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The Flawed History and Real Torment of Canada’s Residential Schools

Brian Tuesday was a little Ojibway boy when he was taken from his home at the Big Grassy River Indian reserve and moved to St. Margaret’s Indian Residential School at Fort Frances, Ontario, on the Canadian side of the Rainy River.

Like many of Canada’s notorious residential schools, St. Margaret’s was situated in a large, imposing building. It was built at the edge of a river, adjacent to Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church.

The boys and girls were separated in the yard by a wire fence. Brian, whose Ojibway spirit name was Tibishkopiness, wasn’t allowed to approach the fence to talk to his little sister. On more than one occasion, he stood helplessly on his side and watched as one of the nuns beat her for some real or imagined indiscretion.

During the time he was at St. Margaret’s, Brian was sexually abused by a priest and beaten by a nun. Things got a bit better when they transferred him to St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School in Thunder Bay, Ontario—about 350 kilometres to the east, on the north shore of Lake Superior. The sexual abuse stopped. However, a big nun would beat him with a yardstick. She broke his right forearm once when he held it up to ward off the blows.

Brian Tuesday

These horrors would haunt Brian throughout his unhappy life, during the latter years of which he and I became friends. His sense of self-loathing was so strong as an adult that he couldn’t stand the look of the tortured face staring back at him in washroom mirrors, and sometimes would smash the glass with his fist. Despite earning a Bachelor of Social Work with a major in English from the University of Toronto, he never adapted to life in the white world (which was supposed to be the mission of residential schools) and fought a never-ending battle with alcoholism. Brian was just one of thousands of Indigenous children who were subjected to horrendous abuse at Canada’s Indian residential schools. Their gut-wrenching testimony to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is enough to break any heart.

Given such well-documented tales of abuse, one might ask, why are Canadian publishers, educators and even politicians choosing to focus on one of the few residential-school stories that is known to be untrue? Why has Charlie Wenjack, an Ojibway boy who wasn’t even enrolled at an Indian residential school at the time of his tragic death in 1966, become a poster child for all the real wrongs that took place at these institutions? In particular, children in more than 40,000 classrooms across Canada are being told a fabricated tale, as encoded in a massively popular 2016 illustrated book called Secret Path, with substantial financial support provided for the project by Justin Trudeau’s federal government.

Charlie was born in 1954 at the remote fly-in community of Ogoki Post in northern Ontario. When the boy was nine, he was sent to Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School on the outskirts of Kenora, at the northeast corner of Lake of the Woods, which then was owned and operated by the Women’s Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. His father, who attended the local Anglican church and supported his family by trapping, wanted his son to be educated in the ways of white people.

It took about an hour on a plane and more than 10 hours by train to travel the 600 kilometres from Ogoki Post to Kenora. Like the school my friend Brian Tuesday attended near Fort Frances, Cecilia Jeffrey was run out of a large building on the edge of a lake, and accommodated about 150 children.

This period of Charlie’s childhood is the focus of the aforementioned book, Secret Path, which was authored by legendary Canadian rock musician Gord Downie (who died the year after the book was published) and illustrated by well-known cartoonist Jeff Lemire. (Downie also recorded a concept album with the same name.) The book quickly attained canonical status on Canadian school reading lists, despite containing many significant errors.

Charlie Wenjack

Residential schools typically were run according to the precepts of whatever Christian denomination was charged with administering each facility. Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School was Protestant. But for reasons unknown, Secret Path transformed it into a Catholic institution, complete with nuns in habits delousing naked Ojibway boys, a priest dragging a crying girl into a building, a boy in pyjama bottoms yelling in pain as a nun pulls his ear, a priest watching boys taking a shower—and a priest depicted explicitly as a pedophile. Such horrible scenes and details were hardly unknown to the residential-school system as a whole. But there were no nuns or priests at Cecilia Jeffrey. And the staff did not wear clerical garb.

Secret Path shows Charlie looking anxiously from under the blankets at a priest standing in the dormitory doorway. There’s a close-up of his fearful face followed by one of the priest’s crotch. The fingers of the priest’s left hand reach out for him. As a shivering Charlie stumbles along the railway tracks in a doomed attempt to reach his home hundreds of kilometers away, he sees an imaginary pedophile priest watching menacingly from the trees.

Gord Downie’s song lyrics on the page are as follows:

I heard them in the dark
Heard the things they do
I heard the heavy whispers
Whispering, ‘Don’t let this touch you’

To repeat an important point: Sexual abuse was tragically common at many residential schools. But there’s no evidence Charlie was sexually abused by any member of the Cecilia Jeffrey staff, let alone by a Catholic priest. And by falsely presenting Charlie’s life, Secret Path unwittingly does a disservice to the memory of Brian Tuesday and all the many other innocents who truly were abused in Canada’s residential-school system. In the name of “reconciliation,” Canadians rightly have been asked in recent years to come to terms with the predations inflicted on the country’s Indigenous peoples. But if false information is used to further that effort, the entire effort will be held in suspicion.

* * *

When I interviewed Brian 11 years ago in Nestor Falls, Ontario—about an hour’s drive north of the Canada-U.S. border—he was 63, and expressed pride that, despite all the demons that haunted him, he’d stayed almost entirely sober for 18 years. He was in pretty good shape. Still living on the edge, but sober, and mindful of the complex and paradoxical ways that the residential school system contaminated his outlook.

