so that’s my inspiration. I thank those people in my life who taught that to me. My grandmother My grandmother always told me to respect myself, respect people, no matter who they are, what they look like, how they dress. Give them a coffee, don’t start talking and asking questions, making fun of them, mocking them; those were her teachings and that’s what I’ve always tried to hang on to, even when I was drinking. If somebody somehow hurt my feelings and I’d get angry and try do things in revenge my grandmother used to tell me . . . you’re not the one that’s hurting, just forgive that person. You don’t know what that person is like, maybe they’re hurting too or maybe that person had lost someone, just be nice.” And it was so hard for me to be nice when somebody saying something bad about me or that just beat me up My mother For the first four years of my life I had my mother and she loved me and so that is always an inspiration. That I had my mother for these really formative years and then with some of the other things that I went through you know, being called a dirty little Indian and that I was stupid
184 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
and all that other stuff, it really affected my self-esteem and who I saw myself as and…but it also helped to strengthen me and toughen me so that as I was growing up into an adult, I still didn’t believe a lot in myself but I figured I’ve got to be strong and I’ve got to be tough if I’m going to make it and I’m going to make it. So and then at one point in my life, I’d been in an abusive relationship and I was in Manitoba and my sister helped me to get back to Alberta and she said “well come and go to university” and I was like, I’m thinking “I can’t go to university ‘cause I’m not smart enough to go to university” and I really questioned if I’d be able to and she kept you know, saying “no, you can do it, you come and register” so I did go to university and was surprised that I could do that and that even just walking through things and realizing that what people said wasn’t always true and that I could overcome things and then the experience I had and I don’t see myself as religious, I see myself as having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to know that the forgiveness, you know that he died for me and the forgiveness that he’s given me for all that I’ve done wrong in my life because although I had a number of things happen to me that were very difficult, the way I was dealing with that with drinking and drugs and all the other things that I did was part of my own responsibility because I chose to walk that way and I got forgiveness for all those things and so I asked for help to forgive those people that had hurt me because there were a lot of times where I knew I didn’t have that in me to do the forgiving and so I said “I choose to forgive, I may not fully feel like I can do it but I know if I make that choice too and I ask for help to do that, that I’ve made that step and that’s what has helped me walk through the healing is that being able to forgive and to know that there is good in life and that I can walk in a good journey and even though there is still struggles and stuff, I have joy and I have…you know I feel good about who I am now and that I can be an example for my children. I’ve got five children and you know, their also an inspiration and it’s just…as I continue to work through and to heal, it makes me feel good to be able to do what I can to help other people. Animals Guess when I was real little, I think for me the…I shouldn’t say real little maybe ten/twelve years old, it was animals that I was on, was always put on farms and being able to go out and interact with the livestock is kind of what saved me because you could trust them to a certain degree not to talk back to you, allow you to talk even, just to be there and I think to me it’s what creator put in my path was those animals to help me and so I think that was kind of the first thing for me.
STORIES OF HOPE 185
A great foster family In one foster home I happened to be in which was right at the very tail end of my career under the guidance of being a ward of the court was a Mennonite family and it happened to be the best home that I was ever in because they were not hypocrites. They, what they said they did, they gave unconditional love. They had all kinds of rules, it was a little bit late for me, by then I was fifteen/sixteen years old and pretty ingrained in my ways but no matter what I did, they were constant and it took me, I think I was like thirty-five or maybe even forty before I could even go back to them and thank them for what they’d given to me back then and it took me a long time for that. The next biggest inspiration you know, it’s kind of sad but I was in a marriage for seventeen years and I got a divorce and my children chose me, to stay with me after the divorce and that was so powerful for…’cause I could really accept that someone really loved me and then I took a healing course at…out in my community and when I was done it, you had to give something back to the community, you had to do something and so I chose to teach Sunday school to the little children right and they in turn taught me with their unconditional love and trust and it was a big thing for me and I guess one of my bigger things to is my sister ‘cause she’s great and she doesn’t even know. I guess I’m still learning to be thankful for what I went through because it makes me and makes us who we are. These days we’re born again Christians and we have lost friends because of that and people, they laugh and scoff and so what, this has been our way of dealing with things in order to get the hope here, in order to be able to forgive, in order to acquire all these kind of characteristics that we believe will help us not to hang on to all of the bitterness and anger and to try and teach our children that they don’t have to do those things as well, so I have to just say simply that, it will always be my way of life. I’ll always be a believer and sometimes you know, like that gives us…kind of causes conflict and stuff like that but if, the question is what gives you the best, the inspiration, right today and probably until the day I die, that’s what it will be. My grandfather Just sitting here going back through all the different things going through my life, I think I have four. Is it okay if I name them all? Okay, the first one will be my grandfather, he taught me a lot through childhood. A lot of things, you respect the values, everything. Even when I was pregnant, he made, he bought he went and bought the cloth, flannelette and said you have to use this for the diapers. He took me to Ernie’s and got how many feet of flannelette and he showed
186 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
me how to fold the diaper, how to make a diaper. My mom wasn’t there for me, she was at that time, living in Edmonton so he taught me how to breastfeed and to make sure I breastfed. When a baby’s nose was plugged make sure you squish the milk, put it in baby’s nose and put him up on his or her stomach and the stuffiness will unclog. A lot of that was stuff that my mom should have taught me but she wasn’t there, it was my grandfather. So he’s my inspiration because he taught me motherhood and the second one would be my husband. I met him at fifteen years old so he raised me up, we grew up together so I thank God for putting him in my life and he’s still in my life after 24 years. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know maybe I’d have been six feet under or in jail ‘cause I was the drinker, I was the one that would party, party and then he’s not a drinker, he just used to say “Well I’m a follower and I have to do what she does” like he used to follow me and so I thank God for having him there. He’s the one who controlled my life throughout all of my life. The third one would be a woman I met two years ago at an Aboriginal Cancer Retreat in Edmonton. I met this lady at a circle like this of Aboriginal woman survivors of cancer or patients go through cancer. It’s a yearly thing that Aboriginal woman attend. There was one woman where, oh my god, after listening to her story battling breast cancer for six years then I thought that if she can do it, I can do it. Then somehow we just connected. After the circle, we started talking, we hugged each other and we all exchanged phone numbers and addresses and for this last two and a half years, I kept in touch with her, I went to visit her then she lost the battle this year but she was my inspiration. She was the one who pulled me through; she was my strength, my rock. If I was depressed I’d phone her up and she’d cheer me up you know. I went to visit her in her last days at the hospital and I went to the funeral but it was her that really inspired me, encouraged me to go on, to fight this battle like she fought it for eight years so that’s the third one that inspired me. The main one is God himself. If I wouldn’t have turned through prayer to God in 1991 to ask him for help in dealing with what I was going through raising all my brothers and sisters and being mad at my mother and stuff like that. I just seek God. I don’t know how to explain it. I know He helped me through and through this cancer too. If it wasn’t through seeking God to help me, comfort me, give me peace, heal me, I wouldn’t be here, I would have given up. I would have maybe started drinking, I would have committed suicide, anything might have happened but He was there for me and He’s still here for me. God Bless you all. My father
STORIES OF HOPE 187
You know, with my dad, I didn’t really have a daughter and father relationship like you know ‘because I was raised in the mission. I never had the hugs from my dad and he never carried me on his lap or anything but when I was younger, when started having children, he used to always be there and I never seen a man cry in my life before, I seen my dad cry when I lost my firstborn. He just cried, he went behind that house and he just cried and I thought, “I never thought men cried” and he said that this was his first grandchild and I lost him. You know, he was a man, you know to see him cry but I never thought men cried and then there’s my grandchildren, I like the saying “we should have had the grandchildren first.” They’re my inspiration especially this five year old, six now. He’s something else in my book, you know, he inspires me and he asks me questions. I talk to him in Cree. You know, I taught Cree at Headstart for three years but I took time off for a year. He’s been getting trophies from the school here for Cree and that’s an inspiration and I think I’m the inspiration to him. I’m an inspiration to those little children that I’m teaching Cree ‘cause they lost it because we didn’t teach them when they were younger. Even our own children, we didn’t teach, we lost it along the way. You know, they went to Valleyview School and now they’re….now we’re teaching our children to learn Cree when it should have been there all along. But anyway, those are my people that inspired me through life and I try and follow what they said. Even my dad said “when you go to bed, clean the kitchen before you go to bed. You never know what person will come through the door in the morning.” He’d leave us sleeping and he’d be cleaning up the kitchen before anybody came and visit. I always remember those little things about my people that have inspired me in my life. I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t have my grandchildren, those are my biggest ones. Thank you. My dad For me, I guess my biggest inspiration is my dad. He always said “get an education, don’t rely on your treaty rights” and I did that but I guess there’s other people have inspired me. A lot of them are elders, quite a few of them are gone but I still have elders here. It’s not just to do with education, it’s how to be a good provider, how to clean your house, all those teachings and I get a lot of inspiration and I think we have a lot of great elders and it’s kind of sad because up to about my generation is the last Cree speaking. The ones younger now when…we sit with the elders and we’re talking will ask “what did you guys say? What did you guys say?” So you kind of have to
188 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
translate and you lose the translation so it’s kind of sad. I hope we get our language back but I think we do take our elders for granted sometimes and they are a great inspiration. Thank you.
