Indian Residential School Survivors Society
British Columbia, Canada
For all the people who read this book may they be forever
enlightened. By shining the light on a dark part of our past
we have a chance to create a bright new day for aboriginals
and all Canadians. We will all know what happened and then
come to realize that what happens now and our vision for a
future together is what really counts. Together we will stand
for what is right and the intention of Indian residential schools
and colonization will not happen again!
With Deep Respect,
Chief Robert Joseph,
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WawahteSubject: Canadian Indian Residential Schools
By Robert P. Wells
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Robert P. Wells
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEsther's Story
My birthplace was the Cree and Oji-Cree Hudson's Bay Post village of Mammamattawa located on the Kenogami River. Referred to as an Indian Reserve, Mammamattawa was 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of the uninhabitable swampy land that had been designated as English River Indian Reserve No. 66. People here lived isolated in the bush sixty miles north of the Canadian National Railroad Line, between James Bay and Lake Nipigon in Northern Ontario. Accessible only by canoe in the summer and by snowshoe and dog team in the winter, most supplies were brought in by river barge during the spring high water periods. The only thing that makes it more accessible in the twenty-first century is the airplane, but that doesn't matter as no one lives there anymore. In the 1930s, this was home to about twenty families, the Faries, my name, Stephens, Solomon, Sutherland, Bluff, Rubin, Goodwin, Puninish, Iserhohh, Taylor, Buff, Westley, and Mattwas.
I begin my story by telling about the happy day-to-day family life of my childhood growing up on the land. Later I move on to tell about a child's experience of being taken from her family, and what life was like at an Indian Residential School.
Most people did not live in our village year round as they lived on their trapping grounds during the winter and in river camps during the summer. This was at a time when many Indian people and very few rural white people had cars, electricity, running water, refrigerators or other conveniences that were enjoyed by people who lived in cities and towns. Snowmobiles, televisions, computers and all sorts of other things had not yet been invented or were not available. This was a time when airplanes were so uncommon that people ran outside to look up when they heard one flying overhead. Life then was not simpler than now, but it was different.
Modern day people might think that it would be boring for the kids, as well as adults, not to have computer games, television, books, radios or even a clock. I have no childhood memory of ever being bored, my family lived one with nature, and there were always things that had to be done. Almost everything we needed to live we got directly from land and waters—we did not have the luxury of idle time to become bored. In those days my family and most other native people survived with the use of very little money. The little money we did earn in the winter by fur trapping was used to buy tea, flour, sugar, oatmeal, and some clothing. Papa would also buy equipment for hunting and trapping from the village Hudson' Bay Trading Post.
This was not a romantic life in a natural paradise, as some might like you to believe. I grew up in the severe and unforgiving environment of northern Ontario, Canada, a land cold in winter and insect infested in summer. My people lived by the collective wisdom and skills learned and passed down through many generations. The area had an abundance of fur bearing animals that were harvested and sold to a very demanding world fur market. Each family unit had a traditional area where they hunted and trapped for their livelihood. Elders were the recognized community and family leaders. This is not to say that there was no competition, for there was a competitive pride in all that we did. We were hunters, caregivers, gatherers, craftspeople, jokesters and storytellers. People seemed to move into the role they did best and that was best for their family and community. The community of Mammamattawa built an Anglican church and Reverend Clark was our minister. When he was off visiting other communities, lay Elders would lead church services. Parents, grandparents and the community taught the children about nature, about how get along as a family, how to make and do things that nowadays people buy and pay others to do for us. Playtime taught children skills that they would need to know when they became adults. The boys played at hunting, fishing and wilderness field craft. Girls in turn made play of "women's-work", preparing food, sewing, gathering and mothering, but seldom did we make play of the daily job of gathering wood and water.
The traditional homeland, language, culture, spiritual beliefs, folklore, and family structures were strong. I don't suppose there was a family more closely united in love and mutual understanding than mine. I remember daily life as being a constant ripple-of-giggles.
I will tell you about the happy and sad time of my childhood in the hope that you will better understand what parents and elders now talk about. What it was really like to live on the land. What it was really like to be taken from your parents, put on a train, and be sent off to an Indian Residential School. These institutions were places notorious for beating children for speaking their Indian language when they knew no other way to talk. A place where children were made to look into the eyes of people in authority, when they had been taught by their parents and Elders, to do so was disrespectful. This was a terrible thing to do to parents, and the residential school was, for most, an awful place to be as a child. There is something fundamentally wrong with separating children from their parents. I still ask, "Why?"
This is the story about my early childhood before being taken away and made to attend a "Residential" school when I was seven years of age: I was born in 1931, the second child of William and Emily Feries of the Feries family of Cree ancestry in the village of Mammamattawa, Ontario. My Status Indian Registration Number is 1,820,067,501. The name Faries, not of Aboriginal heritage, comes from my great-grandfather, a Scotsman. In some ways, not knowing my Indian ancestral name troubles me, but I have come to realize that a name alone doesn't define who or what we are as a person.