“I was a drunk,” he told me, “I didn’t care what was happening down in the next house or the condition the kids [he had three sons and a daughter] were in. I just didn’t give a damn because there was this notion that I was above all that. Even though I was abusing alcohol at the time, I still believed that I was above it all because I was educated in a white man’s system and I was knowledgeable and doing a lot of things. That was the attitude.”

“Drinking is one of the characteristics of a colonized person,” he had come to believe. “That’s just the way it is and we have to get over that. First, we have to understand that we’re colonized. The way we think has been induced by the colonization process, and now we have to get back to our own [Ojibway] way of life. For a long time, in high school and all that, I denied my own people. And then, when I first went to a sweat lodge, there was a change in my head in the way I used to think, the way I conducted myself.”

Brian told me that he was essentially enslaved by liquor: “You don’t care about anything. You have a bottle and the next drink is all that matters. I’ve been through all that but I’ve also learned a lot from my past. Destroying your body is not the answer to a good life. Destroying your mind, your spirit. That’s essentially what addiction’s doing.”

Across Canada, there are thousands of Indigenous men and women like this, living lives of quiet pain, grappling with the legacy of residential schools. Their names are not widely known, but every one of them could be the subject of their own— truthful—version of Secret Path.

* * *

On the sunny afternoon of Sunday, October 16, 1966, 12-year-old Charlie Wenjack was on the swings in the playground of Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School with two orphans—the MacDonald brothers—whose parents had been run down by a train just two years earlier.

At the time, Cecilia Jeffrey was only teaching grade-one students—children much younger than Charlie. However, Charlie and the MacDonald brothers were still boarding at Cecilia Jeffrey while attending Valleyview Public School (where most of the students were white), about a 10-minute walk away. Colin Wasacase, a part-Cree, part-Saulteaux man from Saskatchewan who attended residential schools as a child and taught at two of them as an adult, was in charge.

One of the orphaned brothers whom Charlie sat with on the swings had run away three times in the previous few weeks. The other played hooky on a regular basis. Charlie, by contrast, reportedly had made no attempt to run away during the three years he was at Cecilia Jeffrey—although he did play hooky one afternoon a week earlier.

The MacDonald brothers decided to take off for their uncle’s cabin, which was about 30 kilometres away. Charlie’s best friend, Eddie Cameron, testified at the inquest into his death that Charlie was lonely and, when the brothers left, he went with them. Nothing had been planned. The decision to leave apparently was made on the spur of the moment.

On that first day, after walking for a little more than eight hours, Charlie and his friends reached the home of a non-Indigenous man the brothers knew, who gave them something to eat and let them sleep on the floor. The next day, they arrived at the uncle’s cabin, where the man lived with his wife and two teenage daughters. Eddie Cameron, who was a cousin to the MacDonald brothers, joined them later that day.

According to a November 17, 1966 article in the Kenora Daily Miner and News, “there [at the Ojibway uncle’s cabin] they were fed, cared for and enjoyed trips to a trap line with the uncle. After a few days, the Wenjack lad took his departure and started to walk along the single-track [Canadian National Railway] right of way.” This was five days after Charlie had been playing with his friends on the swings at Cecilia Jeffrey— the image used on the cover of Secret Path (except he is shown by himself).

The orphans’ uncle, Charles Kelly, had showed Charlie how to get to the tracks, and told him to ask railway workers for food along the way. That was the last time anyone is known to have seen Charlie Wenjack alive. His frozen body was found alongside the tracks two days later. He’d walked less than 20 kilometres through snow squalls and freezing rain wearing light, soaked-through, cotton clothing. A month later, a coroner’s jury properly found that Mr. Kelly should have notified the authorities rather than turning the little boy loose in bad weather without any clear idea of where he was going.

There was evidence that Charlie had stumbled and fallen along a rough stretch of railway clearing. He had bruises on his shins, forehead and over his left eye. His stomach was empty. He’d been dead for about a day. It was a truly tragic end for this little Ojibway boy, who was given no choice but to live 600 kilometres away from his home, which is presumably where he was trying to get to when he died.

The cover of Secret Path

A text on the back cover of Secret Path tells readers that Charlie died “trying to escape the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.” That sounds dramatic. But there were no prison-like conditions from which Charlie, or any other student, would have had to “escape”. The children were free to wander at will. And they did. In fact, Principal Stephen Robinson, who served from 1958 until summer, 1966, shortly before Charlie’s death, reportedly would leave sandwiches in the bush so wandering children wouldn’t go hungry. He knew that most of them would be back in time for supper.

* * *

Of course, there are all sorts of books and movies that fictionalize real historical narratives for dramatic effect. What is unique in the case of Secret Path is that it is a plainly untrue story that is nevertheless being held up as an important learning resource by public institutions. For instance, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, the provincial trade union for that province’s teachers, tells its members that Secret Path “chronicles the story of [Charles] Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died after running away from Residential school in the 1960s,” and has used the book as a basis for educators from across the province to “discuss and explore the Secret Path, and to create lesson and unit plans to support the use of this resource for the teaching about Residential schools in Manitoba classrooms.”

