Angie Crerar, a Metis Elder who experienced Residential School.  She discusses her experiences here, so massive TW.

Many Metis have been left out of the Common Experience Payment, but are telling their stories to the TRC anyway. 

The shorter version of Ruby’s Story is really taking off at HuffPo!  Anyway, so far people have overwhelming responded to her story by supporting her desire to talk about Residential Schools to her fellow grade 2 students.  However, these two comments were recently made and I wanted to see what people thought.  Read Ruby’s interview, and these comments.

Out of my kids, one is in grade 2, I have another in grade 6. Both are made aware of our “nish” culture, and historical stuff like residential school, land use rights, etc (as much as a child this age can be made aware). Told my son in grade 2 about residential schools, he just doesnt “get it”, his mind & life experiences is too young to understand this part of our history, my grade 6 son “gets it” and would be able to make a capable, informed presentation about it. If I were a grade 2 teacher, I would also say “no” this age group (6-7) & grade (2) is not ready for this topic.
Children this age do not have a criticle mind to develop this type of information. Even if my son’s grade 2 teacher were to teach the class about this, i would complain to the principal…inappropriate stuff for this age. Grade 5 and up is the good age group for this classroom discussion.

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I”m wondering what province the child is from. Where did this take place? If it’s in Alberta (as I see that the author is) then there is no reason that this would be viewed as “unacceptable” but perhaps not grade-level appropriate. Residential schools is a topic discussed within the Alberta Social Studies curriculum at a variety of levels. I can see, however, that a topic this complex might not be something that grade 2 children would be able to understand and synthesize. If you think that this issue is something that seven year-olds can handle (the issues and such) then perhaps we should be talking about Japanese and German internment and the Holocaust and genocide in grade 2 as well.

So is Grade 2 too early to learn about Residential Schools?

Today, I’d like to present to you something a little different; an interview of sorts.

A while ago, a comment on one of my blog posts really caught my attention.  In it, a mother was describing an experience her young daughter had at school, and that brief description had such a powerful impact on me that I shared it with my own children.  They told me that people need to hear this story, and I agree.

We feel it is very important to get these kinds of stories out so that:

  1. those who are unaware that these kinds of things still go on, learn that they do, and perhaps understand how these events impact us and;
  2. those that have experienced similar things find out that they are not alone.

I contacted the family and asked if they would be willing to participate in an interview, to which they very graciously agreed.

To respect the family’s desire for anonymity, all names have been changed.  Here is Ruby’s story, in the words of her parents, and then from Ruby herself.

Ruby and Indian Residential Schools

(Today’s average Grade 2 classroom.)

Ruby was seven years old and in Grade 2. She was assigned to prepare a class presentation on the topic of her choice. The only requirement from the teacher was that the student know a lot about it. Students needed to prepare a poster at home and some research was encouraged. The students were to inform their teacher of their topic before they started their poster.

Ruby’s presentation date was scheduled by the teacher. She decided right away that she wanted to share something about her First Nations culture and background because she felt that the level of understanding and knowledge about this issue was lacking in her class. After much thinking, she finally decided that she wanted to tell the story of why she doesn’t speak her First Nations language that she loves so much.

(Children in the Chisasibi (Fort George, QC) Indian Residential School, 1939.)

Ruby decided that she wanted to share information about the effects Indian Residential School has had on her family and community in terms of language loss. Her eyes were moist with emotion but her voice was sure and certain. This was a very important topic that meant a lot to her.  She wanted everyone to know about how wrong Indian Residential Schools were.

A few weeks before the scheduled presentation date, Ruby and her dad, Chris, spoke to the teacher after school. Ruby stated that she wanted to do her presentation on Indian Residential Schools and how the legacy of these schools explains why she can’t speak her language. The teacher suggested she teach the class a few words in her language or about hunting or fishing.

(“I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective 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.” Dr. Duncan Campbell Scott - 1920)

Ruby’s father then asked Ruby to say one more time what she wanted to share. Ruby wanted to share the reason why she doesn’t know much of her language, because of the Indian Residential Schools. The teacher then approved the project.

However, the next day after school the teacher called Faith, Ruby’s mom, into the classroom while Ruby waited in the hallway. The teacher said she had been thinking about it all night because she didn’t know how to say “no” the day before. The teacher said it was an inappropriate topic and had many excuses:

  • we the parents were putting our daughter up to it,
  • our daughter was too young/immature to tell her family’s story,
  • the other students were to immature to hear the story,
  • the students might get bored,
  • the teacher claimed to be too unfamiliar with the topic for our daughter to teach about it in her class.