TOWARDS HEALING AND RECONCILIATION 189
TOWARDS HEALING AND RECONCILIATION
The devastating individual and cultural impact of residential schools on Aboriginal people is well documented. The abuse and neglect suffered not only affected these children’s future, but also the lives of their descendants, whose families have been characterized by further abuse and neglect. As the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1994) concluded, “these effects have carried over to several generations and may well be the basis for the dysfunction we see in individuals, families, and entire Native communities” (p.83). The trauma that Aboriginal people experienced through their history of genocide that has been passed on from generation to generation, continues to impact lives and perpetuate many of the problems manifested in Aboriginal communities (Milloy, 1999; Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). According to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (1999): When trauma is ignored and there is no support for dealing with it, the trauma will be passed from one generation to the next. What we learn to see as "normal" when we are children, we pass on to our own children. Children who learn that...sexual abuse is normal, and who have never dealt with the feelings that come from this, may inflict physical and sexual abuse on their own children. This is the legacy of physical and sexual abuse in residential schools (p.A5). Residential schools and child welfare placements have also impeded the transference of positive parenting skills from one generation to the next, which has led to troubled family relationships and difficulties raising children (Milloy, 1999; York, 1990). Milloy adds that “In residential schools, [children] learned that adults often exert power and control through abuse. The lessons learned in childhood are often repeated in adulthood with the result that many survivors of the residential school system often inflict abuse on their own children,” (p. 299) resulting in intergenerational cycles of abuse. Other well-documented impacts linked to this history include suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, somatic disorders, domestic violence, crime, and child abuse (Bennett & Blackstock, 2002; Berry & Brink, 2004; Stout & Kipling, 2003; WesleyEsquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). Aboriginal communities continue to deal with many of these and other problems today. Indeed, the number of children in care is only one of a range of issues facing Aboriginal children,
190 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
families, and communities today. For example, in Canada Aboriginal youth are more likely to live in single parent homes, drop out of school, be homeless, abuse alcohol and drugs (including solvents), commit suicide, and live in poverty than non-Aboriginal youth (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2004; Richard, 2004; Statistics Canada, 2004b; Trocme, Knoke, & Blackstock, 2004). Similarly, Aboriginal people in general are disproportionately impacted by a range of social economic and health issues such as poverty, unemployment, crime, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, and suicide (Health Canada, 2000; Lee, 2000). Suicide for example, is the leading cause of death for youth and adults up to 44 years old, and urban Aboriginals are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Aboriginal people (Health Canada, 2000; Lee, 2000). Indian and Northern Affairs Canada further reported that 16% of homes on reserves were in need of major repairs, and 5% were unsafe or uninhabitable (Health Canada, 2000). Likewise, a study by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (1996, as cited in Bennett & Blackstock, 2002), concluded that Aboriginal people living on reserves would rank 80th in the world if measured by the United Nations Human Development Index. By contrast, as a country, Canada ranks first in the world. It is clear that most Aboriginal communities have placed much of their hope for changing the situation described thus far in a return to traditional values. As a speaker at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples said (1994. p.48), Those communities who have had the most success in dealing with the psychological legacy of colonialism are those that have found a way to operate within their cultural context and drawing on…the spiritual and other strengths that are present in their culture. In recent years, Aboriginal people have resolved to overcome the pain and loss that were the legacy of colonization through healing, reconciliation, and self-determination (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 1999; Berry & Brink, 2004). A major part of healing and reconciliation is the building on of the strengths and resilience of Aboriginal people and the reclaiming of Aboriginal culture, identity, and pride (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 1999; Berry & Brink, 2004). Indeed, Aboriginal people are mobilizing to recover from the trauma and oppression of residential schools and genocide, revitalizing their language, customs, spirituality, traditions, values, and beliefs (York, 1990). York (1990) concludes that today, “evidence of a cultural
TOWARDS HEALING AND RECONCILIATION 191
revival can be seen across Canada… is just one step toward regaining what has been lost” (p. 264). From a broader perspective, the healing of Aboriginal people may be facilitated through cultural approaches based on an Aboriginal worldview. The colonization of Aboriginal people introduced an Anglo-European ideology based on values of individualism, power, control, and efficiency (Cajete, 2000). These are radically different from Aboriginal world views and philosophy, which are based on an “organic, holistic concept of the world; spiritual and harmonious relationships to the land and all life forms; communalism; personal duties and responsibilities to the band/tribe; social and economic justice, equality, and sharing; [and] universal and consensual participation in decision making” (Boldt, 1993, p. 183). An Aboriginal world view can also be conceptualized as an eco-philosophy which values the interconnectedness of people to the universe and to each other, emphasizing co-operation, creativity, connectedness, balance, ritual, and ceremony (Cajete, 2000). Cajete (2000) concludes that Aboriginal philosophy or science is “in every sense an expression of the evolutionary interrelationship of Native people with nature” (p. 58). Boldt (1993) further emphasizes that in order for Aboriginal people to thrive; Aboriginal culture must be adapted and developed to be relevant, practical, and successful for the modern world. This adaptation “speaks to the need to bridge the past and present in such a way as to allow Indians to be part of the twentieth century without betraying the fundamental philosophies and principles of the ancient covenants” (p. 183). Such a bridge demands ongoing planning, collaboration, and cooperation between elders and youth, as elders transmit the philosophies and principles of the culture, and youth help to make these relevant to today’s economic, political, and social environment (Boldt, 1993). However, in order for Aboriginal people to develop their culture in ways that allow them to thrive in a contemporary world whilst identifying with their own heritage, they must first break from the culture of dependence created during years of colonization (Boldt, 1993). Breaking this cycle of dependency represents a significant challenge for Aboriginal communities in Canada today.
