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Reflecting on the past:
Pop up residential schools
I must apologize for being Indian
The Band Administrator
The more things change...
Interprovincial Pipe Line Inc.
Cree School Board
Pop up Residential Schools
It's estimated that 100,000 to150,000 Aboriginal children attended residential schools.
The first residential school for Aboriginal children was set up in the 1840s in Alderville, Ont. By 1920, it became mandatory for all Indian children to attend school. the number of schools in operation peaked at 88.
Their education [that of Indian children] must consist not merely of the training of the mind, but of a weaning from the habits and feelings of their ancestors and the acquirement of the language, arts and customs of civilized life.*
**From Residential School Update, AFN March 1998.
A little boy I was, just lost my home
So the mission took me in, so I wouldn't roam
A hair cut, a bath, new shoes on my feet
Plaid shirt & coveralls, that was my beat
Up in the morning, fall down on my knees
Pray to the Lord the right way I see's
Off to school after porridge, lard and bread
Trying to pound math and Catechism in my head
Never too brilliant was I in school
But serving the Altar, I was no fool
Our Father which art in Heaven, Amen
I could 'cite that backwards - in Latin
Yes, a little boy, lost with no mom or dad
In the third year there, I became a "Wetbed"
They swatted my bum with a big black strap
The backside of me should be a horizontal crack
Yes, I would jump and jig and howl in pain
Then fly in a tub, hoping the Nun had right aim
Sometimes the tub's faucets would bang on my head
But that was the downfall of being a "Wetbed"
Now it's 5:30 a.m. and we're off to pray
Three times on Sunday, that was the way
The Nun like my mother, the Priest like my dad
With guardians like that, who could go bad
The mission was army, we walked two and two
Discipline was the order, what else could they do
Some missions were good, some were bad
Those who suffered, I feel real sad
I have words for those who dwell in self pity
That's not the answer, just say "tough titty"
The $350 million we got to cure decades of scars
The Vultures will get most of it to buy new cars
They'll travel all over, eat up the fund in time
The victims of missions will not see a dime
For those of us left, not yet in our coffin
These wise words, you will hear often
Lift your chin high and proudly walk on
Keep a smile on your face,
like the sun always shone.
- The Mad Trapper, (Fred Stevenson)
Many Aboriginal people have found great comfort from the religious teaching they acquired in the residential school system, as the thousands of Aboriginal people who attend the annual Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage in Alberta can attest. Not all residential schools were badly run. Some administrators encouraged staff to learn Native languages, allowed visits from parents and fought for more money for food and better shelter for the children.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against the federal government with settlements ranging from $11,000 to $400,000. The most prominant criminal action was taken against former Port Alberni Residential School supervisor, Arthur Henry Plint. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to 16 counts of indecent assault.
Despite whatever good intentions the churches initially had, the residential school system as a whole had a tragic effect on Aboriginal people. Loss of language, traditional spirituality and culture was a result. In worse cases, children were physically, mentally or sexually abused. Generation after generation of children were denied parental love and attention during the most formative years of their lives.
Canada was not the only country that had residential schools. In Australia, thousands of Aboriginal children were also taken from their families and educated under similar circumstances. The Australian government refuses to apologize for its assimilation policies and has offered only $52 million as its "healing fund."
First and foremost, I must warn you, my apology will be curt. It will be as straight as an arrow. I must apologize for being an Indian.
I feel regret for the years of burden my kind has been to the Canadian public at large. As well, my apology is extended on behalf of my mother. She feels sorry for the years during which she tried to keep her language while attending a government-controlled residential school in northern Manitoba.
Words cannot describe the heart-felt regret that she feels; she is also sorry for being an Indian.
My mother was very fortunate. While attending residential school, she learned how to be dysfunctional... to a tee. On return to her reserve, she couldn't function. She hated being an Indian. She was surrounded by the people that she was taught to hate. She was surrounded by Indian men. While attending "Residential School 101" (her favorite class), my mother was taught the darndest thing . . . to hate them. Thank God for the fact that my mother was color blind. She might have realized that she was a brown-eyed girl.
Wow . . . the wonders of residential school. I must thank the residential school system, you programmed my mother well. She came home, well, in a metaphysical way. Her heart was gone. Luckily she had her body. Did you know that residential schools took one of the most important aspects of anyone's life? It took my mother's sense of family and warped it. The tie that binds, you could say.
If it wasn't for the residential school system, my mother might have had a relationship with her parents . . . you know that love thing. Phew, she didn't need that, the touch of a mother, the words of a father, the love of Mushom and Kokum. Poppycock, I say. It's all bullocks.
I am so grateful for those assimilation programs, and let's not forget the religion. If it wasn't for Christianity, my mother might have passed on traditions that were, well, as old as God.