The excuses went on.

Through all her arguments, Ruby’s mother quietly asked her questions. Had the teacher read the children’s literature about Indian Residential Schools that is available in the local library?

(A story about Residential Schooling which is appropriate for all ages.)

The teacher’s answer was no, to which Faith replied, “Well, our daughter has.”

Then Faith asked, how was teaching about Indian Residential School inappropriate when it was okay to teach about war and Remembrance Day? The teacher had taken the school to the local cenotaph and talked about war with the young students and this topic was not considered inappropriate or too mature. Faith reassured the teacher that Ruby would not be talking about sexual abuse in her presentation.

“It doesn’t matter what you say,” was the teacher’s response. “This is my classroom and my answer is ‘No!’”

Faith’s explained that the teacher would have to tell Chris and Ruby that the project was no longer approved. The teacher elected to setup a meeting with the principal instead.

(Another resource for teaching children (and adults) about Residential Schools.)

Afterwards, the two of us sat with Ruby  on the couch and talked about what happened. Ruby usually loves school, but she started saying that she didn’t want to go back. That is something we had never heard her say before. Ruby was very hurt and deeply grieved.

Her school had given her the message that her story is unacceptable and unimportant.  That she, because of her culture and how Residential Schools had had an impact on shaping her life, is unacceptable and unimportant.

Ruby was also very concerned that this would happen to her siblings as well. We spent a lot of time talking and crying together on the couch.

It was a very difficult time. We decided that we couldn’t be alone in this. As a family, we went and visited with people. At church, one lady who works with Residential School Survivors as a psychology councillor encouraged Ruby, and us, to not give up. We are so grateful for our community.

The principal mediated our meeting with the teacher. The end result: the teacher very reluctantly agreed to allow Ruby to share her story. We explained to the teacher that Ruby wanted to share about the apology and say a prayer for the Survivors. The following day, the teacher apologized to Ruby, but then told her that she had better not scare anyone or give them nightmares because of her presentation.

(Why deny that this is the stuff of nightmares? Children Ruby’s age rounded up in a cattle truck to attend Kamloops Indian Residential School.)

The day of Ruby’s presentation finally came. However, the teacher did not let her start the presentation at the appointed time. Twice Ruby asked her teacher to start her presentation. The teacher said the class needed to finish up more work first.

Finally, shortly before the end of school, she was allowed to present. The students were very interested and wanted to learn more. However, the teacher cut Ruby off and made her stop half way before she had even gotten to the apology or prayer for healing. The class was then given plenty of time to ask questions.

At the end of the question period, the teacher had nothing positive to say about Ruby’s presentation. The only thing said was, “You should choose a shorter topic next time.”

Ruby is hoping to share more about Indian Residential Schools with her classmates and is learning more about other issues facing Aboriginal people, such as underfunding of First Nations schools. On Valentine’s Day, she asked her principal if he would support the initiative to send e-Valentines to the government in support of First Nations children in Canada. The principal said that he would take a look at it.

Ruby’s experience, in her own words

As a mother of children Ruby’s age, I long ago got rid of any belief I may have had that children cannot speak for themselves.  It baffles me utterly that anyone who works with children could forget this simple fact.  My daughters were also very curious to hear Ruby describe her experience and I sent her a number of questions so that her voice could be heard as well.

I am very grateful to Ruby for her courage.  It is clear that this experience impacted her deeply and by answering these questions, she has been also asked to relive that hurt.

Below are the questions, and Ruby’s answers.

How old were you when you first heard about Residential Schools?

I think I was about 6 years old.

How did this topic come up?

When I was in Grade 1, my teacher said that I was only allowed to speak English at school. I didn’t know why people didn’t want us to speak our First Nations language. I talked to my Mom and Dad about it. Then my Dad told me about Residential Schools. He also told me about his hair getting cut off at school, even though he didn’t go to a Residential School. Then my Dad showed me the movie of the apology from Prime Minister Harper. When we talked to my Grade 1 teacher about it, she said that she was sorry about it and I forgave her.

(Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat First Nation showed us once again that our children are capable of taking leadership roles. Her dream was that all First Nations children would one day have equal access to high quality education.)

What do you think Residential Schools have to do with First Nations languages?

They took away our language by taking kids from their moms and dads. At school, the sisters and brothers were split up and couldn’t even talk to each other either. The teachers at Residential School thought their ways and their language were better. And now we speak English and do not know much of our language. Our family is taking a language class together now so that we can all learn.