192 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 193
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE The short and long-term impacts of residential schools on Aboriginal children, communities, and culture are well documented. In addition to the trauma of being removed from their families and communities, children suffered numerous abuses in residential schools, including physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse (e.g. verbal abuse, forbidding Aboriginal languages or spiritual practices), as well as unsuitable living conditions (e.g. inadequate nutrition) (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, as cited in Chrisjohn et al., 1994). Among the most detrimental effects of residential schools reported in the literature are a sense of alienation, loss of identity and self-esteem, lack of parenting skills, family breakdown, intergenerational trauma and violence, and loss of language, culture, spirituality and pride (Horejsi & Craig, 1992; Ing, 1991; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1994; Spicer, 1998; Stout & Kipling, 2003; WesleyEsquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1994) concluded that “these effects have carried over to several generations and may well be the basis for the dysfunction we see in individuals, families and entire Native communities” (p.83). Indeed, the trauma Aboriginal people experienced through their history of genocide, including residential schools, has been passed on from generation to generation and continues to impact the lives and perpetuate many of the problems manifested in Aboriginal communities (Milloy, 1999; Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). Residential schools have also impeded the transference of parenting skills from one generation to the next, which has led to troubled family relationships and difficulties raising children (Milloy, 1999; York, 1990). Milloy adds that “In residential schools, [children] learned that adults often exert power and control through abuse. The lessons learned in childhood are often repeated in adulthood with the result that many survivors of the residential school system often inflict abuse on their own children,” and so on in subsequent generations (p. 299). Other well-documented impacts linked to residential schools include suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, somatic disorders, domestic violence, crime and child abuse (e.g. Bennett & Blackstock, 2002; Berry & Brink, 2004; Horejsi & Craig, 1992; Stout & Kipling, 2003; Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). Aboriginal people and communities continue to deal with many of these and other problems today. Indeed, the number of children in care is only one of a range of issues facing Aboriginal children, families, and communities today. For example, Aboriginal youth are more likely to live
194 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
in single parent homes, drop out of school, be homeless, abuse alcohol and drugs (including solvents), commit suicide and live in poverty than non-Aboriginal youth in Canada (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2004; Richard, 2004; Statistics Canada, 2004b; Trocme, Knoke, & Blackstock, 2004). Similarly, Aboriginal people in general are disproportionately impacted by a range of social economic and health issues such as poverty, unemployment, crime, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis and suicide (Health Canada, 2000; Lee, 2000; Moore, 2003). For example, suicide is the leading cause of death for youth and adults up to 44 years old and urban Aboriginals are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Aboriginal people (Health Canada, 2000; Lee, 2000). Indian and Northern Affairs Canada further reported that 16% of homes on reserves were in need of major repairs, and 5% were unsafe or inhabitable (Health Canada, 2000). Similarly, a study by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (1996, as cited in Bennett & Blackstock, 2002), concluded that Aboriginal people living on reserves would rank 80th in the world if measured by the United Nations Human Development Index. As a country, Canada ranks first in the world. Cultural Crisis “The massive forces of forced assimilation, loss of traditional means of subsistence, and isolation have reduced Indian cultures into patchworks of remnants and voids. The result is a cultural crisis manifested by a breakdown of social order in Indian communities.” (Boldt, 1993, p. 176) Beyond individual impacts, the continued experience of genocide, “the systematic destruction of cultural patterns, beliefs, and social and normative systems and structures…has had a devastating impact on Indian culture” and has resulted in a cultural crisis (Boldt, 1993, p. 169). York (1990) adds that government policies and societal attitudes of colonization and genocide, including the child welfare experience, have left Aboriginal people “dispossessed of their culture, their language, their children… their power of self-determination” and their land (p. 269). For instance, currently, it is estimated that fifty of fifty-three of Canada’s Aboriginal language are in danger of extinction, and that only one quarter of Aboriginal people know enough of an Aboriginal language to carry on a conversation (Statistics Canada, 2004b; York, 1990). In short, the crisis of Aboriginal culture is evidenced the loss of identity and sense of self, loss of connections to community and family, loss of a sense of belonging, loss of language and culture, and loss of tradition and a sense of history.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 195
The cultural crisis in Aboriginal communities is also evidenced by the development of a culture of dependence as well as cultural degeneration or loss of culture (Boldt, 1993). For example, Canada’s policy of isolating Aboriginal people on reserves has denied them the opportunity to “adapt and develop their traditional cultures as effective designs for living and surviving in the changing world around them.” (Boldt, 1993, p. 171). These policies were essentially racist in nature, as they were based on notions that Aboriginal people were primitive and lazy, thus justifying the destruction of their tribal ways and practices (Bastien, 2004). Government policies led to a loss of economic self-sufficiency and transition from independence to dependence on government assistance, both as individuals and communities. The result of these changes has been a new culture of dependence and the transmission of that culture (Boldt, 1993). Bastien (2004) adds that the eradication of Aboriginal culture has resulted in “unprecedented conditions of dependency by virtue of the destruction of kinship alliances and the emergence of isolated, individualistic…and dissociated [selves]” (p. 27, 29). Other factors that have contributed to the culture of dependence include Aboriginal people’s experience with colonial oppression, ethnocentrism, residential schools, injustice and imprisonment (Boldt, 1993). Boldt (1993) concludes that today, the culture of dependence is more central to Aboriginal identity than traditional culture. This form of genocide means that traditional social systems, patterns, and practices have disappeared or become progressively irrelevant as a direct or indirect result of government interference. Thus, many traditional values and ways have stopped being part of Aboriginal culture in a meaningful sense and have undermined Aboriginal people’s capacity to thrive (Boldt, 1993). Boldt (1993) concludes that the current cultural crisis in Aboriginal communities is “so grave that Indians will not survive as Indians unless they initiate immediate and intensive measures to revitalize their traditional cultural philosophies, principles, social and normative systems, and languages” (p. 167). Chrisjohn, Young & Maraun (1994, p. 110) state, “a major requirement for undoing what has been done is full recognition of what has been done.” Thus, recognizing and acknowledging the colonization and genocide of Aboriginal people is a critical foundation for reconciliation and healing. The creation of a new vision is not without its challenges. On the one hand, there is a strong and continuing desire among many Aboriginal people and their allies to build upon traditional Aboriginal strengths and values such as courage, respect for each other and for nature,
196 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
the oral tradition and the wisdom of the elders, a deep connection with each other and mother earth, a consistent application of spirituality to all of life. Cultural camps and some models of practice provide concrete examples of the power of these concepts to improve daily life. On the other hand, the loss of culture and tradition that has resulted from colonisation continues to affect the lives of Aboriginal people, and “Western” people are often unaware of the oppressive impact of their assumptions, beliefs and attitudes toward Aboriginal people. While policy has changed to counter these experiences, historian Lise Noel (2000) reminds us that systemic colonization is grounded in intolerance. This intolerance comes from unconscious assumptions that underlie “normal institutional rules and collective reactions.” In systemic colonization, Noel suggests these rules and reactions are imbedded in the consciousness of all and so engrained in our lives that the oppressed cannot point to any single form of oppression, -and the oppressor becomes invisible. As a consequence, the responsibility for colonization and assimilation is assigned to the oppressed – and, when that process does not meet institutional rules and expectations, it is identified as further evidence of the inability of the oppressed to determine their own directions. Nowhere is this process more evident than in health, education, and services to children – and it still continues. There are signs of hope all around us: aboriginal communities are engaged in a healing process and in a return to tradition that will undoubtedly result in greater numbers of people, who can successfully function in both societies; many youth want to contribute to their community and to help other youth; clients and front line social workers are beginning to be heard. These experiences tell me that a shift is taking place in our communities - that we are beginning to find a path with a heart. The creation of a new vision is not without its challenges. On the one hand, there is a strong and continuing desire among many Aboriginal people and their allies to build upon traditional Aboriginal strengths and values such as courage, respect for each other and for nature, the oral tradition and the wisdom of the elders, a deep connection with each other and mother earth, a consistent application of spirituality to all of life. Cultural camps and some models of practice provide concrete examples of the power of these concepts to improve daily life. On the other hand, the loss of culture and tradition that has resulted from colonisation continues to affect the lives of Aboriginal people, and “Western” people are often unaware of the oppressive impact of their assumptions, beliefs and attitudes toward Aboriginal people. While
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 197