It's a fact. The language retains culture. It holds ancient lessons and sayings that were, fortunately, lost, but who needs Indian talk anyways? English will have to do. The "subtlety" of English has replaced the knowledge of many generations. Many heart-felt strikes of a ruler made sure that my mother lost the need to remember her language. For the love of God, my mother gave up everything that made her, that made her family and, ultimately, that made me.
So I say again, I must apologize for being an Indian.
I should be grateful that the state set up those wondrous situations. Through my mother, I can feel the beatings she endured. One hit for being an Indian. Another for that brown skin. Here's two for that dirty "unwhite" language. And, last but not least, one big stick for remembering that smelly Indian family of yours. I am very sorry for not loving you, my mother, for not respecting you . . . too bad you had such great teachings.
My mother, I can promise you this: Your grandchildren will be loved. Your grandchildren will never be sent away. Your grandchildren will be proud of their Anishnawbe heritage. Your grandchildren will not be institutionalized. And finally, mother, I forgive you.
- Jarrod Miller
Books on residential schools
No End of Grief: Indian Residential Schools in Canada
Dr. Agnes Grant
Pemmican Publications Inc.
The book documents with disarming intensity the incredible betrayal of the Aboriginal people in this country, who had trusted the Canadian government to deliver the quality education promised in treaties.
The head-on collision between the civilizing forces of Christianity and the natural, holistic and established ways of ancient and complex cultures was to have devastating and long-term effects which are still felt today.
The suffering caused by the separation from parents, loss of language and repression of traditional ways and beliefs left several generations of Aboriginal children lost in a land of humiliation, bewilderment and alienation.
One of the most poignant and symbolic memories described by some of the survivors was the devastating loss of their long hair and braids, an important part of the ritual imposed by the nuns and priests to strip "the pagan and savage" identities from their little charges. Cutting off hair, explains Grant, is a key part of cross-cultural domination around the world.
Grant provides an honest and credible account of an era that many would probably like to forget or see swept under the carpet. But healing, she said, must begin with acknowledgment, not denial.
Generations of Aboriginal people still live with painful memories of residential schools. They are trying to deal with these memories and forgive the perpetrators, but are unable to forget.
"They ask only," writes Grant, "that justice be done in our time as they seek resources to restore the balance that was forcibly shattered by ruthless domination, human incompetence, Christian over-zealousness and government indifference."
Stolen From Our Embrace
By Suzanne Fournier and Ernie Crey
Douglas & McIntyre
Stolen From Our Embrace is a joint effort by journalist Suzanne Fournier and Native activist and Sto:lo Fisheries manager Ernie Crey.
Through first-person accounts, they examine how First Nations children were forced into residential schools, foster homes and non-Native adoptions in foreign countries.
Fournier examines the causes of some of the most prevalent problems facing today's First Nations children and their communities, tracing drug, alcohol and sexual abuse back to the government imposed systems that led to the loss of culture, family and self.
"As a child, I was forcibly removed from Sto:lo culture by social welfare authorities," wrote Ernie Crey. "Our family life was shattered after seven of my eight siblings and I were split apart into separate foster homes. We were never again to be reunited as a family," writes Crey.
Crey tells of being bounced around to various non-Native foster homes, many of which were operated by pedophiles and overzealous disciplinarians.
"I had seen my father's spirit dimmed by the residential school where his culture was choked out of him, so that all his life he held his Halq'emeylem language and spiritual knowledge in check, depriving us, his children, of our most precious birthright," he said.
Stolen From Our Embrace is a eye-opening book for non-Native people who wish to learn more about their government's attempts at cultural genocide, or for Native people who wish to compare their own stories with the stories of others.
A History of Native Residential Schools
By James R. Miller
University of Toronto Press
Ojibwa Chief Shingwauk of the Garden River community near Sault Ste. Marie sought academic learning and instruction in skills that young people could use to maintain themselves and future generations. Shingwauk traveled to see the King's representative and extended an invitation that would prove to have a profound and unseen effect on Native people for generations to follow.
Native people quickly became disillusioned with the teaching practices of the European world. Very quickly, Aboriginal leaders found that residential schools were not what they had sought. Their attempts to stop the oppression of their culture would have little effect for more than a century.
Shingwauk's Vision provides a historical overview of the residential schools to which status Indian children were sent. Residential schools, which were authorized by the federal government and operated by several Christian missionary bodies, were designed to Christianize, assimilate and train Native children for economic self sufficiency. Their failure to provide successful academic and vocational training, in addition to their mistreatment of children, provoked opposition that contributed to their ultimate demise in the 1960s.
Shingwauk's Vision provides the first comprehensive historical treatment of this exercise in attempted social engineering.
James R. Miller's findings are based on more than a decade's research of government, denominational and Native sources. Of particular importance to the book are the interviews and personal testimonies of survivors.