As part of this project, Manitoba students in Grades 1 through 3 are asked to contrast their classrooms with what is purported to be Charlie’s classroom in Secret Path. However, Charlie wasn’t attending class at Cecilia Jeffrey when tragedy struck: As noted above, he was enrolled in a nearby public school. Students also are asked to note, on the basis of the illustrations in Secret Path, that there are no “toys” in the classroom (as if toys would be part of a normal classroom setting for 12-year-olds). In the same vein, students are asked to discuss “the expressions on the children’s faces.” However, every child in Secret Path’s fabricated classroom is drawn as expressionless and emotionally blank, their arms hanging lifeless at their sides, eyes shut tight as if waiting for someone to whack or rape them.

* * *

Charlie Wenjack’s grave site

Charlie’s older sisters Pearl Achneepineskum and Daisy Munroe visit schools across Canada and, by their presence, have put their stamp of approval on Secret Path. During a 2017 visit to Toronto’s Dundas Junior Public School, Pearl told a reporter she wasn’t sure the students could handle the pictures in Secret Path. But she assured a Global TV interviewer that “even though [images] are very graphic, they do tell the truth. Whoever did this got the real picture of what happened.” Yet Ms. Achneepineskum must once have known—even if she now has forgotten—that there were no nuns or priests at Cecilia Jeffrey, because she was there until she was 17. Ms. Achneepineskum also knows her brother was attending a public school in Kenora and only boarded at Cecilia Jeffrey during the period in question.

If Secret Path had been based on the true story of Brian Tuesday, then graphic pictures of this type would have been quite accurate. They could have shown a nun beating the author, the priest sexually abusing him, and all the rest. But the book isn’t about Brian. It’s about a little Ojibway boy who lived and died tragically, but not in the way that Secret Path claims. Such misrepresentations are unfair to everyone, including Charlie himself, who deserves to have his story told truthfully, to not be treated as a sort of historical mascot, and to be known by his real name as it’s engraved on his headstone: In Loving Memory, Son, Charles Wenjack, 1954-1966.

* * *

Brian Tuesday’s life took a turn for the worse in 2008 when someone suggested he file a claim as a survivor of the Indian residential school system through the Independent Assessment Process—a component of the $2-billion Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement the Canadian government signed in 2007.

While preparing his submission with his lawyer, all of the horrible childhood memories of sexual and physical abuse buried deep in his consciousness bubbled up to the surface. He started drinking again. Heavily. While he was awarded $179,000 in compensation for the abuse he suffered in residential schools, he didn’t derive a nickel’s worth of benefit from it.

He was still drinking heavily when he got the settlement cheque and handed the money over to his ex-wife who lived just up the road at the Sabaskong reserve—about halfway between Kenora and Fort Frances. She bought herself a Buick SUV, got a new boat and built a porch around her house.

When I last saw Brian, in September, 2010, he was flat broke and gaunt, surviving on fish he got from a commercial fisherman he helped out every morning. I gave him a ride to Fort Frances to visit one of his sons, who had been in and out of hospital for several years. Brian’s long white-streaked hair flew in the wind as he took his son out for a spin on his wheelchair. His former wife’s luxury SUV was parked outside the hospital.

Over coffee, Brian gave me a photocopy of a handwritten poem he’d composed when he was still sober back in 1994. He also loaned me his copy of When Rabbit Howls, a book about a two-year-old child who created an inner world to escape the horror of violent abuse. The book clearly meant a lot to Brian.

I gave him some money and a windbreaker I had bought for him at a local store and said I’d see him again in the spring. Which never happened: Brian died alone in his small apartment at Nestor Falls less than four months later. His son told me he’d had a couple of strokes and suffered a massive brain aneurism. He was 66.

This is the poem he wrote, entitled “The Bell.”

In the child’s mind he can hear it,
the sound of the bell.
Like embers of a dying fire rekindled, memories stir,
awakened, once again to revisit the madness of a time and
place almost beyond memory.

Fleeting images, glimpses of the unimaginable.
Like a shockwave, the child remembers.
Transfixed, he simply goes away to seek solitude in
a world not of this place nor of this time.

Words echo.
“My child, my child, God has made a terrible mistake.
Come, I must recreate you into my own image.”
The child sleeps, senses on full alert.

In the dorm, others of his kind, asleep on bunk beds, row on row,
pray that tonight madness will not visit.

A slight disturbance in the midnight air—movement!
Madness is on the prowl.
Who is the chosen?
A silent scream fractures the midnight calm.
The child freezes.
For tonight madness has chosen to visit upon him
the unimaginable.
Violated in mind, body and spirit, desecrated of the sanctity of his life,
the child simply ceases to be.

The years have passed.
On a hilltop a man sits, bottle in hand.
Hair once jet black betrays strands of white.
Lined with age, the face mirrors a life gone astray.
He waits and waits, not knowing what it is he waits for.
Darkness approaches.
Tortured by memories which haunt his mind, he tilts bottle to lips,
if only to seek solace in the stupor of cheap wine.
For the man there is nothing but the emptiness and the cheap,
meaningless, high of wine-induced euphoria.
Heaven!
He succumbs to the drunken sleep
to escape the hell of a tortured mind.

It is autumn.
The season of spectral colors, with brush in hand, paints
a beautiful portrait of scenic wonders across the landscape.
Myriads of different shades and hues clothe majestic trees
in their finest attire.
The wind plays upon a flute a beautiful and haunting melody.
Mesmerizing, the beautiful music entices the imagination
to alight on wings of melody.
To journey to distant lands and times
that never were.
The child cries.

 

Toronto author Robert MacBain has worked as a Canadian newspaper reporter, and served as a consultant to the Canadian government’s department of Indian Affairs (as it was then called). He is the author of two books about Indigenous issues, and is writing a third for release in Fall, 2019.