policy has changed to counter these experiences, historian Lise Noel (2000) reminds us that systemic colonization is grounded in intolerance. This intolerance comes from unconscious assumptions that underlie “normal institutional rules and collective reactions.” In systemic colonization, Noel suggests these rules and reactions are imbedded in the consciousness of all and so engrained in our lives that the oppressed cannot point to any single form of oppression, -and the oppressor becomes invisible. As a consequence, the responsibility for colonization and assimilation is assigned to the oppressed – and, when that process does not meet institutional rules and expectations, it is identified as further evidence of the inability of the oppressed to determine their own directions. Nowhere is this process more evident than in health, education, and services to children – and it still continues. The community is clear about the essential values and philosophy that must guide the development of programs and services. There is fundamental agreement on importance of shared parenting and community responsibility for children, of language as a source of renewed culture, knowledge of history and tradition as an essential element of identity, the importance of kinship and connection to each other and a respectful approach to the planet. The problem is that there is an enormous chasm between the vision of Aboriginal communities and the realities of funding and policy restrictions. Little Bear (2000) speaks to the collision of jagged worldviews and helps us to understand the hazards of understanding each other when our western worldview is more linear than holistic, hierarchical and specialised rather than generalised, more materialistic and self-interested than sharing, less concerned about relationships and kindness than competitiveness, more aggressive than respectful, more focussed on external sources of control and authority than on the development of internal controls. Our work thus far has, however, carried us further along in our journey as we dialogue with communities, planners, practitioners, leaders and elders in our search for understanding, but we have much to learn. Community meetings have revealed that there is a clear understanding of the current and past issues and their impact on community and family life, and that to address these issues will call forth the strength of the people based on the continuity of their culture, kinship systems and tribal responsibilities. It is essential to institute a structure that supports kinship relational roles and responsibilities, as the continuity of kinship is the key to well-being and survival, and the basis of their identity. The challenge is to continue the collaboration and take steps to implement their recommendations. This must include working with Elders and in the construction of knowledge
198 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
systems, conceptual frameworks and pedagogy for social work practice and developing new program models based on community guidance that will be in harmony with the culture and traditions of the people. A true collaboration could include an evaluation of existing models that offer promise for broader application and where needed establish demonstration projects to test out and validate new thinking. There is an urgent need to develop First Nation social worker who can assume leadership roles in community development and organizational change and for training and education programs for human services workers working with First Nation communities. The Sturgeon Lake community hosted a gathering entitled Creating Hope for the Future, which invited three generations served by white caregivers: residential schools during the 40s and 50s, foster care in the 60s and 70s and more recent “graduates.” The community also used community theatre to help address relevant issues. Through this process, youth scripted, produced, and acted in a play that outlined some of their observations in their community. The community was then invited to respond and revise the play to reflect their wishes for the future. The play proved to be a very powerful tool which was positively received and helped to bring people together to discuss what is happening in their own community and start building together their hopes and dreams for the future. This type of community theatre or theatre of the oppressed approach has been successfully used to engage community members (including youth), provide a voice, bring people together, raise awareness, stimulate discussion, inform policy makers, empower communities, cultivate leadership, promote social action and ultimately, support and nurture the development of healthy communities (Boehm & Boehm, 2003; Houston, Magill, McCollum, & Spratt, 2001). A common theme was narrative of their experience of marginalization and disrespect as a people in residential schools and child welfare systems underscored by racist attitudes continue to shape practice. A second major theme was a powerful and dignified call for acknowledgement as aboriginal people and a redress by a claim for self-determination in the care and protection of the Tribe’s children. This is at the core of the relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who are involved in child welfare programs. It is clear that many aspects of today’s helping systems that serve aboriginal people as governed federal and provincial authorities fail to meet these fundamental requirements. It is also clear that aboriginal people know what they need to counter these influences. What is less clear is how to develop of models of practice and teaching that can fulfill Aboriginal aspirations.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 199
Experience of Aboriginal People Few would deny that the past 500 years have left many aboriginal people in the state of confusion, despair, loneness, isolation and with increasing dependence on various substances to alleviate the painful and traumatic legacy of these years. It has been said that;” In the beginning, the black coats came to save our souls; then the Red Coats came to establish law and order according to a foreign government, now the white coats provide medications to dull our pain and the still the suffering of our spirit.” Many expressed a profound sense of loss and disconnection from their people and culture because of their separation from family and community, all the while not really belonging to the societal institutions charged with their formative years. There is a pervasive sense of not truly belonging anywhere creating a state of perpetual anomie that can only be countered by a profound reconnection with who they are as aboriginal people. This is confirmed by the elders who have been observing this for many generations and who call for a return to traditional values. Broken relationships with families and communities of origin are a recurring theme described by community participants who have been removed from their families to be raised in white institutions and foster care settings. From a cultural perspective, this experience is tantamount to familial suicide in a tradition that not only relies on “all our relations” and the ancestors for guidance and support in this lifetime and family to make ones way through life. It was made clear that the alternative care systems developed by government failed the children and betrayed the communities, leaving the people at sea in their personal relationships, and struggling to find ways of sustaining themselves emotionally. Many spoke of their ongoing struggle to establish marital and other forms of intimate connection to others. The legacy created by separation, abuse, mistreatment and rejection left many people emotionally maimed and fearful of sustainable and healthy relationships. It is clear that many aboriginal children had their way of life, their spirituality, traditions, and their perception of parents and grandparents denigrated in residential schools and in white foster care, leaving them with a diminished ability to contemplate a hopeful future. Many feel that they have become westernized, or in the words of some “I may look Indian, but I am really White.” Leroy Littlebear (2001) refers to this as a form of “jagged colonialism” that leaves people without a way of considering their future and solving problems and upon which they can draw to live their lives. Every new situation calls for the development of an entirely new approach to problem
200 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
solving and decision-making. This leaves many are paralyzed by the possibility making such decisions and trapped in lives that are without meaning. There are many signs of hopefulness as well as people return to learn their traditional aboriginal language and reconnect with elders to capture the stories and their traditions that can guide their lives and reestablish culturally appropriate ways of behaving to fill the gaps that have been created. Spirituality was a major source of hope and was expressed in every community gathering. The losses experienced have been traumatic and have been transmitted from one generation to the other. But many have sought meaning and consolation in Christian or Traditional form of spirituality. Community members described their traditional beliefs as pervading all aspects of life including oneself, relationships with family, other people, plants, animals, and ultimately the entire cosmos. Many are seeking to return to such traditional beliefs and have left the Christianity that was imposed on their parents, but others cling to Christian beliefs while others are confused and ambivalent about both. This can create community conflicts as the struggle for survival extends to the spiritual level, with some fearing immortal damnation for themselves and their loved ones. For those communities that attempting to develop new programs and services based on their traditional values and beliefs the challenge is immense. While there is a desire for models of practice that meet community aspirations within an Aboriginal worldview, Federal and Provincial government constraints limit this possibility. The Federal government provides minimal funding for programs that support and sustain family life and fully fund programs that promote the breakdown of families and outplacement of children. Provincial authorities who still fail to understand and fully support First Nations aspirations for autonomy and self-determination in looking after their children and themselves without elaborate provincial standards and structures that have little to do with aboriginal values. This reality can be exacerbated by the jagged colonialism referred to earlier, leaving staff, and politicians at sea, as they try to reconcile their own limited understanding of Aboriginal traditions and try to absorb the lessons of the Elders who are aging. People spoke at great length about the need for an importance of healing from the legacy of oppression and grief to which they have been subjected. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation has made a good beginning, but it has been limited by fiscal resources and the time allowed to heal from hundreds of years of oppression. It is well known that a people cannot recover from such
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 201