My mother died when I was about four years old and throughout my life the sadness of mother dying never completely left me. There has been and there always will be a hole in my heart. It was a very difficult time for my papa, my brothers Gilbert and Richard and my sister Greta. The people of the village were all very nice and they came together to help Papa look after us kids and to help make our sadness go away. Sometime later my papa married Alice. She became our new mama and I got another sister—Caroline.
Most homes in the village were either tents or buildings with log walls, canvas tent roofs and dirt floors. Stanley Stephen, who also grew up in the village, tells that his Moochum (grandfather) _____________ lived in a tent his whole life; he ate and slept, in our traditional way, on the ground. Our family home was one of the more permanent built homes in the village, a two-room house made from logs with glass windows, board floors and a wood and tarpaper roof. Mama (mother), Kukum (grandmother), _____________________ Papa and Moochum slept in the big room that was about 18 by 24 feet (6m by 8m) and the kids slept in the little room.
In the village was a Hudson Bay Company Trading Post and an Anglican Church. The only mistickcuoshow (white-men) ___________________, living here at the time were the Pastor of the Anglican Church, his wife Alice, their three little girls and the Hudson Bay Company Manager. There was a great effort by the Church to convert Aboriginal people to Christianity. Christianity was a concept quite different from the Cree's traditional way of showing respect to the Great Spirit, Creation and Nature. The people in the village accepted the one God and one-devil teachings of the church, but at the same time, most never gave up their ancestral spirituality and beliefs. Community Elders built the village's first church as a place to worship and as a statement for all to see that they were Christians. This church was so small that not all the people in the village could be inside at the same time. Many had to stand outside to attend church services. Six years before I was born, the people in the village began building the "big" church, so everyone could be inside to attend services. Elders went up the river to cut long logs for the foundation of the church and cut the short logs for walls from the forest near where the church was built. The walls were built from standing logs that they cut square with an axe. There were no sawmills in the area to make boards so most buildings were made without boards and the use of nails. This was also at a time when, each spring during high water, the Hudson's Bay Company would barge the annual supplies for the village down the river. The barges were made from lumber that came by train to the town of Pagwa from British Columbia and put together with nails. The barges would remain where they were unloaded, because they could not travel against the river's current, since they were not equipped with engines.
The Hudson's Bay Company gave the community Elders permission to use the barges to build their church. The barges were taken apart and the lumber and nails were used to make the roof and floor; it took years to complete the building of the new church. The bishop sold the old church, no longer needed, to hunters.
When I was a little girl, Reverend Neville Clark and his family lived in three small rooms that were attached to the back of church. When Reverend Clark went preaching along the river, Elders David Solomon, Elizabeth Sutherland, Nayes Rubin and John Wesley-Abbin did the preaching. There were services three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening, three times a week.
Reverend Clark had a very nice personality and people were glad that he wanted to learn to speak our Cree language. He sent away for books on how to write the Cree language and then taught writing to both children and adults. Cree people, as all Aboriginal people in what is now Canada, did not have a written language before the arrival of Europeans. The written Cree language was created by an early Christian cleric using Syllabic as opposed to our English/Roman alphabet: For example ([??]-a) ([??]-e) ([??]-i).
Getting the people to church on clock-time was a challenge for Reverend Clark. Like most people in the village our family did not own a clock, or know clock-time. The sun was our clock and nature our calendar. In the beginning, people watched for neighbours to straggle off to the church and would in turn follow them. This quite simply meant that few if anyone got to church on Reverend Clark's "clock-time". Reverend Clark decided that 'Indian-time' was a far too casual way to schedule God's work so he introduced us to the church bell to signal people when it was time to come to church services. On Sunday people were expected to go to church three times. Reverend Clark instructed the congregation that his first bell ringing was a signal to put on coats and the second was to begin walking to church. The people thought this was funny and made jokes about Reverend Clark's "bell-time" but they went along to please Reverend.
Most of my childhood memories about church are Christmas, Easter, mama going to live in heaven, and for me "not to make sins". As children, we believed that if it were not for Reverend Clark and his church, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny would never have known where to find us. I remember all the kids going to the church to see the beautiful Christmas tree decorated with pretty ornaments. Santa Claus coming during the night when we were asleep leaving each child candy and a toy that his elves had put into little burlap bags. We stayed up late for midnight church service, the big feast and eating Christmas pudding, the adults' step dancing and me waking up in my own bed not remembering going home. Most of all, I remember papa telling me about the secret of the Wawahte [the northern lights-Aurora Borealis]. I was very young at the time and have no actual memory of that Christmas Eve but I remember well his telling of it. Holding my hand, as our family walked home from Christmas night church service, we stopped. Papa said, "Look up Esther, see the dancing lights in the sky. They are people who have died and are now on their after-life spirit journey. Some of the dancing-lights are our ancestors and they have come tonight to see and dance for you. They are telling you, Esther, that they love you, they wish you Merry Christmas and ask that you always remember to pray that their after-life journey will be to nice places." In troubled times, I have found great comfort in looking to the Wawahte. Thank you, Papa, for only you know my grief when Mama went on her journey into the spirit world. The spirit angels then and many times since have lifted me to my feet when my wings had trouble remembering how to fly. Meeg-wetch—(Thank You __________________).
