I’m attending the annual Surrey Writers’ Conference today and looking forward to attending several stimulating workshops along with meeting Literary Agent, Jill Marr for a one-on-one pitch session telling her about my new novel, Teeth, Lies & Consequences.
After the passage of the first Indian Act in 1876, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald commissioned Mister Nicholas Flood Davin to study the workings of the Industrial Indian Boarding Schools in the United States. Davin travelled to the south and was particularly impressed with the school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where the founder, Richard Henry Pratt claimed that he had discovered a new way to deal with the “Indian Problem”–by education and assimilation. On March 14, 1879, Davin delivered his seventeen page report to The Minister of the Interior where he recommended the funding of four schools in the West to be operated by different religious institutions. The report provides a fascinating insight into the Colonial Mindset of governments at the time and should be required reading for all students studying this sad period of Canadian history. http://www.canadianshakespeares.ca/multimedia/pdf/davin_report.pdf
The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report, makes over ninety recommendations to provide solutions for what happened in Canada from the 1880’s until 1996 in the Indian Residential School System.
What it doesn’t mention, is that although the system primarily victimized aboriginal children, by it’s dysfunctional nature and the physical isolation of the schools, there were also casualties among the teachers and administrators who served on the front lines. Although these victims have yet to be heard from, the novel Blue Saltwater touches upon this with the predatory, alcoholic and suicidal behavior of Brother Denny Boyle, the antagonist in the story.
As Canada and the United States became populated with a dominant European culture in the nineteenth century, North American aboriginal tribes were seen to be languishing in poverty, shame and cultural disintegration. Well meaning and respected educators, clergy and government officials proposed this system as a way of elevating aboriginal children to a more assimilated and productive existence. It was thought that by removing the children from the primitive ways of their culture, changes would be more rapid and permanent. But as everyone acknowledges now, even though well intentioned, forcibly removing children from their families was a catastrophic failure in social engineering.
The story of Canada’s Indian Residential School System has been front and centre in the news this past few weeks with the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report. It contained over 90 recommendations and it will be interesting going forward to see how many are acted upon.
Through the media, I have already heard educators and executives of the TRC proposing to rewrite textbooks for elementary schools, high schools and universities so they contain additional chapters detailing the findings of the commission. This is all being proposed to raise awareness in future generations. Wrong!
As I helped my granddaughter with a grade eleven social studies assignment on Canada’s role in WW II the other day, she said: : “I won’t remember any of this after I hand it in, grandpa.”
That’s my point. The most effective way to raise awareness is through effective storytelling rather than having kids answer questions from a textbook. These days the best vehicles are either online, television or movies. Good novels can work but with so many alternatives, their penetration with the younger audience can be a challenge. Think of the movie, Saving Private Ryan, as a good example. Raising Awareness of what happened on D-Day by watching this movie is much more effective than reading a dry account of dates, times, locations and casualty counts in a textbook.
After six years of receiving testimony from 7000 witnesses and survivors of the Indian Residential Schools across Canada, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the leadership of Justice Murray Sinclair will deliver its final 300 page report on June 2, 2015.
The commission was established by the federal government and aboriginal leadership in June 2010 with high hopes that it would help repair the relationship between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada. Sadly this hasn’t happened.
The Residential School System which was started in the 1880’s and shut down in 1996, forcibly removed aboriginal children from their families with the mandate to change them into productive assimilated Canadians. The system has been referred to as “cultural genocide” by both Justice Sinclair and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Over the years 150,000 children attended the schools and it is estimated that over 6000 of them died. Many were buried in unmarked graves and are still unaccounted for.
The story of Blue Saltwater attempts to put a face to those anonymous thousands of innocent children who were torn from their families and abused in the schools.
The dysfunctional effects continue to this day.