trauma in a period of several years. We still have much to learn about the healing experience required by aboriginal people; yet this is a fundamental requirement without which many aboriginal people will able to go no further and which the intergenerational transmission of trauma will continue unabated. There is fundamental need to recommit to this healing experience, and the most casual reader will observe that many of the recommendations contained in this report have more to do with recovery from this trauma that with models of child welfare. The healing is a fundamental sine qua non without which the people cannot advance. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation has made a beginning step in this direction, one that could benefit from appropriate partnerships with university researchers and mainstream service providers who are sensitive to the Aboriginal reality of today. It is also clear that Aboriginal agencies have to operate with even more inadequate financial resources than non-Aboriginal agencies. The current funding formula not only restricts such agencies from offering preventive programs, it provides limited flexibility to offer innovative programs that are consistent with traditional values and approaches. This could be a priority area for collaboration, with academics and policy makers exercising a concerted effort to convince federal funding sources of the potential efficacy of such approaches over the long term. It also seems clear that many Aboriginal agencies are operating in a policy vacuum because they have not had the time to develop policies, standards and protocols that are responsive to their unique situations. It seems to me that a collaborative effort in concert with each other would have a greater chance of success than isolated efforts to promote change. In this process, special attention will have to be given to the provision of sufficient resources to Aboriginal agencies to address the complex and serious problems that confront them on a daily basis. I suggest that we could begin by acknowledging that there is no one best way to solve the problems that face us, but rather many divergent ways that deserve the joint attention of communities, service providers and academics. The difficulty involved with change cannot be under-estimated, but each of us can point to examples that illustrate the possibility of achieving partnerships. They call upon us to step out of expected and typical institutional relationships to find a common ground of caring, respect, flexibility, and an orientation toward action from a research and an educational perspective. The community, policy makers and the university can work together to incorporate knowledge from “mainstream” theory, practice, and research pertaining to children’s services with the traditional wisdom of First Nations communities. It is a
202 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
path of mutual respect, of dropping the barriers that keep us apart as we struggle with our own perception of reality. It is a path that calls on each of us to reflect upon each other’s view of reality, as we find ways to work together to solve problems that would be unmanageable on our own.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 203
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues Lack of parental choice What happened? “Our parents had to send us to the residential school. We were treated very badly right from the beginning. We were not given a choice to keep our kids. They had to be there.” What were the impacts?’ "This practice of separating children from parents and the parenting role model is singularly responsible for many of the problems related to child care now found among Aboriginal parents" McKenzie & Hudson, p.130). Haig-Brown (1988) emphasized the lack of positive role models because "Children learn parenting skills by the way they are parented" (and for many Aboriginal children who spent ten years or more at residential schools, one must conclude that these children "had limited experience as family members" (p. 111). What can we do about it now? • Parenting is a community commitment → a child is not raised by one → Stop thinking that there is a quick fix to a long term situation. • Then I would teach Parenting Program and every other selfhelp program. But not named “parenting’. It is too judgmental and makes a parent look like they do not know anything about parenting. It is very demeaning. A program by any other name is more inviting. It has to be fun and not so scary. My clients would hate to go to parenting skills because it could make them feel like they were not a good mother • Redefine Aboriginal parental skills. Both CW and Aboriginal people need to understand the differences/similarImplications for Child Welfare • Long term integration of role models and mentors would be a positive because it teaches everyday skills like connection, trust, human relationship, culture, etc. • Remove stigma from parenting classes by making them available to all parents and basing them on Aboriginal ways • To discuss the positive or accepted practices within Aboriginal families may enlighten CW and re-kindle traditional values that existed before colonization • Learn and honor the traditional parental role. We must seek guidance from elders about what the parental role used to be and talk to the community about healing and
204 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? What were the impacts?’ • What can we do about it now? ity of parental skills Mainstream values concerning parenting within Aboriginal family’s conflict with collective community and spiritual beings of these people Provide programs conducted by older Aboriginal people that did not have the influences of the schools Encourage other positive role models within all communities Provide opportunities for people to heal, to tell their stories, to learn to trust, to find out who they are as an individual Create opportunities to build bridges between ourselves and our culture and other societies Our people are not devalued - they are valued as individuals and as a people. There is a place for them within this world and they can contribute Implications for Child Welfare reclaiming parenthood • Involve parents in decisions with children – don’t be secretive behind their backs • Let the community be the one to approach the parents
Isolation from family and community
Not only were Aboriginal children educated separately from the dominant society, they were also educated away from their own culture. The practice of separating children “from their parents and their way of life had a drastic impact on almost all Aboriginal families. The structure,
Parenting skills diminished as succeeding generations became more institutionalized and experienced little nurturing. Low selfesteem and selfconcept problems arose as children were taught that their own culture was inferior and uncivilized, even ‘savage’” (Martens et al, 1988). Taking small children from their parent … caused “parents and children to become strangers to each other.”(Unger, 1977: p.16)
• Allow the community to gather and exchange information, ideas and their struggles around parenting. As a community support one another with all our family systems. • Reconnect people with community provide mediation where necessary • Create opportunities to
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 205
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? cohesion and quality of family life suffered. What were the impacts?’ What can we do about it now? • Find traditions and customs and activities that will draw families and communities together. While this can be done in a traditional context, allowing families to partake in new traditions together, it would also be beneficial as the time spent together is what counts. • Education is also an important factor – re-learning the old parenting ways of the Aboriginal i.e. no corporal punishment in disciplining their children. Implications for Child Welfare learn that we are not what the oppressors said/say we are • Re-introduce people to their families. Families need to be informed and supported in the loss of their children have experienced • Invite children who are now parents to become part of the Elder’s Circle to help educate them with parenting skills. • Explain to children/parents that what they experienced and lost was not their fault. Use Elders as mentors • Teaching / educating those who were abused themselves as young children that abuse is wrong and that there are other ways of handling a particular situation • Culture plays an important component for Aboriginal people that
Experience of Abuse
When he was a little boy in the convent he was raped every night. As a result of that how would you expect that man to even be a good father – he’d have so much hate?
Children who were • Being a survivor of physically and sexually physical and sexual abused while away abuse, all I wanted from home frequently was to be heard, brought the effects of really heard and that abuse back to their validated. I families. Some abused wanted someone to children have become listen to my story. abusers themselves, It is about sharing directing their of stories that starts behaviours at parents, the healing. My siblings, partners and journey began by even their own being heard (not children. Family just a statistic) and members may suffer feeling real and not without even being a number. Picking
206 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? What were the impacts?’ aware of the abuser's own previous abuse in residential institutions. • What can we do about it now? the strengths, qualities and positive aspects, I later looked at one step at a time. People need to talk about these experiences without being judgmental. Professionals who understand why sexual abuse has occurred need to work with people who have been sexually abused and who have outlived this behavior That individual needs to feel a sense of emotional empowerment that he/she lost as a child – need to come to that understanding of how this has impacted his/her life This needs to be done without creating unusual racism and that people’s fears have created oppression within people when residential schools were created Counseling Teach people to not act in this way rather than spread it Implications for Child Welfare teach the men and women role through culture or respect for self and others, gaining back self-esteem. No longer do I feel like I am a victim, but a survivor through sharing, knowledge, respect, humor, tears and laughter, spirituality and Creator. • Have the victims of the sexual abuse talk about their experiences with counselors or Elders. • There needs to be a ceremony for all who have experienced this • Start healing groups that allow for group healing. Share stories to embrace that they were the victims and they were wronged. It was not their fault. • Allow people to speak of their experiences in a kind /
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 207
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? What were the impacts?’ What can we do about it now? Implications for Child Welfare supportive environment. Form a support group so that people can lean they are not alone. • Allow everyone, not just Aboriginal children to have control to a certain degree on what he or she sees as evil vs. good • Stop creating policies that divide Aboriginal people – encourage unity and fair treatment give us the freedom to live wherever we want and still have our culture and language • Give us equal rights and equal opportunity to run our own programs such as Child Welfare • Let us develop our own policies that reflect the views of the majority rather than a select few chiefs who abuse their power
Regimentation of Life
Accounts of life in the residential schools spoke to the total regimentation that took place, leaving children in a quasi robotic state and reluctant to make normal decisions. So everything was controlled. What you spoke, they controlled. They controlled our religion. The nuns taught us what was good and what was evil. The dances and feasts were evil. We were worshipping a different God. There’s only one God but they invented another one, I guess, for us.
Most children learn parenting skills without a great deal of conscious effort, primarily by the way they were parented. However, institutional and Aboriginal childrearing practices had little in common. As Agnes Grant (1996) wrote, “Many parents who had been raised in the institutions did not have the parenting skills to raise their families, nor did they have the life skills to live their own lives successful” (p.78). The students in residential school, whose parents sometimes could not see them for months and even years at a stretch, had limited experience to draw upon (Haig-Brown, 1998, p.103).