29 Comments

  1. John Craigton says

    I have sadly never heard a good story about nuns teaching. Often they were cruel to children, as this story also shows. Sad story. Thanks for the detailed research.

    • I also never read something good about nun’s schools, but was raised (as was my sister) on one at my earliest age. Very nice time, friendly nuns, singing, walking in the park, playing, learning catechismus, never spanking or other nasty things. I also visited sometimes schools in the hinterland of Mexico and Kenya. Nice boys, playing soccer, friendly teachers. Sometimes I think, why are my experiences always so completely different from what I read in books and articles and see in movies? Luck? Or are authors writing on their childhood, only the ones with miserable history (quite possible of course, an unhappy childhood is the writers goldmine.

      • Just Me says

        dick-

        yes, people with happy experiences don’t often feel impelled to write about them the way people with bad ones do about theirs.

        There is also I think a lot of residual animosity from former Protestants against Catholics, Jews against Christians, that fuels negative stereotypes.

    • Just Me says

      My mother send me to a high school and boarding school run by nuns, because it was one of the best schools available, academically, and because she herself had had a wonderful experience in one (a different one) and wanted to give me the same experience. They were the best years of her life, she said, she had such fun, made great friends, the nuns were wonderful, etc.

      I hated it. A few nuns were cruel, some were kind, some average. I hated the regimentation and forced group living, absence of privacy, because I am an introvert. My mother was an extrovert…

      I know women in their 70s today who have fond memories of the nuns who taught them.

      I’m Canadian and am talking about Canadian nuns, French and English.

      I think some of this has to do with expectations. Children raised before the loosening and prosperity of the 60s did not find the harsh discipline that different from what they got at home, let alone the difference between the lifestyles of First Nations then, and religious schools.

  2. northernobserver says

    I would love to see some comparative statistics on boarding schools in the Dominion of Canada during the same time frame as the Native Residential Schools. The racialized element and euro scapegoating in these stories triggers my bs detector. Did this really happen because these kids were native and the admins were not native? Or did it happen because the kids were poor and helpless and the admins and their child welfare institutions had absolute arbitrary power? The kind of arbitrary power that attracts authoritarian and sadistic personality types.
    I seem to recall a controversial short film called The Boys of St Vincent, if this kind of abuse was going on across racial lines in Canada then why are we racializing the story into native victim euro victimizer?

    • anonymous says

      Orwell wrote an essay “Such, Such were the Joys”. I found his experiences as an upper, lower middle class kid, ostracized by the old money students and faculty oddly reminiscent of the literature on residential schools. I think your sense is accurate based on this anecdote.

      • Just Me says

        Those upper-class private British schools were known for their hazing, caning, and abuse. That was all part of the culture, and rich men sent their sons there knowing full well they would get the same treatment they had gotten. “Builds character”…

        The movie “IF” in the 60s depicted that kind of school.

        Not to mention Jane Eyre and other 19th century literature, Dickens, etc.

        Why this is depicted as unique to residential schools is baffling, there is no attempt to put it into context of what educational institutions elsewhere were like.

        • Rosenmops says

          I’ve read about terrible abuse of children in Catholic orphanages in Ireland. Poor children, and unmarried pregnant girls. It went on well into the second half of the 20th century. They were beaten and treated like slaves. They were all white, or course.

    • Breana says

      I wouldn’t argue that there was violence ongoing across racial lines, however, there were unique aspects to the Residential Schools and the Indian Boarding Schools in the U.S. that were specifically designed to strip the children of their heritage – no native languages allowed to be spoken, their hair cut short, families separated. I think that using inaccuracies to explain the horrors that took place is reprehensible, but I do agree with defining what took place in these institutions as cultural genocide. That is what makes it unique as a story. You can discuss it in the context of larger wrongs throughout the colonized New World, or throughout the world if you will, but failing to examine the nuances that make it different than just the arbitrary abuse of institutional power does a disservice to the true historical narrative.

      • Mary MacIntosh says

        “– no native languages allowed to be spoken,”

        Scottish immigrants were forbidden to speak Gaelic in Canada.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFpGS5PXj38

        The true historical narrative is slavery and genocide was going on in the Americas (and Africa) long before the colonials arrived.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Mary MacIntosh

          Today with call this ‘immersion’ and you pay extra for it.

      • Just Me says

        What today is cultural genocide was then the enlightened view that Indian children were not irredeemably racially inferior, but just needed to be socially engineered through education into becoming competent members of a modern society.

        How do you do that otherwise with millions of people still living pre-literate, pre-modern lives in small, remote areas? We still don’t know…Trial and error?

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Just Me

          Firstly, you face the plain fact that the stone-age is over and so stone-age cultures are no longer fit for purpose. The modern Indian wants a fully modern life but wants it up in the bush where there is no chance of anything useful to do since no one wants to live a trapper’s life anymore.

        • Rosenmops says

          Likely most of the people involved in starting the schools had good intentions. But it was a terrible mistake to take the children from their homes, no matter how bad things were on the reserves. 20/20 hindsight.

      • Hymie Rubenstein says

        “Cultural genocide” was the order of the day then and the order of the day now when millions of non-English speaking immigrants are forced by the laws of Canda to attend public schools where they are involuntarily assimilated by “indoctrinating” them with a foreign language (English) and foreign ways of thinking and behaving.

