Royce Shook

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Residential School issue in Canada

I received an email from my friend George about the Residential School issues that we as Canadians have not yet faced or dealt with in any substantial manner. There are those who don't want to face the reality of what we as a nation did and they are spreading misinformation via social media.  The letter he sent to me was supported by a group called ACT for Canada. George got two responses from his mail out to his friends my response is first, and another friend response is second, followed by the actual letter so you can judge how appropriate or inappropriate we were with our responses. I believe this is an example of how good people can be tricked into sending out bad information and information that is designed to bring out prejudice and hate.

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Hi George, I do enjoy your posts and appreciate them, they cause me to laugh and to think. This one caused me to think, so I did some research on ACT! for Canada and found this:

 “ACT! for Canada,” a group that exists to provide a cover to those who promote even more active hate in the streets. 

The information was about an event that was cancelled in Ottawa in 2017. Here is the link https://www.socialist.ca/node/3489. From what I could find out, is this group puts just enough truth in their information to be plausible to hide their agenda. A few examples of questionable speech within the email that I see.

Years ago, most of the dead were placed in the trees so the birds and other animals could take them back to nature. This statement plays to the myth that the Indigenous people were not as enlightened as “White society”, as they did not bury their dead and the next statement makes the church out to be the savour of these people by getting them to bury their dead.

It was the churches that convinced them that that part of their culture should be changed so that to stop the spread of disease, so they started to bury the dead. 

The following statement buys into the myth that the way of life of the Indigenous was not sustainable and that if these people wanted success, they had to change their culture. For those that do not know, the two primary objectives of the residential school's system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their home, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate into the dominant culture. The missionaries knew that the ancient peoples of our land could not continue to exist in a nomadic and isolated society, so they tried to educate them and of course, change their culture to be more compatible with the conditions of the times. Were they right? Maybe, I don't know, but at least they were willing to try and help.

The next statement basically says that the Indigenous people must become Canadian, whatever that means, I suspect it means "white, with Anglo Saxon values" Like I tell my children, I cannot become indigenous like them, but they can become Canadians like me, and they are

One more, and then I quit, the following statement perpetuates the myth that the Indigenous people are lazy, and only want the money.

It seems to me that many of the new generations just want to be victims and feel the money would solve their pain.

As I said just enough truth to be plausible, so they can spread their dubious message. Your thoughts?

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The second response is from an old university friend of (George). He was the Anglican Bishop of the Arctic for many years & is now retired in Nanaimo. I think you will find it interesting. Cheers, George

Thanks, George

This is quite a different perspective from much is being written these days and flies in the face of Reports such as those of the Royal Commission Report, the Report on Missing and Murdered Women, and the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, all of which were carefully researched and include many testimonials of First Nations/Aboriginals who were students in the Residential Schools.

My comments:

I don’t know who Jim Bissell is, but assume that, although he states that he grew up surrounded by indigenous peoples, that he was not one of them. The treatment he received by those operating the schools (nuns, clergy, etc.) suggests, in light of the Reports referred to above that he was given preferential treatment, different from those of aboriginal students.

It is true there were good people among the teachers and other employees of the schools, but there were also many who were not. There was a poor screening of staff and a high proportion had no idea of how to teach, discipline for those in their care, and little respect for those of indigenous background, belief or culture, including language. The writer does acknowledge that those who were abusive were simply reassigned elsewhere, and I know of some who damaged many children in a number of different schools.

I also agree that it was difficult to get staff to work in isolated northern communities. Along with everything else, the pay was very low.

If you are interested in reading further, I suggest two books from Nova Scotia (1) Legacies of the Schubenacadie Residential School by Chris Benjamin (2014) and (2) Out of the Depths – Legacies of the Schubenacadie Residential School by Isabelle Knockwood (2015) – both ebooks.

With best wishes,

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Testimonial letter: residential schools the other side of the story.

Here is a letter by a person named Jim Bissell, which he wrote in reply to a Sun columnist related to the “Residential schools” that is leading to church terrorism (by non-native people). Lorne: I have been a follower of your writings for many years and although I agree most of the time with your opinion, even when I don't I still respect the way you present it. Suffice to say I am a fan. The time has come for 70-year-old people like me to speak the little background.