• Take away the hierarchy that feeds the oppression. Change The Indian Act to allow equal rights for all First Nations – give us individual ownership of lands and homes • Give us more individual rights – don’t hand the money down from the top – raise our Treaty payments from $5.00 year to $5,000.00 per year to reflect the value of an acre of land today – stop giving unhealthy leadership crumbs by which they govern their people – allow us equal rights wherever we live • Ensure that we have equal rights and access to the Human Rights Commission among other programs that are supposed to protect our rights Make our language and culture a part
208 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? What were the impacts?’ What can we do about it now? of every curriculum available to all students Anger, fear and cycle of abuse can be broken Abuse is not an accepted way to relate to one another Understanding what love is and how to love the self first Educate ourselves Implications for Child Welfare
We have parents who are bitter, and are passing their own bitterness on to their children. This vicious cycle has to stop. (AFN, 1989). This generation of young Aboriginal people is the first generation that did not attend residential schools; but because their parents and grandparents attended, they are deeply affected by the wounds and bitter memories of early childhood experiences. Three generations of breaking up Aboriginal families have severely undermined the role of the extended family and kinship
Clinical and research experience among the Lakota reveal that Indian parents who were themselves raised in boarding school settings feel inadequate and overwhelmed in their parental role. Further, descendants of boarding school attendees also report a history of neglect and abuse in their own childhoods along with feelings of inadequacy as parents and confusion about how to raise children in a healthy way. This historical trauma has resulted in the impairment of culturally normative parenting styles and high risk for developing alcohol and drug abuse problems associated with ineffective and injurious parenting (Brave Heart, 1995).
• Allowing those who have experienced/sur vived the residential schools to express their pain but only when appropriate and only in certain professional situations, i.e. counseling, social work sessions, group talks • Take workshops on self-esteem and self-confidence • Write down everything you can remember about residential schools and then let go by having a burning ceremony
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 209
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? networks, causing that structure to break down, or in most cases, to be destroyed (Ing, 1991 Before residential schools, in Aboriginal families, a general loving attitude toward all children prevailed, not just for one’s own children, but love for all the children of the tribe. An orphan or an adopted child was not in any way mistreated or set apart by the family, but was gratefully taken in and cherished. Aboriginal people have been noted to accord unquestioned acceptance of, and respect for, all individuals, irrespective of age or sex, not only for their abilities but also with considerable tolerance as well for their What were the impacts?’ What can we do about it now? Implications for Child Welfare
Loss of affection
By the 1960s, a generation of Aboriginal parents who were not given the choice of raising their children began to show signs of "abrogating their responsibility as parents." , , , a pattern of expectation had developed among "some Indian parents that the residential school system provided a…carefree way" of living without children (Caldwell, “I think after a while families got used to not having their children and they didn't take full responsibility . . . the bonding wasn't really there . . . and they were used to not having their children. But that's why they're suffering because there's no bonding”. “If you go and hug someone, you can just feel the tenseness, we hardly ever had that, and that began from the residential school, I think, because we never loved on
• Educate families on how to reconnect with one another and how to love one another again • Learn to communicate your feelings to your loved ones • Knowledge of history is one of the keys to begin to get grounded with self. People that have lost their roots are lost. History needs to be taught by their own people. The ‘lost’ need to see that the Aboriginal people were once a proud nation and can become a proud nation again. Provide HOPE and HELP THEM TO BELIEVE IN ONE-SELF. • Accept the thing we can’t change • Sharing of experiences of what needs to be changed • Safe affection, open discussion on feelings, emotions, inadequacies
For the children: • Providing some way for the children to connect with a mentor or significant person(s) that can show them love and acceptance consistently throughout their development to adulthood ( someone who believes in them) For the parents: • Providing opportunity for them to address their pain of not being loved or shown love and listen to what they need to heal from this. Then to provide education about child development and how it applies to their paradigm and how they can begin to express love to one another. To provide support
210 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? weaknesses. (Bull, 1991). “We were taken away from our mothers, and the bonding was taken away from our parents. We were taken away, that’s why we don’t hug. The nuns were so mean to little kids, when they should have just loved them, but they didn't. . . . when my mother died, they didn't comfort me”. • I feel it is important for people working in the human service agencies with Aboriginal people to have knowledge about the Treaties, The Indian Act, colonization, oppression and to be supportive of What were the impacts?’ another that way.” “They (our children) don't realize how hard we had it and they think we are just neglecting them. We just don't know how to show our affection to them.” What can we do about it now? • Realize the positive Implications for Child Welfare to the families on their journey to learning to love one another by patiently allowing it to unfold naturally. • Reconnecting estranged families
• Have more agencies built for inner-city youth to reconnect with • Encourage family enhancement models and create child protection within the home, not outside the home • Bring culture and traditions back to all people • Acknowledge that it took many years to do the damage and that it will take many more to
• Need more Aboriginal facilitators working in ‘education’, child welfare and court systems – people need to be taught to listen to be honest for what they are even if they’ve just crawled out of a ditch • I taught Traditional Parenting Skills to Aboriginal adult students which they found very interesting. Not
• More Aboriginal classes offered, more Aboriginal language courses offered at younger ages • Have potlucks encouraged at schools→ parent/teacher interviews • Liaison in school work with school counselors → have cultural days at school
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE 211
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? traditional healing methods • We are not owners of our children; we are the teachers, role models for our entire life - not only until our children leave home. We need to have more Aboriginal people in top level management. • We can reintroduce Aboriginal traditions into all Canadian schools. We can offer sufficient mental health workers to work with these children (MHW – Aboriginal preferred. Listen to their stories so that feel validated • Aboriginal communities need to start opening up more What were the impacts?’ ‘undo’ this damage and that each small steps is a positive progression • Use empowerment theory and get more people on the bandwagon to successful independence • What can we do about it now? only did they become knowledgeable but took home many skills to work with their children. I believe that we require more educated Aboriginal Facilitators or Liaison Workers Teach and pass on the stories to workers in the child welfare system, education and court systems. It should be made mandatory for all public service workers. Aboriginal peopled need to be in control of their own healing Cannot be a time limit, or dollar amount place upon it Outsiders – support and encourage Implications for Child Welfare • More sharing of stories, have sharing circles, sweats, more cultural camps, etc. • More support workers that go to people’s homes for a couple of hours to help parents send their children to school, etc. • Rename Child Welfare as ‘Family Social Services’ because healing has to be not only an individual level, but also on the family level • Bring the resources to the people a much as possible. We live in the wealthiest province in the country, yet these still exists lack of resources
212 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Aboriginal Child Welfare – How we got here and where we might go Issues What happened? amongst themselves, i.e. elder and youth gatherings • Activities that bring the community together Encourage the resurgence of ‘old’ traditions and native language What were the impacts?’ What can we do about it now? Implications for Child Welfare
REFERENCES Aboriginal Healing Foundation. (1999). Aboriginal Healing Foundation Program Handbook (2nd Ed.). Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Assembly of First Nations (1989). Report of the National Inquiry into First Nations Child Care: Ottawa. Atteneave, C. (1977). The Wasted Strengths of Indian Families in The Destruction of American Indian Families. In Unger, S. (Ed.) New York: Association on American Indian Affairs. Bennett, M., & Blackstock, C. (2002). A literature review and annotated bibliography focusing on aspects of Aboriginal child welfare in Canada. Retrieved July 18, 2005, from http://www.cecwcepb.ca/DocsEng/RevisedLitReview.pdf Berry, S., & Brink, J. (2004). Aboriginal cultures in Alberta: Five hundred generations. Edmonton, Alberta: The Provincial Museum of Alberta. Brave Heart-Jordan, M. (1995) The Return to the Sacred Path: Healing from Historical Trauma and Historical Unresolved Grief Among the Lakota. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Smith College School of Social Work. Blanchard E. & Barsh, R. (1980). What is Best for Tribal Children? A Response to Fischler. Social Work. 25. Boldt, M. (1993). Surviving as Indians: The challenge of self-government. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. Bull, L. (1991). Indian Residential Schooling: The Aboriginal Perspective. Canadian Journal of Aboriginal Education 18. Caldwell, G. (1979). A Research Study of the Child Care Program at Nine Residential Schools in Saskatchewan (Ottawa: Report prepared for the Department of Indian Affairs by the Canadian Welfare Council of Canada. Cajete, T. P. J. (2000). Native science: Natural laws of interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers. Cross, T. (1986). Drawing on Cultural Tradition in Indian Child Welfare Practice. Social Casework. 67. P.284. Crown documents C1.3376A; C1.1618; C1.3159A and C1.2029. 1 GOV DOC CA1, YC3-14 20th. Parl. Sess. 1947, No 1-20, pp. 571 ff.