        But it is called “cultural genocide” when it involves indigenous people and acculturation and socialization when it involves anyone else.

        I know this because I went to school with many immigrant kids in downtown Toronto from the mid-1950s on.

      • Stephanie says

        @Breana, qualifying the word genocide in any way diminishes real genocide. Any term that can mean “they cut their hair short and taught then English” or “they gassed them to death then turned their bodies into soap” is a useless term. I imagine the push to use the word genocide is meant to normalise anti-Semitism as much as it’s meant to exaggerate bigotry against Natives.

      • All can be labeled under: trying to educate children to move upwards, to the higher steps as conceived in the world as existing then, clearly divided in segments and hierarchy. I went to highschool where not long ago it was forbidden to speak Dutch (considered a language of fishermen and peasants), it had to be French, that was a cultured one. Identity and proudness on your roots, belonging, race, religion or region did not exist (it might have existed, but was suppressed, not always with succes, a certain Serbian, Princip,was so angry that his mates were not allowed to speak Serbian on primary school, that he shot the Crown Price of the Habsburg Rulers and, so, started, Worldwar I, half a century later, there was again slaughter and massive murder at the Serbian border, because, it was not yet clear who was the oppressor, and who the oppressed).

  3. Jack Bird says

    Very interesting story. I attended a two room elementary school, from Grades one to three there were up to ten indigenous students. But one summer a tragic fire burned down a house on the reserve, a family of six was killed, some of them students at my school. The next year, only three indigenous students returned. The rest had gone to a residential school, because the Chief and social workers, etc. determined they weren’t being well cared for, and another tragedy like the house fire could happen. The three remaining kids did well, they had hardships at home too, and our teacher was not exactly the best, strapping and slapping all us kids, etc. I’ve met a number of people who attended residential schools and it was not a good experience for most of them. One or two said they benefitted. Mostly, their was a lot of religious instruction and the kids were used as labor on the school farms. They were separated from their siblings and had were not allowed to speak their language. This Quillette story is interesting because it looks at what generally happened to the compensation money. Also because it’s about truth vs. legend, or myth, and what is taught in the schools as truth.

    • Just Me says

      Slapping and strapping was still common until at least the 60s in ordinary public schools, it was not original to residential ones.

  4. Rosenmops says

    Though the residential schools were a tragic mistake, that are not responsible for alcoholism. Alcoholism is largely genetic. Agriculture is required to make a significant amount of alcohol. People who are descended from farmers of Eurasia have been exposed to alcohol for at least 10,000 years. They have evolved a degree of protection to alcoholism.

    People who are descended from hunter/gatherers haven’t been through this 10,000 year process, and are much more susceptible to alcoholism. The earliest Jesuit missionaries in Quebec wrote about the extreme problems Indigenous people had with alcohol. This was several hundred years before residential schools were started.

  5. Stephanie says

    It’s baffling that they would cook up a fake story when there are so many real stories they could have used. But it does fit the pattern of cherrypicking facts to suit a victimisation narrative.

    I second the sentiments expressed by several commentators above that context changes how these horrible events are perceived. Corporal punishment was a ubiquitous part of the school system, and poor discipline by British standards before entering school would have rendered Native children particular targets. It’s also a common approach to language education to require complete immersion.

    As for rape, that is unfortunately common in such settings. I know a British professor who was similarly abused at boarding school: he overcame because he didn’t have race to use as an excuse. I can only imagine how much sorrow could have been avoided if these individuals chose to overcome their pain instead of channeling it towards resentment.

    There’s also no guarantee these kids wouldn’t have been raped at home. Incest is also horribly common among alcoholics. A Native woman I knew was abused by her step-father. Not only did her mother not take her side, she took the rapist back after he was released from prison. The problem goes much deeper than people are comfortable admitting.

    As with the author’s friend, money doesn’t solve the problem. I imagine he didn’t keep it himself because he understood how dangerous money was in the hands of an addict. In the end, they will have to overcome this trauma as individuals by taking responsibility for their pain and their future. Don’t hold your breath, though: they’ve fallen prey to the identity politics movement that incentivizes perpetual victimhood.

    I hope I live to see a generation of First Nation people who reject colonial babysitting and build real sovereign nations for themselves.

  6. ancientproverb says

    Thank you for sharing. Having also worked at Indian Affairs (as it then was), it was disheartening and frustrating to see how all these many initially well intentioned folks have brought down us down a sorry path indeed where real problems are not even attempted to be fixed but instead money is thrown at the perceived problem, lining the pockets of a few operating in the Indian Act cottage industry (lawyers, band chiefs, higher ups in government, consultants, negotiators, etc) at the expense of those who could really benefit.

    It is ironic to hear Minister Bennett using cliches about “colonialist canoes” to reassure First Nations that Canada’s old paternalistic ways are over when we have made (and continue to make on her watch) so many poor policy decisions out of a paternalistic sense of responsibility towards these communities. For instance, why is it appropriate to dole out billions of dollars on programs supposed to improve quality of life with no strings attached and no accountability required from the beneficiary organizations? Would we accept this from elected officials at the municipal, provincial or federal level? What makes Indian reserves so special (or beyond repair, some might secretly believe…) that these well accepted safeguards are exceptionally thrown to the side for them? Are we just doing this out of a misplaced assumption that they could not possibly succeed if we imposed the same level of accountability to them as we do other Canadians?