What did you want other students in your class to learn?

I chose the topic of Residential Schools because people need to know about the past. I wanted to tell my classmates why I couldn’t speak very much of my language. The past is our history and everybody should know. Our class learns some history like Remembrance Day and wars, so we should also talk about Residential Schools so that it won’t happen again.

How did your teacher’s actions make you feel?

I felt mixed-up between sad and hurt when my teacher didn’t want me to tell the class about Residential Schools. Then when she did let me share, she stopped me before I could tell about the Prime Minister’s apology or pray for healing for people who went to Residential School. My teacher didn’t tell me anything good about my presentation, she just said that I should choose a shorter topic next time. But I still think that this was an important topic.

(16 year old Chelsea Edwards has continued the fight for equal education for all children in Canada, and is the Spokesperson for Shannen’s Dream)

How did the other students react to what you shared with them and how did that make you feel?

One student was fooling around but the rest looked serious and listened. Some of the students looked sad when they heard about Residential Schools. Lots of kids had questions during question time, more than any other presentation. It made me feel good that they were interested and wanted to know the truth. They thought that the Residential Schools were totally not fair or right.

Why is teaching people about Residential Schools important to you? 

No one is First Nations like me in my classroom. So there are quite a few people who don’t know about my culture or about the past. I think that all kids in Canadian schools should know about Residential Schools because this happened here and justice and truth are very important. I don’t want something like this to ever happen again in our land.

(Ta’Kaiya Blaney of Sliammon First Nation sings and acts, often in her Sliammon language. She also works to raise awareness about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and its potential environmental impacts. Only 10 years old, she has been speaking to adults and children alike about these important issues.)

Do you believe that you are too young to learn about or teach about Residential Schools?

No, I am not too young because I started learning in Grade 1. I talked with my family about it. I read Shi-Shi-Etko and Shin-Chi’s Canoe in Grade 1. Then later in Grade 2, I read more books for kids about Residential Schools. I know enough to teach others about it and I am still learning more about Residential Schools.

Is there anything you would like to say to other young First Nations, Inuit or Métis youth after this experience?

Be brave. It takes courage to stand up for what’s right. You may face some troubles, but it is worth it. Because you can do it with God’s help. The Creator gives us our culture and gives us courage. When I prayed about it, I felt better because I knew that God was with me.

Don’t stand in their way

A few weeks ago, I asked, “How do you teach children about Residential Schools?”

I think Ruby’s story tells us that we should avoid standing in the way of children when they want to learn about something, and when they want to take on the role of teacher.  There are many young people in our communities who have wisdom to share and the passion to lead.  They should not be impeded by adults who feel threatened by these children and by the knowledge they wish to share.

(The children of Attawapiskat also share Shannen’s dream.)

If we want our children to be invested in their education, we need to invest in them.  It sounds trite and obvious, but it is clearly a truism that has not actually sunk in yet.

I suspect however, that children like Ruby, Shannen Koostachin, Chelsea Edwards, Ta’Kaiya Blaney and so many others, will make it impossible for us to continue ignoring uncomfortable truths.  They make it impossible for us to believe that children do not possess wisdom, spirit and bravery. Children are not merely “the future” who can only make change once they become adults.  They are making change now.

Many, many thanks to Ruby and her parents for telling this story, and many thanks as well to those in the community who supported the right of a child to not only learn about her history and culture, but also supported her right to share that learning.

bannockandbutter:

No Cree word for “savage”
This post was taken from CBC’s Trailbreakers main blog. 
CBC reporter Sheila North Wilson was invited this past year to assist in the production of We Were Children a docudrama co-produced by Eagle Vision Inc., eOne Television and the National Film Board of Canada. The film examines the experiences of two Residential School survivors. Sheila was assigned the task of translating material in the script from English to Cree. Here she describes the experience:
Savage.
One of the words I had a hard time translating from English into Cree.
…
There are words in Cree to say someone is bad, to call a child bad for example…but they are such strong and negative words that they will rarely if ever be used.  It would be unthinkable to call a child ‘bad’ in Cree.  I…would compare it to abuse to even say that really.  It’s like you are attacking who the child is, and saying that there is nothing redeemable within them, that they are pure evil.
And perhaps it means the same thing in English, but somehow the cultural paradigm does not see this as unforgivably abusive, but ‘corrective’ in some way.  There is no flippant use of ‘maci’ (bad, evil) among older speakers of the language.
I don’t think hearing those words in Cree mean they ‘have a different meaning’ than in English that upset this woman, I don’t think it’s that.  I think that because in Cree culture there is an understanding of how deeply words can harm a person, there is more understanding of how these English words harmed our elder relations as children.  Like hammers on the soul, twisting them out of shape.  Yes, it is hard to think of this.