Congratulations to Perry Bellegarde who was elected as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations here in Canada. As an organization that proposes to speak for the almost five hundred Indian bands across the country, Perry has got his work cut out for him. His predecessor, Shawn Atleo, resigned after he was unable to convince a majority of the chiefs that his negotiation on aboriginal education with the Federal Government was the way to go. Considering that almost half of the eligible chiefs didn’t show up for Perry’s election since they no longer consider the AFN relevant, tells you what he’s up against.
On another note, both Chief Bellegarde and his probable nemesis, Prime Ministrer Stephen Harper, are career politicians. This could be a good thing in the sense that they may understand the meaning of the word: Negotiation: it means, “not getting what you want but getting what you can live with.” The chiefs “didn’t get that” with Shawn Atleo’s efforts. Chief Bellegarde sold himself as a champion of aboriginal rights with over-the-top rhetoric like; “Canada is Indian land” I’d say he better tone it down and show a little more common sense, pragmatism and flexibility if he wants to make a positive difference in the lives of his people, particularly the next generations.
I had the pleasure of attending a West Vancouver Library fundraising event last week where Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden was the headline speaker. Joseph has recently completed the third novel of a planned quintet entitled, The Orenda, which was preceeded by two others, Three Day Road, which I am currently reading, and Through Black Spruce which I enjoyed several years ago. All three novels deal with the Aboriginal experience in Canada with his latest, The Orenda, taking us back to the time of first contact in sixteenth century Quebec.
Joseph is an engaging speaker and kept the crowd laughing and clapping along as he introduced each of his three novels with a rousing chorus on his Blues Harmonica. He currently lives in New Orleans, where a little of the local culture has rubbed off on him. He sounded really good and I’d love to jam with him on my tenor sax sometime.
I would recommend these three novels to anyone wanting to gain insight into this historical subject matter.
I am pleased to announce my participation in the 4th Annual Desert Writers Expo in Rancho Mirage, California on Wednesday, April 2, where I will be joining forty other writers who are also members of the Palm Springs Writers Guild (PSWG.org). We will be promoting and selling our current published works and are looking forward to a busy turnout tomorrow afternoon from 3:00-7:00 pm at the Ranch Mirage Public Library.
Admission is free and hard copy and e-books will be available for purchase. Come by and chat with the authors and possibly find a gem or two that catch your eye.
The proposed First Nations Education Act will allow Band Councils to operate schools directly and to purchase outside services from the government or the private sector with taxpayer’s money. However, the federal government reserves the right to set and enforce standards and take over if there are problems meeting the bar. Kind of makes sense if they’re paying the bills. First Nations leaders don’t agree.
AFN Chief Shawn Atleo has set down non-negotiable conditions: Native control of education; Statutory funding guarantee; Recognition of native languages and Meaningful engagement.
We have a problem Houston!!: Where in this world do you get “control” along with “guaranteed funding” without accepting to meet educational standards that other Canadians are expected to achieve?
We all agree with recognition of native languages but isn’t this really is a cultural issue that should be dealt with in the home and in the community?
Education is about preparing our youth for a future in a globalized economy, where skin color and ethnicity don’t matter.
I was speaking to a literary colleague the other day who suggested that the novel Blue Saltwater lacked balance since the antagonist, Brother Denny Boyle is portrayed as an extremely evil detestable man. My colleague is of the opinion that the story was too one sided, since the vast majority of teachers in aboriginal schools were altruistic, kind, loving individuals who really wanted to help these kids toward a better life. He is of the opinion that many of the claims of abuse are instigated by greedy lawyers who are not interested in anything but lining their own pockets. They convince former students that accusing teachers of abuse is a no brainer whether it be true or not, since the government or religious denomination will quickly pay out big money to make the issue go away. Even if the former students have a change of heart later on, they can never recant their testimony since they will then be charged with perjury.
Are we really supposed to believe that all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Testimony is a crock or at the least, highly exaggerated?
In the book, Father Joe Murphy and Brother Tremblay do portray this other side of things. However, the novel is not about picking sides. It is a work of fiction that explores how the individual lives of the characters were affected by a dysfunctional social engineering experiment into which they became embroiled.