    As you know, the federal government generally sees aboriginals as a source of contingent liability, not necessarily as people capable of running their own affairs competently. They throw money at the “problem” because it temporarily shuts people up and is a convenient easy data point to give the impression that results have been achieved when, at a minimum, we know that too little data is being collected to truly understand whether or not those programs have achieved tangible positive results. Meanwhile, water quality and potability continues to be an issue; violence, physical, sexual and substance abuse is rampant in too many communities; lack of access to education and economic opportunities keeps some communities in the horrible position of relying on meager government benefits to survive, ensuring they continue to be dependent on government assistance and without the means to improve their chances. But the answer isn’t “throw money at the ‘problem’ and hope some of it will land in the right place.”

    To me, part of the answer lies in having the fortitude to be honest with aboriginal communities about some all but inescapable realities. For instance, if you as a Canadian were educated in a denominational school until the 60s, you likely received corporal punishment, regardless of race, and this is perhaps an example that not every hardship you face is because of your race but could have deeper or altogether different origins. Money will not make you feel better if you have been victimized and throwing money at a perceived problem without more will not guarantee a good result or absolve you of your guilt. It is unrealistic to expect the same level and quality of public services offered in major urban centres if you reside in a remote northern community and you will not have access to the same or similar educational or economic opportunities in a remote location – this is a likely outcome regardless of race. Those living on affected reserves know that the primary perpetrators of domestic and sexual abuse or assault and homicide in their communities are family members or acquaintances – and data also supports the same proposition regardless of race. Your ire may be better directed against your band chiefs and the lawyers who will siphon your money into endless litigation rather than against white Canadians or the Canadian government writ large. There is one word to describe taking a high-six figure annual salary as a band chief of a less than 1,000-member reserve and awarding lucrative contracts to your buddies and family members: corrupt. You need to demand more of your leaders if this is what is happening in your community – regardless of race. It is racist to restrict, deny or revoke community membership (and therefore in some cases consequently restrict access to Indian status benefits) on the basis of blood quantum or marriage to a non-Indian status person. There may have been a historical reason for creating these race-based membership requirements but “because it’s 2018”, this type of policy is no longer acceptable. Canada no longer belongs only to aboriginal peoples of Canada – that proverbial canoe left the dock right around the time of Contact. Canada and its resources belong to all Canadians and we need to learn how to share, utilize and steward those resources for the general benefit of all Canadians.

  7. D.B. Cooper says

    Canada don’t drink the Kool-Aid!

    That’s what I’m thinking right now. No, actually, that’s not what I’m thinking. This article has put me on the soapbox, so you might want to skip over this comment; I’m going to be here awhile.

    As I was saying, what I’m really thinking, or imagining rather, is Justin trojan horse Trudeau as the secular Jim Jones and, right now, all I can see is Canada’s patron saint of nepotism busily stirring the vat of victimhood Kool-Aid, and for reasons that escape good sense, no one seems to be bothered about the fact that, if and when, the opportunity to propagate the victimhood of marginalized peoples, and especially in matters of race, there are absolutely NO barriers to entry for the former substitute drama teacher. Trudeau, like most all progressives, makes his bones on the proliferation of victimhood narratives. In truth, there’s not a bleeding heart with a tick and a keyboard that doesn’t want to talk about race.

    It’s become less an open secret than a brute fact, that Trudeau and company have fetishized all things race. It could be said, that what the casting couch was to Harvey Weinstein, perpetuating racial demagoguery is to Trudeau and his accompaniment – a critical race fraternity under compulsion, to be sure. What’s more, amidst the thicket of muddled thinkers who are perpetually insensitive to data and no less allergic to rational discourse, Trudeau & Co. are paramount among those who, in judging the relations of racial discord, always seem willing (more than willing, really) to redistribute the facts until they can actually see what they believe. In short, progressives could not have found a more useful idiot. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Canada writ large – the man woke up on 3rd base, got walked in and, now, the nepotic recipient is pretending like his last (and possibly only) original idea wasn’t that fevered Sherwani/Kurtas wardrobe ensemble in India. Namaste…

    As for the article itself…

    I can probably think of more effective instruments for systematically inculcating ethnic enmity within & throughout a given society, but not many – at least not many that don’t involve some version of ‘making-the-genocide’. If you ever need to illustrate to a first-year sociology major the concept of white guilt an example of the type of machinations that promulgate the decline in social cohesion/capital, you could do worse than referencing Canada’s Secret Path Week.

    But there’s a deeper question(s) underlying the overvalued beliefs that catalyze MacBain (author) and Trudeau’s paternalistic sympathies. Namely, What are they (the purveyors of ‘Secret Path Week’ and other such projects/resources) hoping to accomplish? What’s their aim? What’s the end goal? Or, more importantly, is there an end goal?

    It’s clear that MacBain is opposed to the Secret Path in its current form (embellished/distorted/fabricated); although he does provide a possible ad rem defense for the necessity of such narratives (assuming they’re of a factual nature) more generally – presumably within public educational institutions. MacBain says of the book:

    And by falsely presenting Charlie’s life, Secret Path unwittingly does a disservice to the memory of Brian Tuesday and all the many other innocents who truly were abused in Canada’s residential-school system. In the name of “reconciliation,” Canadians rightly have been asked in recent years to come to terms with the predations inflicted on the country’s Indigenous peoples. But if false information is used to further that effort, the entire effort will be held in suspicion.