bannockandbutter:

No Cree word for “savage”

This post was taken from CBC’s Trailbreakers main blog

CBC reporter Sheila North Wilson was invited this past year to assist in the production of We Were Children a docudrama co-produced by Eagle Vision Inc., eOne Television and the National Film Board of Canada. The film examines the experiences of two Residential School survivors. Sheila was assigned the task of translating material in the script from English to Cree. Here she describes the experience:

Savage.

One of the words I had a hard time translating from English into Cree.

There are words in Cree to say someone is bad, to call a child bad for example…but they are such strong and negative words that they will rarely if ever be used.  It would be unthinkable to call a child ‘bad’ in Cree.  I…would compare it to abuse to even say that really.  It’s like you are attacking who the child is, and saying that there is nothing redeemable within them, that they are pure evil.

And perhaps it means the same thing in English, but somehow the cultural paradigm does not see this as unforgivably abusive, but ‘corrective’ in some way.  There is no flippant use of ‘maci’ (bad, evil) among older speakers of the language.

I don’t think hearing those words in Cree mean they ‘have a different meaning’ than in English that upset this woman, I don’t think it’s that.  I think that because in Cree culture there is an understanding of how deeply words can harm a person, there is more understanding of how these English words harmed our elder relations as children.  Like hammers on the soul, twisting them out of shape.  Yes, it is hard to think of this.

bannockandbutter:

apihtawikosisan:

Guess I just had to write about it some more and get it out of my system.

Thanks apihtawikosisan for your critical eye/ear and taking the time to respond to this.  I expect more from APTN too but this is also a reminder for myself to read/listen to everything in the media with more scrutiny, even when it is a trusted media source. 

I don’t want to take away from any of the good work the TRC has done, they certainly have done a lot of it and as I posted about before, I am a fan of Paulette Regan’s work, Unsettling the Settler Within:  Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to hear Paulette speak about her work at UBC and I was glad for the opportunity, because something wasn’t sitting right for me.  In December I wrote a paper privileging Regan’s work on the importance of education for successful reconciliation.  After I researched and wrote the paragraph on Aboriginal education, I became somewhat distraught.  How can we even begin to talk about reconciliation (in terms of residential schools) with the same state that continues to underfund Aboriginal education, thereby maintaining educational apartheid in Canada?  So at UBC, I asked Regan exactly that.  Her answer was that, “We can’t. We mustn’t.” She then continued to frame her work as a sort-of “how-to” for settler peoples in Canada to learn this country’s true history and become valuable allies to Indigenous peoples.  That made sense to me, and I got it.  But right now, I can’t get my head around reconciliation.  I hate to be negative but I just don’t think it is an attainable goal when the same system we are supposed to be reconciling with (education) continues to oppress us.  I have already made a personal vow to work toward effecting radical change, and I am optimistic that one day we, the grassroots, will succeed in this, but right now it just doesn’t make sense to me to talk ‘reconciliation’.  Seems to me that as far as the conservative government is concerned, reconciliation is a self-serving political trend (at best) or a just a court-ordered mandate (at worst).

On a happy note, I think it is worth mentioning that the visible majority of the packed lecture hall listening to Regan talk was non-Native. 

At one point I did a bunch of research into Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, what they were for, how they were used, how they started.  The idea of truth AS reconciliation is an important one, but it doesn’t end there.

TRC started in Latin America as a way of dealing with unacknowledged state-wide abuses which up until that point had been wholly denied.  Just getting a formal record of these events was a huge deal and one that sparked a lot of furor and conflict and yes, change.  I don’t think that in any country where there has been a TRC, that it can really be claimed there has been achieved ‘reconciliation’.  Not yet. 

So when I think about the TRC here in Canada, all I expect is that formal history, that recognition.  Just getting that record compiled is hard enough.  People hide documents, funding is pulled, suspicion causes people to refuse to participate, etc.  For me, the starting point is the record and we don’t really have it yet.  We don’t know how many children died, or where they were buried.  We don’t quite have all the evidence we should have access to.

I don’t expect the TRC to do more than that, because that alone is a huge undertaking.  After that?  Generations of work.  My children’s children will still be trying to undo the damage, and we’d be foolish to believe otherwise.