The people in our village lived non-interference, and an unregimented lifestyle. Though there was great respect given to Elders, there was no identifiable authority figure in the village, but this is not to say that Reverend Clark did not try to become that person. At this time the village did not have a chief, band council or a government-appointed Indian Agent telling people what and when to do things. The community functioned on by a mutual understanding of respect and co-operation, as had been the way for generations.
Everyone in the community watched over the children and children were seldom disciplined and would never be scolded or beaten. A stern look or word from a parent or community elder would bring silence to the usually wound up chatter of children. Everyone respected people's differences, not to say that folks did not talk and laugh about one another, in particular about Reverend Clark, because they all did. It was the way it was! Remember, these folks did not have a radio or television for their evening entertainment. People either made their own entertainment or there wasn't any. Alcohol was extremely rare in the village. If someone did get drunk and behave like a fool one day, people thought no less of the person the following day when their behavior was back to normal.
Thousands of years of ancestral tradition had taught the Indigenous people inhabiting the regions of the north how to create their own personal living space in their mind. By their nature, most people were able to accept and tolerate others for whom and what they might be. So many people living together, in what we now consider very small houses, might be considered stressful, but then it was seldom seen to be. I remember my parents always seeming to be busy. When Mama and Kukum were not looking after kids, cooking and cleaning, they would hand-stitch, with linen thread, moccasins, mittens, hats, vests and coats. These garments were made from rabbit skins and the amber-coloured smoked tanned moose and caribou hides prepared during the summer when we lived by the river. Remembered most are the beautiful glass beads and decorative yarn culturally inspired adornments they put on our mittens and vests. Children's dresses, shirts, and undergarments they made from old dresses, sugar and flour bags and sometimes they would buy sewing material from the Hudson Bay Trading Post.
I do not know if the Hudson Bay Trading Post was responsible for the village, or was it my people who first established the village, causing the trading post to be established there. In any event, this was where people bought the things they needed and sold the skins of the animals they trapped. It was mostly the pelts of the beaver and the muskrat that the Hudson Bay Company was founded upon. Each spring, after the ice was gone from the lakes and rivers, people came by canoe from far away to sell their furs to the Hudson Bay Trading Post. As did everybody else in the village, we sold our furs to Hudson Bay. Like the others, we never received much money once the books were squared for the things we bought on credit throughout the year, when we did not have money, which was most of the time. Then the cycle would be repeated all over again. The Hudson Bay Company had a saying at the time, "Never give an Indian too much credit in case it would be cheaper for him to move than to pay his bill".
This was a very unkind way for them to think about us, as my Papa and Moochum were very proud and honorable people, though they resented owing their soul to the Hudson Bay Company. It would have never occurred to them not to honour their commitments. If not having much money was to assume that we were poor, we were poor. But I contend that we were anything else but poor. I had a loving family that cared for and looked after us. We knew how to live respectfully on and from the land and waters, and we did. We did not hunt and fish for recreation or for fun, hunting and fishing was our way of life and our means of survival. Moose, caribou and rabbit were winter fare and their hides provided warm winter garments. Nothing was wasted.
When mama was expecting my brother Richard, papa made a frame for his tickanogon (cradle) ____________________ from wood that he took from a sacred place in the forest. My mother and grandmother attached beautiful beaded smoke-tanned moose calf leather to the cradle frame. Babies were placed in a tickanogon and carried on the mother's back. The tickanogon is a great way to carry a baby in the bush as it can be hung in a tree or leaned beside a rock when picking blueberries or washing cloths in the river. We tied dangly things to the protective hoop that would swing and jiggle as mama walked to entertain the baby. Papa and Moochum also made the girls little cradles for us to carry our dolls in, and we learned how to be mothers by growing up playing with dolls and watching Kukum and Mama love and care for us.
Excerpted from Wawahte by Robert P. Wells Copyright © 2012 by Robert P. Wells. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Prologue—The Author—Robert P. Wells....................xv
Part One: Esther's Story....................1
Fur Trapping and summers by the River....................17
Wawahte—Peace in the Heavens....................52
Part Two: They Call Me Bunnie....................58
Part Three: Stanley Stephens A Man of Principal....................72
"As Long as the River Flows, Grass Grows and Sun Shines"....................72
Aboriginal "Indian" War Veterans....................81
Anti-Sealing Movement kills our way of Life....................87
Part Four: Engaging the past ... Chief Robert Joseph....................107
Part Five: Introduction To Historical Background....................112
Knives, Iron Cooking Pots, Guns, Traps, Beads and Blankets....................117
Esther asks, "Bob, Why did they do this to me?"....................124
Appendix I—List of the Indian Residential Schools....................137
Appendix II—Indian Residential School Apologies....................146
2008—The Government of Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper:....................146
1993—Anglican Church of Canada....................151
2009—The Roman· Catholic Church....................154
1994—Presbyterian Church of Canada....................156
1998—The United Church· of Canada....................157
Appendix III—Summary Points:....................159
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples....................159
The Ten Native American Commandments....................167
Aboriginal Curriculum And Group Discussion Points....................169