The Band administrator: A one person bureaucracy
By Paul Barnsley
Windspeaker Staff Writer
Politicians get a lot of attention in the press. But the task of making a government function after the politicians have made the decisions is left to the bureaucracy.
#In Ottawa, as in all seats of federal power, tens of thousands of people conduct the business of government, each performing a carefully defined duty with a carefully defined reporting routine. Each is highly-trained to perform the assigned function. Likewise, provincial and municipal governments are big employers.
But in First Nations, where populations range from a couple of hundred people to several thousand, it's different.
There are no budgets, or enabling clauses that would allow the creation of budgets, provided in the federal legislation - the Indian Act - which would pay for an army of administrators and functionaries who could work in support of a First Nation government. You won't see a legal department or a planning department or a public relations department on a reserve, because there is no established annual budget for such fundamentally important parts of a legitimate government's job.
Without money to hire trained people to fulfill such difficult but important functions, the complicated task of over-seeing the various programs and departments falls on one person - the band administrator.
The band administrator has to be fully fluent in all provincial and federal legislation which affects funding sources for First Nations. He or she has to keep the band council from getting itself into legal or financial hot water. His or her job is to know the pitfalls of several very complicated and varied bureaucratic systems and be able to instantly spot a serious flaw in a council's decision. Whether it be federal housing or provincial social services legislation and policy, or any other of an astonishing number of areas of responsibility, the band administrator must be able to advise the elected council so they can make the right decisions. And, of course, the administrator is the natural scape-goat if things go wrong.
Relying on one person to juggle so much important information and to be responsible for so much can create its own set of problems for a chief and band council. Because the administrator is usually more educated than his or her political masters, (they hire an administrator for his or her expertise because they need it) it's not uncommon for the chief to become little more than a figurehead. The bureaucrat, the person with the knowledge, gets the power that was given by the voters to the politician. Although more and more Aboriginal people are getting into the field, it's frequently non-Aboriginal people who end up as band administrators.
Bill Wilson, a veteran British Columbia Aboriginal politician and traditional chief, believes it's not good for non-Aboriginal people to be in such powerful positions in First Nations governments, because European and Aboriginal cultures are so foreign to each other. But Wilson also sees it as inevitable because the band council system is a creation of the Indian Act which is a non-Aboriginal creation.
"Indian Affairs sets it up for failure," Wilson said. "There's no support system provided and no money to create your own."
Wilson believes that the answer is to get back to traditional methods of governance. In the traditional systems, he said, positions of political leadership were seen as an awesome responsibility. Leaders, although their positions were (and are) hereditary, had to spend the first 30 years or more of their lives proving to their community that they were fit to lead. That system is far superior to a democratic vote, Wilson said, because the process of choosing a leader does not degenerate into a popularity contest.
In the political system imposed under the Indian Act, (many First Nations people believe) positions of political leadership are seen as positions of power and personal prestige, not necessarily as responsibilities. They see their chiefs and councillors wielding authority without much attempt at - or taste for - accountability. Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart recently told reporters she spent a good part of the month of October 1997 telling chiefs that accountability and transparency is now a must. She also revealed that many chiefs vehemently protested her department's new accountability procedures. That suggests accountability and transparency have been sadly lacking in First Nation governments up to now, that in many cases the people who protested against the common practices of their band councils had legitimate grievances.
In early April of this year, the Assembly of First Nations seems to have admitted as much by reaching out to the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada for assistance in developing First Nation-specific accounting practices.
Reform Party Indian Affairs critic, Mike Scott, says he has 50 files, each involving a First Nation whose members have complaints about their council's accountability, files that he is actively following. He blames the system and the federal government for a lot of the problems.
Westbank Indian Band member Ray Derrickson said that the lack of a funded official Opposition in First Nations leads to abuses. He closely follows developments in his own British Columbia interior community, and he bemoans the lack of financial resources available to make his job easier.
"There's no opposition that's paid for," he said. "How do I go to work on this and put food on the table for my family when there's no money? That lack of funding within the system effectively controls any opposition."
Many people with an intimate knowledge of band politics and operations say the lack of accountability comes as much from fuzzy lines of communication and organization - things that aren't spelled out in any detail in the Indian Act - as it does from any overt act of corruption. Without well defined rules of behavior and universally understood and accepted methods of communication, mistakes are bound to happen.
Those mistakes can be costly and embarrassing. The stereotype of the Aboriginal person who is too simple, unsophisticated and lacking in the complex skills needed to run a government is fed by the inadequate system, some band councillors say. But when those mistakes in communication occur, the stereotype is also ina the minds of the councillors involved and the fear of embarrassment often causes cover-ups. Aboriginal people involved might even buy into the stereotype and believe they aren't as capable as white bureaucrats, Bill Wilson said.