But yeah, I’m miffed with APTN.  I expected more from them, this was very National Post-esque.

Guess I just had to write about it some more and get it out of my system.

I don’t think enough people have read this yet.  It is 39 pages, but it gives an excellent break down of precisely what the mandate of the TRC is, the kinds of things people have been telling the TRC, and some of the findings and recommendations to date.  It also discusses some of the problems the Commission has faced, including he resignation of the original Chair, Justice LaForme and the structure of the TRC itself, which is roundly criticised by the Commission in this report.

There is plenty to say about the limitations imposed on the TRC, and the likely response from Canada to its final report.  There are many, many legitimate complaints about the process and whether Canada is at all committed to actually redressing these wrongs.  However, the amount of straight up bullshit being spread about what the TRC does, can do or will do is extremely frustrating.  It makes me think that people want this to fail.  And who would be invested in having something like this fail? Yeah that’s me engaging in some conspiracy theorising of my own.

A lot of the complaints that people have about the TRC are brought up in the report and even addressed in its recommendations.  What was supposed to happen here?  This process was to be put off until something perfect came along? 

This only becomes ‘case closed’ once the final report is submitted if we let it.  I’m not about to let it go, are you?

IRS policy was an act of genocide under the UN Convention. Canada however cannot be convicted of the crime. Figure it out @APTN.

Justice Murray Sinclair via twitter.

Shame on APTN for shoddy reporting.

bannockandbutter:

Now the TRC Commissioner is denying residential schools were a form of genocide.

I’LL TALK RECONCILIATION WHEN YOU TALK TRUTH. 

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I’m not objecting to what you’ve written so much as I am questioning the reporting here.

This is what I’m hearing in that video:

Reporter: How do you determine an act of genocide?

JMS: The indoctrination of children into another race, for the purpose of eliminating the race that they come from, is acknowledged by the United Nations as an act of genocide and in previous comments I’ve already said that.  But that doesn’t mean that the crime of genocide has occurred it just means that it is a category that is recognised in the definition of genocide.

Then the reporter says this is not what he said to students at U of Manitoba…where he is quoted as saying:

JMS: The reality is to take children away into placement in another group in society for the purpose of racial indoctrination was an act of genocide and it occurs all around the world.

Which is precisely the same thing he just said.  He has referred to two things…an act of genocide, and the crime genocide. This is not mere quibbling, these are complex (and frustratingly stupid) legal definitions. Murray Sinclair is also a judge and the language he uses is very precise. He has always used the term ‘act of genocide’ and it baffles me entirely why this is suddenly being brought up as though he is now denying that Residential Schools were an act of genocide, or has actually reversed his position on this.  He quite clearly states he has not.

There has been soooo much negativity directed at the TRC that goes far beyond what the limitations of the TRC are, and into outright maliciousness.  So I’m really questioning this angle being taken.  Frankly, I’d like to hear the full quote he gave the reporter as well as the full question being asked, because if it’s anything like what he’s said before, he was attempting to clarify how the government manages to claim that Residential Schools were not genocidal.  OR he was explaining the sticky legal problem with whether an act of genocide qualifies internationally as the crime of genocide (too often, the answer is no).  As in…would Canada be found guilty.

Edit: and he just tweeted this, pretty much confirming that APTN got it very, very wrong and is causing a lot of upset because of it.  Shoddy and irresponsible reporting.

Justice Murray Sinclair: IRS policy was an act of genocide under the UN Convention. Canada however cannot be convicted of the crime. Figure it out .

nockknock:

So I just read an article on CBC about the leaked TRC report and suggestions. I have mixed feelings. On one hand I am happy the State has taken initiative to make some sort of reparation on their behalf, as instigators in a bloody chapter in Canada’s history… But the thing is it is not just a…

While I agree with your concerns about what the TRC will actually accomplish, I do think that people are expecting more out of the TRC than it is actually meant to accomplish.  The TRC is intended to create an official record of what happened in Residential Schools and what the impacts continue to be.  TRCs are merely the starting point for a wider dialogue.  The TRC is set up only to investigate, report and make suggestions.  Hoping that beyond that it will somehow create healing is self-defeating.  The reconciliation component via the TRC will be through education and consultation, not the creation of a comprehensive one-size-fits-all program.

I think it is really important for people to read the TRC’s mandate to understand its inherent limitations.  http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=7#one

That being said, I have no doubt the Canadian government will ignore the TRC’s recommendations just as it has ignored most recommendations made by Royal Commissions, various Inquests and so forth.