214 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Fischler, R. (1985). Child Abuse and Neglect in American Indian Communities. Child Abuse and Neglect 9 (1). Haig-Brown, C. (1988). Resistance and Renewal. Vancouver: Tillacum Library. Horejsi, C., Heavy Runner, B. & Pablo, J. (1992). Reactions by Aboriginal American Parents to Child Protection Agencies: Cultural and Community Factors. Child Welfare LXXXI (4). Health Canada. (2000). Statistical profile on the health of First Nations in Canada. Retrieved February 19, 2006, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fnih-spni/pubs/gen/stats_profil_e.html Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2004). Basic departmental data 2003. Retrieved July 18, 2005, from http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/pr/sts/bdd03/bdd03_e.pdf Ing, R. (1990). The Effects of Residential Schools on Aboriginal Child-Rearing Patterns. Unpublished Master of Education Thesis, University of British Columbia. Lee, K. (2000). Urban poverty in Canada: A statistical profile. Retrieved February 19, 2006, from http://www.ccsd.ca/pubs/2000/up/ Lewis, C. (1970). Indian Families of the North West Coast: The Impact of Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lucas, P. (1989). Healing Residential Wounds,” Kahtou 7 (15).9. MacDonald (1985) The Child Welfare Programme of the Spallumcheen Indian Band in British Columbia. The Challenge of Child Welfare, ed. K. L. Levitt and B. Wharf. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press McKenzie. B. & Hudson, P. (1985). Aboriginal Children, Child Welfare, and the Colonization of Aboriginal Children in The Challenge of Child Welfare. Ed. K.L. Levitt & B. Wharf. Vancouver: University of Calgary Press. Metcalf, A. (1975). From Schoolgirl to Mother: The Effects of Education on Navajo Women, Social Problems. 23 Milloy, J. (1999). A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System-1879 to 1986. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. Martens, T, Daily, B. & Hodgson, M. (1988). The Spirit Weeps. Edmonton: Nechi Press. RCAP. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (1994). Available from http://www.aincinac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/ci2_e.pdf Richard, K. (2004). A commentary against Aboriginal to non-Aboriginal adoption. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 1(1), 101-109.
Statistics Canada. (2004b). Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Retrieved October 23, 2005, from http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census01/products/analytic/companion/abor/canada.cfm Stout, M. D., & Kipling, G. (2003). Aboriginal people, resilience and the residential school legacy. Retrieved July 19, 2005, from http://www.ahf.ca/newsite/english/pdf/resilience.pdf Trocme, N., Knoke, D., & Blackstock, C. (2004). Pathways to overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system in Canada. Retrieved July 19, 2005, from http://www.cecwcepb.ca/DocsEng/PathwaysAug2004TrocmeBlackstock.pdf Unger, S. (1977). The Destruction of American Indian Families. New York: Association on American Indian Affairs. Wesley-Esquimaux, C. C., & Smolewski, M. (2004). Historic trauma and Aboriginal healing. Retrieved July 19, 2005, from http://www.ahf.ca/newsite/english/pdf/historic_trauma.pdf York, G. (1990). The dispossessed: Life and death in Native Canada. London: Vintage U.K. Assembly of First Nations (1989). Report of the National Inquiry into First Nations Child Care: Ottawa. Atteneave, C. (1977). The Wasted Strengths of Indian Families in The Destruction of American Indian Families. In Unger, S. (Ed.) New York: Association on American Indian Affairs. Blanchard E. & Barsh, R. (1980). What is Best for Tribal Children? A Response to Fischler. Social Work. 25. Brave Heart, M. (1999). Oyate Ptayela: Rebuilding the Lakota Nation Through Addressing Historical Trauma Among Lakota Parents. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 2 (1/2). Brave Heart-Jordan, M. (1995) The Return to the Sacred Path: Healing from Historical Trauma and Historical Unresolved Grief Among the Lakota. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Smith College School of Social Work. Bull, L. (1991). Indian Residential Schooling: The Aboriginal Perspective. Canadian Journal of Aboriginal Education 18. Caldwell, G. (1979). A Research Study of the Child Care Program at Nine Residential Schools in Saskatchewan (Ottawa: Report prepared for the Department of Indian Affairs by the Canadian Welfare Council of Canada. Canada West Foundation (2001). State of the West: Western Canadian Demographic and Economic Trends. Calgary
216 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Castenada, C. (1974). The Teachings of Don Juan. New York: Quality Paperback Club. Cross, T. (1986). Drawing on Cultural Tradition in Indian Child Welfare Practice. Social Casework 67. Fischler, R. (1985). Child Abuse and Neglect in American Indian Communities. Child Abuse and Neglect 9 (1). Haig-Brown, C. (1998). Warrior Mothers. Journal of Just and Caring Education 4 (1) Haig-Brown, C. (1988). Resistance and Renewal. Vancouver: Tillacum Library. Horejsi, C., Heavy Runner, B. & Pablo, J. (1992). Reactions by Aboriginal American Parents to Child Protection Agencies: Cultural and Community Factors. Child Welfare LXXXI (4). Hull, G. (1982). Child Welfare Services to Aboriginal Americans. Social Casework 63. Horejsi, C., Heavy Runner, B. & Pablo, J. (1992). Reactions by Aboriginal American Parents to Child Protection Agencies: Cultural and Community Factors. Child Welfare LXXXI (4). Hull, G. (1982). Child Welfare Services to Aboriginal Americans. Social Casework 63. Ing, R. (1990). The Effects of Residential Schools on Aboriginal Child-Rearing Patterns. Unpublished Master of Education Thesis, University of British Columbia. Johnson, P. (1983). Native Children and the Child Welfare System. Toronto: Canadian Council on Social Development. Johnston, B. (1988). Indian School Days. Toronto: Key Porter Books. Lafrance, J. (2001) Paradox and Possibility in Child Protection Services. Unpublished Document Lafrance, J. & Collins, D. (2001). Residential Schools and Aboriginal Parenting: Voices of Parents. Unpublished Manuscript. Lewis, C. (1970). Indian Families of the North West Coast: The Impact of Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lucas, P. (1989). Healing Residential Wounds,” Kahtou 7 (15) Marcel, G. (1949). Being and Having. Westminster: Dacre Press. Martens, T, Daily, B. & Hodgson, M. (1988). The Spirit Weeps. Edmonton: Nechi Press. McKenzie. B. & Hudson, P. (1985). Aboriginal Children, Child Welfare, and the Colonization of Aboriginal Children in The Challenge of Child Welfare. Ed. K.L. Levitt & B. Wharf. Vancouver: University of Calgary Press.
Metcalf, A. (1975). From Schoolgirl to Mother: The Effects of Education on Navajo Women, Social Problems. 23 Milloy, J. (1999). A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System-1879 to 1986. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. Morgan, G. (1986). Images of the Organisation. Newbury Park: Sage Publications. Rappaport, Julian (1981). In Praise of Paradox: A Social Policy of Empowerment Over Prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology. 9(1). Saul, J.R. (1995) Voltaire’s Bastards: The dictatorship of reason in the west. Toronto: Viking. Taylor, F.W. (1922). Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Harper and Row. Tobias, J. (1983) Protection, Civilization, Assimilation: An Outline History of Canada’s Indian Policy in As Long as the Sun Shines and the Water Flows: A Reader in Canadian Aboriginal Studies, I. A. L. Getty & A. S. Lussier (Eds.). Vancouver: University of Vancouver Press. Unger, S. (1977). The Destruction of American Indian Families. New York: Association on American Indian Affairs. Weber, M. (1947). The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation. London: Oxford University Press.
