Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Kamloops & Fly Away Snow Goose

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Two hundred and fifteen small bodies were "discovered" in May at Kamloops. I use brackets because everyone in the 1st Nations already knew what would be found in that field near the site of the old residential school.  

When children fell sick at these residential schools, they often died. There were many reasons for this mortality, which can be summed up in two way: inadequate diet and poor living conditions.  (Another surely must be the cruelly severed connection between them and the family that loved them.) Some died in accidents like fires, as it was customary practice to lock the children inside their dormitories at night. 

Some children were even subjected to experiments. 

In one cruel instance, supplements necessary to maintain good health--vitamin C and calcium--on the limited residential school diet were given to some, but not all  children. One group received bread made with whole flour, others were given only white.   These children, left in the care of Church and State, were being used as human subjects, guinea pigs to provide data for nutritional scientists.The children didn't understand what was happening to them and certainly their parents were never told. 

In these schools there was, besides a lack of food, a daily ration of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The survivor stories I've read are not for the faint of heart. 

The part that remains most incredible to me is that the parents of these little children were not told what had happened to those they'd never see again. Instead they were lied to by people who made a great show of their religion. Parents were often told only the their children "had run away." It seems unimaginable, that the Church was eagerly assisting the government in their campaign to destroy the history and traditions of an entire People.

There are more, always more of these stories, as haunted survivors come forward. It all sounds like something out of the Middle Ages, not an an evil perpetrated here in North America in the 20th Century. From what I've learned, the residential schools in the US weren't better.

Now, First Nation's People are walking, across Canada, one group marching the 1200 miles from White Horse in the Yukon to Kamloops in B.C., in order to honor the memory of those children who did not survive. One image said it all--a young woman, a daughter of a survivor and her child, holding a heart-shaped sign in memory of her mother's little sister, Denise Boucher, aged seven, who died at the school to which the girls had been taken. 


Shoes and toys at a memorial for the lost children.



In this excerpt from Fly Away Snow Goose. Sascho, the young hero, has hunted all day without much to show for it. He encounters an Esker, a long snaking glacial deposit of gravel. By a grave site for a family who perished here, he remembers once making ceremony in this place with his teacher, his Uncle John. He thinks about the kwet’ı̨ı̨̀, the white people who are so busy changing the land and killing the animals, always taking and taking, and never giving thanks for the bounty of the land.

Sascho had seen the northern mines when he’d gone with his Uncles two winters ago on a journey to Sahtı̀, The Great Bear Lake, which lay at the border of Tłı̨chǫ land. His elders had shown him disturbed and ruined earth from which the spirits had fled. They’d explained how the water too, and the fish in these places, had been poisoned by kwet’ı̨ı̨̀ diggings. The creatures that had once made Sahtı̀ a rich hunting ground had grown few and wary. Even the caribou had changed their ancient paths in order to avoid these places.

Would his people succumb to kwet’ı̨ı̨̀ ways? Some already had. These men disrespected and ignored their elders, abused their wives and neglected their children, drank and stole, and brought shame—and the Ekw'ahtı (RCMP) —into their camps. Others, like his family, had tried to stay as far away from the kwet’ı̨ı̨̀ as possible. They, like the caribou, sought new paths. They learned to avoid the fouled ponds where the poor beaver lost his hair and the fish were filled with horrible ulcers...

~But where could we go, if we are forced to leave?

His Uncles sometimes spoke of this. Now, Sascho tried to push this unhappy future away. To leave the Tłı̨chǫ Dèè was unimaginable.

~We are part of this place, woven into the land like quills ornamenting a pair of moccasins. We are like the moose, the lynx, the beaver, the muskrat, the wolf and the raven, and all our brothers and sisters who live here.

Linked to the earth through the soles of his feet, Sascho’s spirit rose up and poured out in prayer to the blue immensity of heaven...




When John Wisdomkeeper and I wrote Fly Away Snow Goose, it was to honor John's personal journey. He was spared the horrors of the orphanage or the residential school, but only because he was part of the "sixties scoop" a decade when First Nation's children were removed from their homes and given to European adoptive parents.  He has searched in vain for his birth mother, who may have been forced to relinquish him. He has spent a lifetime finding his way home to the traditions of his People.



~~Juliet Waldron

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Two recent sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/26/world/canada/indigenous-residential-schools-grave.html

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/whitehorse-kamloops-residential-school-walk-1.6081975

7 comments:

  1. These slices of history are so sad, yet they need to be brought to light, as those who ignore the past are bound to repeat its mistakes. It always amazes me to see the human capacity for cruelty. May we forgive but not forget, may we grow in love and compassion for all.

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  2. I'm glad this is now coming to light. Unfortunately, religion has been part of this cruel and inhuman behavior.

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  3. My heart breaks for all the children whose lives were cut short and their parents who never knew what happened to them. Terrible and so sad!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. As bad as we made Snow Goose, the truth is even worse in this case.

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  4. Such a great post about a part of history that was so terrible it is painful to contemplate. So many horrors along similar paths happened here in Australia to the original owners of the land. Mankind has a lot to answer for. Even today people are still suffering indignities and torture worldwide in the name of religion.

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  5. The tragic sadness... makes my heart weep.

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