    Staying true to form (sadly), MacBain summons one of the more speculative bromides of liberal evasion, stating that Canadians have been asked (and rightly so, in his estimation) to come to terms with the edacious cruelty they – by which he means, white people – visited upon indigenous peoples some years ago. MacBain (or his 1st grade math teacher) doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that the “Canadians” in question – you know, the ones who need to come to terms with Canada’s cruelty – are as it happens 12-years-old; which, according to my 1st grade math teacher, leaves a bit of a gap (4.5 decades) when discussing Residential schools of the 1960s. Minor details, really…

    I say, speculative, because the imprecise nature of a phrase like come to terms, operates in a manner similar to other colloquial prevarications of the progressive lexicon; which is to say, with suspicious impunity. For Leftists, the use of purposely obtuse/ambiguous language is more a tactic than a lagging indicator for just how wide-of-the-mark they always are – but mostly because, for them, there’s no mark to be had when trafficking in race-reductionist discourse.

    I have to admit, one of the strangest things to me is the apparent recursive nature of Leftist anti-white rhetoric. Not to belabor the point, but for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I have noticed that within nearly every Leftist treatise, the probability of encountering any, or all, of the following gibberish reaches a near certainty. For the uninitiated, such inanities include: come to terms with; grapple[ing] with; white supremacy; colonialism/imperialism; hegemonic (of the Western variety); privilege (of the white-male variety); critical lens; deconstruct; hermeneutics; pedagogy (while criticizing any enlightenment ideal); and any other such fashionable nonsense immune to the primacy of judgements based on the evaluation of empirical evidence and classical logic.

    Putting aside the religious connotations of MacBain’s “In the name of…” exhortation for a moment, can someone tell me – anyone will do – what, precisely, does he mean by come to terms with? Despite my fair-to-middling grasp of the English language, it is not at all obvious to me what degree of public penance (a hair shirt?) would qualify a 12-year-old victim of circumstance melanin challenged Canadian as having sufficiently come to terms with a certain macabre series of transgressions that he/she never had anything to do with. What is the mediating unit that signals the young lad as having adequately atoned for the contemporary dispensation of his moral depravity-by-ethnic-affiliation – never mind the young gammon having been yoked in undifferentiated predations fifty-years his senior? Again, minor details, to be sure.

    No doubt, the Residential schools of yester-year were likely as inherently illegitimate, repressive and morally profane as Brian Tuesday suggests, but even still, I would like to believe, if just for a moment, that there’s some possibility above nil that MacBain and (progressive) company have at least considered the provocative nature of assigning culpability (indirectly though it may be) to 12-year-olds, along ethnic lines. I’m largely failing at this attempt.

    While I have generally had the good sense not to countenance any concept of collective guilt, white or otherwise, the idea that, seemingly, half of North America subscribe to a collective guilt narrative that, at best, is predicated on the historical injustices of one or another amorphous group’s antecedents and, at worst, on one’s ethnic affiliations; is troubling for more reasons than I care to discuss. In any regard, I will simply say that this is not a rational argument. It’s not in the neighborhood of a rational argument, but in actuality something closer to the indulgences of greedy reductionism.

    Furthermore, while I’m, admittedly, not well-versed in the obscure science of divination and Aunt Cleo’s 1-900 number is (regrettably) still out-of-service, I can’t help but wonder how MacBain thinks the average person will react to the federal gov’t tacitly endorsing a collective guilt narrative along ethnic lines? Granted, I can appreciate that the plurality of self-flagellating white guilt sympathizers not only believe, but expect, the totality of white Canadians to capitulate with the same masochistic fervor as they have/do, but – call it a hunch, if you like – I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of white Canadians might feel somewhat differently than the intellectual zeitgeist and their fearless leader the former substitute drama teacher.

    Let me be blunt – as best I can tell, there’s only two explanations for this lack of foresight. One: Trudeau, MacBain, et al. are well aware of the likelihood that such (divisive) measures as Secret Path Week could lead to a degradation of race relations/social cohesion; in which case progressives might actually be the trojan horse we thought them to be – enter Trudeau the secular Jim Jones. Or two: Trudeau, MacBain, et al. are suffering from an amazing lack of foresight – a myopia that would make Hellen Keller look like Nostradamus at the helm of the Hubble telescope.

  8. Chris says

    This is an extraordinary article along several axes, thank you.

    Could you share your sources for some of the facts in the article that go against the conventional narrative? Especially the claim that Charlie/Chanie was attending a public school in Kenora? The sources I’ve seen claim that he was attending a residential school at the time of his death, although not all sources agree on which school. e.g., The 1967 Macleans article implies he was attending Cecilia Jeffrey at the time. The Canadian Encyclopedia article indicates that he was attending a different school at the time but that it was a residential school.

    • In the February 1, 1967, article in Maclean’s, Principal Velda MacMillan of Kenora’s Valleyview Public School is quoted as saying: “The thing we remember most about him [Charlie] was his sense of humor. If the teacher in the class made a joke, a play on words, he was always the first to catch on.”

      That’s the public school Charlie was attending at the time of his death. He was only boarding at Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.

  9. I am white. 65 years ago I was a precocious problem 6 year-old. I was sent to boarding school. Yes, it was traumatic, especially spending about half the time alone in a white-painted infirmary having measles and whooping cough with complications – no books, no visitors, only a nurse who shouted at me when I wet the bed and with castor oil as the major medical treatment. But I got on with life. Given the family history, I cannot blame my problems with major depressive disorder on that experience, although it was tempting.