218 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
FOOTNOTES Welfare in Alberta: The Report of a Study undertaken by the Imperial Order, Daughter of the Empire, Alberta Provincial Chapter, 1947. ii Royal Commission, p.64. iii Royal Commission Report, p. 18. iv Royal Commission Report, Section 21, p. 71. v Standards for Children’s Organizations Providing Foster Family Care. (1941) Child Welfare League of America. vi Copy of Evidence Given By Miss Phyllis Burns before the Royal Commission. (Undated document).
Department of Citizenship and Immigration, correspondence from the Supervisor of Social Workers to W., dated February 25, 19959; Indian commissioner for B.C. 208/29-16 (SW) (Ref. 901/29-16, 1957-1972, Vol. 1 H) about Indian residential schools; and the Reference Manual for Social Welfare, RG 10, Vol. 8463, NAC, File 1/23-21, pt. 1, Reel C-13809, July 1953. These materials confirm a presence of social workers in Indian Affairs in the 1950s. ix See above, 901/29-16, 1957-1972, vol. 1 H, page 1. x Lafrance, J. (2004). The Sturgeon Lake Community Experience: A Journey toward Empowerment. Pimatziwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health. xi Caldwell, 1979, p.21 xii C3.3569. xiii Ibid. 36. xiv Standards of Foster Care for Children in Institutions (1936) Child Welfare League of America, Inc. Russell Sage Foundation Building. 130 East Twenty-Second Street, New York. xv The reader is reminded that, in addition to the evidence that emerged through provincial and federal reviews in the 1940s, the use of industrial schools in particular, and institutions generally, had been challenged in the early 1900s, and industrial schools for boys in Ontario had closed in the 1930s, amidst concerns about their detrimental impacts. xvi C1.2039. The distinction between education and welfare considerations is clearly drawn in this undated document that examines, among other things the criteria for education and child welfare admissions, and the ratio of both in the schools. xvii C1.3159A. xviii C1.3159A. Note that the criticism levelled against the actions of the Catholic priests in this instance can also be construed as a criticism of the education provided by the federal government prior to full implementation of its integration policy. xix C1.3159A. xx C1.3159A. xxi C1.972. xxii C1.1299. xxiii Standards of Foster Care for Children in Institutions (1936).Child Welfare League of America Inc. Russell Sage Foundation Building, 130 East Twenty Second Street, New York. xxiv Gil, David G (1974) Institutions for Children from Children and Decent People. Alvin Schorr (Ed.). Basic Books Inc. xxv Ibid., 5f. xxvi Ibid., 6. xxvii Ibid., 12f. xxviii Ibid., 16 xxix Ibid., 16. xxx Ibid., 13. xxxi Ibid., 13. xxxii Ibid., 15. xxxiii Ibid., 23ff. xxxiv Ibid., 44ff. xxxv Fishler, R. (1985) Child Abuse and Neglect in American Indian Communities. Child Abuse and Neglect9(1).
220 THE STURGEON LAKE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
Blanchard & Barsh, 1980, p. 350. xxxvi (Lucas, 1989:p.9 xxxvii Lewis (1970, p.16 xxxviii Fishler,R. (1985) Child Abuse and Neglect in American Indian Communities. Child Abuse and Neglect9(1). xxix Cross, 1986, p 284. p. 111 xl Haig-Brown, C. (1988) Resistance and Renewal. Vancouver. Tillacum Library. xli Atteneave , C. (1977) The Wasted Strengths of Indian Families in the Destruction of American Indian Families. In Unger, S., (Ed ) New York: Association on American Indian Affairs. p30 xlii Reference to Committee; also reference to Crown documents C1.3376A; C1.1618; C1.3159A and C1.2029. xliii GOV DOC CA1, YC3-14 20th. Parl. Sess. 1947, No 1-20, pp. 571 ff. xliv Ibid., 579. xlv C1.1856. xlvi C1.3186. Regarding the low levels of education, it was reported that “over half the staff had less than high school graduation”, see C1.2085. xlvii C1.3186. xlviii C1.3186. xlix C1.1856. l Ibid., 579. li Ibid., 5f. lii Lafrance, J. ( 2004). The Sturgeon Lake Community Experience: A Journey toward Empowerment. Pimatziwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health. liii Ibid., 212. liv C1.641. lv Ibid lvi C1.5 lvii C1.972 lviii A contributor to this document, B. Reichwein stated that “I myself found employment in Alberta’s child welfare work in 1959, first in an orphanage and later as a departmental social worker. There were many aboriginal children in care in the early 1960s, but more Metis than Indian children. lix W.D. McFarland in a panel discussion on “Present trends in Institutional Care” at the Catholic Welfare Association 1962 Annual Conference, 4. lx Welfare in Alberta: The Report of a Study undertaken by the Imperial Order, Daughter of the Empire, Alberta Provincial Chapter, 1947. p.35 lxi Lafrance, J. ( 2004). The Sturgeon Lake Community Experience: A Journey toward Empowerment. Pimatziwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health. lxii Lafrance, J. ( 2004). The Sturgeon Lake Community Experience: A Journey toward Empowerment. Pimatziwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health. lxiii Brave Heart-Jordan, M. (1995) The Return to the Sacred Path: Healing from Historical Trauma and Historical Unresolved Grief Among the Lakota. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Smith College School of Social Work. lxiv Lafrance, J. ( 2004). The Sturgeon Lake Community Experience: A Journey toward Empowerment. Pimatziwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health lxv Ibid. lxvi AFN, 1989, p. 59 lxvii MacDonald (1985) lxviii Martens et al, (1988) The Spirit Weeps. Edmonton, Nechi Press. lxix AFN, 1989 lxx Brave Heart-Jordan, M. (1995) The Return to the Sacred Path: Healing from Historical Trauma and Historical Unresolved Grief Among the Lakota. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Smith College School of Social Work. lxxi Bull, L. (1991) Indian Residential Schooling: The Aboriginal Perspective. Canadian Journal of Aboriginal Education. 18. lxii C1.2039. The distinction between education and welfare considerations is clearly drawn in this undated document that examines, among other things the criteria for education and child welfare admissions, and the ratio of both in the schools
About the Author
Jean Lafrance has been involved in child welfare work for over 44 years, beginning as front line social work in northern Alberta in 1964 and serving in various leadership roles in northern, central and southern Alberta as well as in Edmonton and Calgary. He has also worked in staff development, policy and program development and strategic planning as an Assistant Deputy Minister, capping his 33 years in government as Alberta’s Provincial Children’s Advocate. He earned an MSW at Carleton University in 1970 and a Ph.D in Social Work from the University of Southern California in 1993. He joined the Faculty of Social Work with the University of Calgary in 1997 where he is now an Associate Professor with a keen interest in work with Aboriginal communities. Jean married Marie-Anna Vallée in 1964 and lives in Edmonton where he is blessed with three daughters, Denise, Line, and Kristine; three sons-in-law, Chris, Darren and Andrew; and seven grandchildren, David, Candace, Jennifer, Brody, Cassius, Isabelle and Jordan.
In our journey with Aboriginal People, some of the early Europeans recognized the traditional qualities of Aboriginal people. These are cited verbatim in the language of the day as a group of church leaders debated the direction that should be taken in the education of Aboriginal children. (RG 10, volume 6730, file 169-62, pt. 2) • The quality of loyalty to family and friends which is capable of expansion into loyalty to a wider circle. • The deep love of children from which can be developed the strong desire to help the children of the race to be well-born. • The generosity and hospitality which are outstanding characteristics of the Indian races which may be developed as some of the finer elements of social living. • The traditional quality of courage and admiration of brave leadership and which can be used to spur the young Indian on in the face of discouragement and the hard grind of monotonous routine. • The engrafted dignity and serenity of the leaders of the race and which should be preserved as a help in restoring to the hectic world in which we live, the poise and calm of which we have been robbed by our numerous mechanical inventions (p. 3). Regrettably, such insights did little to challenge prevailing assumptions and beliefs that held the Aboriginal people to be in need of civilizing and Christianizing. One cannot help but wonder how differently the lives of Canadian people might have evolved if such beliefs had prevailed in the education and care of Aboriginal children. My regret is that much of this has been forgotten and my hope is that we will remember it in the future as we continue to journey together - a journey of empowerment.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.