Former Six Nations of the Grand River band councillor Dave Johns was elected to a two year term in late 1993, despite the fact he is a Mohawk nat- ionalist with no sympathy for the band council system.
He immediately became a thorn in the side of elected Chief Steve Williams and his council. Johns insisted on a level of openness and accountability that was unprecedented in his community.
His close-up look at the system has left him with the impression that the shallowness and unsophisticated nature of the governments created by the Indian Act was no accident.
"I don't think the plan was for us to be around in the 21st century or even the middle of this century," he said. "We were all supposed to be assimilated by then. I've read Indian Affairs documents that talked about the Indian problem in the body politic and what could be done to eliminate it. That Indian Act was supposed to be a temporary thing that would only be around long enough for them to get rid of us."
In any band council or tribal council of any size, Saskatchewan's Meadow Lake Tribal Council or the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario have total annual budgets that are close to $50 million, the job of the band administrator is immense. In a typical band administration there are between 10 and 20 departments.
Unlike a municipal government, which is similar in size and in scope of responsibility, the program dollars are budgeted to cover the program only. Also unlike a municipal government, a band council can't raise its own revenue through taxation. That means control of the cash flow is exercised by the funding sources.
That has meant that the administrators who actually do the work may be able to see where it would be wise to deviate from a program, but they don't have the authority to do so. That can be extremely stressful; if you have to tell people that you can't help them when your job is to help them, you can be sure that each workday will be long and unpleasant. Burn-out and other long-term disabilities are not uncommon among band council employees, something that drives up the cost of administering the programs and further erodes the amount of money that actually gets used to help the people the program was intended to help.
Once the cash arrives at the First Nation, it makes its way to the department which is responsible for seeing that it is used as the funder intended (In theory, anyway. Councils frequently use money destined for one purpose for another purpose either out of necessity or as a gesture of independence.) Each department head looks after his or her department and then reports to the band administrator, the one person who must monitor the performance of the department heads and make sure they are keeping their staff members in line and providing an acceptable level of productivity in exchange for their wages.
One would think the administrator would always be a powerful person able to command the respect and obedience of the senior managers - he or she is their boss, after all. But the reality is the politicians are the bosses and their most important consideration is to get re-elected. They hate saying "no" to anyone because that costs votes. Council jobs and contracts are used as political capital on reserves. Politicians create support by handing out jobs and other favors to those who supported them in the last election. Just as in one common scenario is that the administrator assumes too much power because he or she has control of all the important information, in another scenario, it's not unusual for a capable administrator to be handcuffed by the politicians.
Indian Affairs Minister Stewart said she is willing to work in partnership with First Nations, but the federal government is only willing to deal with and recognize band councils. Across Canada, the push for a return to traditional government forms may create problems for the federal government even as it attempts to modify the existing band council system. Recognition of the inherent right to self government and a more respectful approach to First Nations by the federal government may be coming too little, too late to save the Indian Act system.
Can a nation govern itself without taxation? How?
Can Canada exist with sovereign First Nations located within its borders?
Is the Department of Indian Affairs ultimately to blame for corruption on reserves?
What ideas can you come up with to improve First Nations governments?
The more things change. . .
According to Canada's most recent statistics, the mean income of Aboriginal people aged 15 and above was just $14,700, or 61 per cent of the non-Aboriginal average.
Aboriginal unemployment was 24.6 per cent, as compared to a Canadian average of about 10 per cent. The unemployment gap continues to broaden over time.
Aboriginal people 15 years of age and over continue to have much lower levels of schooling than the non-Aboriginal populations, regardless of age group. More than one-half (54 per cent) of the Aboriginal population 15 and over had not received a high school diploma, compared with 35 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population.
Beginning in late November 1997, and continuing into early February, 63 Quesnel area children were taken from their families and placed in the care of social services. As many as 23 of those children were Aboriginal.
An Aboriginal woman and her eight year old son residing at the Tsuu T'ina First Nation near Calgary were shot dead by RCMP who were assisting a social worker who was trying to take the woman's children. The woman armed herself with a rifle, fired at authorities, and one constable fired back. The bullet went through the woman, killing the son who was standing behind her. People close to the slain woman said a family member should have been called in to intercede.
It will be late summer before the Supreme Court of Canada decides if goods purchased off reserve but intended for consumption on reserve are subject to provincial sales tax.
The federal government, in a move that law professors all over the country say is a violation of its fiduciary obligation to protect Aboriginal rights, argued that such purchases should be subject to taxation, despite the provisions of Section 87 of the Indian Act. Should the court decide the purchases are taxable, some Aboriginal leaders are contemplating asking the court to rehear the case because the issue of the federal government's fiduciary obligation was not raised during the appeal.
Many say political considerations lead the government to ignore its legal obligation.
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