I grew up surrounded by 4 reserves and a large community of indigenous peoples. (95%). It was a community of wonderful, kind, very generous, very humorous people that remained that way even when very poor. Also, I have a wonderful successful indigenous daughter with grandkids and great granddaughters. I am not a Catholic and I do not belong to any church. I belong to me and my family, but I like Christian values.

It should be noted that the missionaries though were very essential to our success in the northern communities at that time. I had my first TB test administered by a missionary trying to stop a TB outbreak. (I hated her at the time for the scratches on my back. LOL). I got my first stitches from a wonderful nun. I got my first tooth pulled by a missionary. My first X-ray by the nuns. My first teacher was an angel called Sister Rita. I will never forget her and her deep love of all the children she met and taught over the years. My best teacher ever and she was not qualified by Government standards. So although I have never been a Catholic, their church has been very good for me and although I now do know of one very bad priest, most of the people were wonderful. I can still see brother Fillion who later became a priest working all by himself outside the school window making a wonderful merry-go-round for the schoolyard.

There also were two residential schools in the community. When I arrived in the community, there were no phones, very poor roads, mostly winter access, and not a lot of services other than the churches. The mission school was there long before my time. It has been told to me by elders that many small children, some way younger than school age, were dropped off at the missions sick, hoping the nuns could heal them. Sad to say many died from measles, diphtheria, TB, smallpox, flu and many other conditions of the poor. Just the reality of the north. Years ago, most of the dead were placed in the trees so the birds and other animals could take them back to nature.

It was the churches that convinced them that that part of their culture should be changed so that to stop the spread of disease, so they started to bury the dead. If the dead were Christians, their grave was marked by a painted rock of a small wooden cross that rotted away in 25 years or so. No one could afford a headstone and if they could there was no one that made them at the time. Times were hard and in fact desperate in the ’30s Many people owed their lives to the missionaries, and we tend to forget that.

They were not always right, no of course not, but they actually wanted to educate, feed and make the lives of all people better regardless of where they came from. The churches do not need to apologize for trying to educate the poor is the only system that would work for nomadic peoples, they need to say sorry though for protecting and moving about the few bad apples. (priests).

The Government saying, they are sorry is meaningless. They didn't have a clue of the impact of their decisions at the time and they don't have now. Most of the older generation that did suffer are long dead and gone or have forgiven. It seems to me that many of the new generations just want to be victims and feel the money would solve their pain. We need to understand that very few people wanted to live in the north under the isolated conditions at the time just to help out with a few indigenous peoples. After the federal government took over the school system, most of my junior high school teachers were immigrants from the British Commonwealth (India, England Ireland and other countries) as no Alberta teachers wanted to live up there when they could live in or near a city with a doctor, bank, good grocery store, ambulance and my goodness even Policeman.

The quality of my education suffered because all of a sudden, the nuns were not qualified to teach us in 1967 thus, I had to try and take lessons from teachers with a very heavy accent and hard to understand and want to move close to the cities as soon as they could. Thank goodness the missionaries were there for the past 300 years. Were they all good? No, but many were wonderful and now that seems to be forgotten.

How many of today's critics have relatives that went up to those communities in those times to try and help? Not many, I bet. The media today is only telling half the story, so I feel we as witnesses have to speak up and speak to the truth. If you want, I will take you to a sacred ground where hundreds of people were left in the ramps and trees or laid on the ground when they died. No one but historical memory marked their graves.

Please believe me when I say that the missionaries were not a bunch of evil persons out to kill little children as it sounds in today's media. That is not what I witnessed. The missionaries knew that the ancient peoples of our land could not continue to exist in a nomadic and isolated society, so they tried to educate them and of course, change their culture to be more compatible with the conditions of the times. Were they right? Maybe, I don't know, but at least they were willing to try and help.

Like I tell my children, I cannot become indigenous like them, but they can become Canadians like me, and they are. There are more success stories out there than even you realize. The missionaries did not just throw bodies into the ground. Most were marked by a small wooden cross made by the brothers of the mission or parents of the child. Those crosses are long gone. Sad but true. I can also take you to the unmarked graves of many people that were not indigenous as well if you want. That was the way of the north.

Sorry to ramble on for so long but many things need to be said and if the elders of our society lack the moral courage to say them, we are doomed anyway. Please encourage people to stand up and be heard for the good not just the bad. Thanks, and keep writing.

Jim Bissell

 

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