    The Canadian government’s policies all seem to be geared toward encouraging Aboriginals to blame all their problems on white man’s attempts to improve their lot. There must have been some who were successful in life after Residential schools; some who were not grossly abused. We never hear about them. One is left with the conclusion that the Aboriginals are particularly sensitive, unable to cope with changing circumstances and adversities. I resent the notion that I should feel guilt. I resent the scorn and reprimand heaped on Senators who said that the objectives at the time were not malign. Trudeau’s focus on identity politics is divisive and damaging to Canadian identity.

  10. I’m glad you covered Brian Tuesday’s story. I think it is a sad, worthwhile story for people to hear in addition to the story of Charlie Wenjack.

    My criticism of this piece is that you would probably be able to say similar things about Brian’s story, with the lack of evidence, if he, too, had not survived in to adulthood to give it. The story of a 12 year old boy told second- and third-hand probably does have some inconsistencies. I agree with you that telling a flawed story will give ammunition to people who want to discredit the message, as you are have done with this piece.

    The stories of abuse survivors are difficult to get right because there will always be a counter narrative, something that Quillette reminds us of when talking about the #MeToo movement. If we are trying to tell perfectly accurate stories, we will tell very few.

  11. I've seen it from the inside of a reserve! says

    All 4 of my illiterate grandparents were born into serfdom, which means that they were slaves who belong to the land and but could not be sold as a slave was.
    My parents, born in Canada, were the 1st generation in a forever line of illiterate descendants to go to school and learned to read and write in English.
    Ukrainian was their first language and it was literally beaten out of them by the school teachers who was given authority to beat a child for speaking a word of anything except English on the school grounds.
    Within “ONE” generation of coming to Canada, we have lost the Ukrainian language and most customs – BUT – we have been given an education and now we live in a country where we can have land ownership, own a house, and we have an excellent standard of living.
    All immigrants were treated likewise and now all of those descendants are equally living a high standard of living, because although we lost our language and culture, we always had a work ethic with still serves us well.
    We lost our language and culture and assimilated into the English Canadian way of life, and we are better off for it.
    Canada will never have to cough up any millions and billions of dollars to today’s generation of immigrants through a Truth and Reconciliation process, because the European immigrants of the early 20th century and their descendants will never DEMAND a Truth and Reconciliation process and neither will we ever lower ourselves to that.

    When the treaty’s were being signed, the native leaders at the time knew that education was necessary so *they* requested the residential school because their nomadic lifestyle did not lend itself to having their children get an education.
    Children left on the reserve were dying from diseases and lack of care, so they were taken to the residential schools where they were fed and cared for with baths and taught about living skills.
    Much of the abuse in residential schools was from bully children beating up each other.
    I’m not denying that abuse from the teachers didn’t happen, but so did it happen at all public schools at the same rate as that was the style and common place of the day.
    In some residential schools, white children also attended those same schools, so why aren’t those white children screaming for compensation money?
    The answer is easy – because they moved on, moved forward and don’t have a “gimme” attitude.

    Natives did not loose their language and so-called culture.
    How can you explain the difference between the fact that to this day, natives can speak their mother tongue but within one generation of European immigrants, most have lost their ethnic language and culture?

    Natives blame their current self destructive behaviour on their brokenness lingering from their ancestors having attend the residential schools.
    There wasn’t any residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, as was the case in much of the central Canada and prairies where there wasn’t residential schools in all locations, so how can one account for the same self destructive abuse on the current reserves by descendants who did NOT attend a residential school?

    The natives came to the America’s from Asia and their DNA proves that.
    Even they were immigrants to the North and South American land.

    I have worked long periods on he reserves and so speaking with experience, they have *more and better* access to medical and educational services than the general public has, yet they still fail, because they don’t have any sense of accountability.
    My nurse friend worked though out the north for about two decades and earned good experience for a newly graduated nurse, and after two decades, she had to leave and never step foot back on a reserve because it is just too maddening.
    No matter how much we give genuine care and love to a native and to the native reserve, they never improve or change.
    Why will they not change and to improve themselves and to take accountability for themselves?

    Throwing money and more money at the natives, especially for the last 50 years has not worked.
    Even today’s new immigrants to Canada are mystified at how the natives continue to self destruct and beg for more money. Let’s face it, they are making it a business, “The Indian Business” to be professional lobbyists and beggers of more government money and benefits, because that’s is more beneficial to them that moving forward.

    The reserves have an incredibly high degree of children living with grandparents, aunts and uncles and other relatives, but they are getting paid $$ like foster parents get paid.
    Don’t think that grand parents are looking after their grandchildren out of love.
    With that system, it doesn’t pay to raise ones own children – again, no accountability or responsibility.

    This is no being discriminatory, these are the facts.
    If the blind, non-knowledgeable bleeding hearts and natives want people to be better accepted, and if they want to be equal to us, the for pete’s sake, work like us, be responsible like us, and quit your whining and quit begging for more gov’t money.

    I am disappointed that Gord Downey would take on this fictional case and promote it as being truthful. I used to think that Gord Downey was better than that, than to take on a lie of a story and promote it as true.
    There is enough true stories that Gord Downey could have taken on, or that anybody could take on, so stooping to this level is actually even a disservice to the native cause, for us to have sympathy for them.

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