Just when I thought we were making some headway challenging the male dominated, racist, colonial structures in western society the voices of Idle No More, Me Too and Black Lives Matter have been muted and replaced with the raging anti-everythings led by guess who? White males. Now why isn’t that surprising? If these boys don’t like our society where were they when the people who have deep historical and systemic grievances were trying to make change? Or are they forcing us to make it all about them again?
Oh I know there are women and people of colour joining the protests. But we all know the old strategy—light a fire somewhere else to take the heat off the real problems. COVID gave the angry and the fed up—mostly male and mostly white—focus. It gave them their very own issue so they could become the victims. It was a great strategy to take the heat off the bombardment they had been experiencing from women, black and indigenous people. Why I think the current movement is mostly male and mostly white is because women, black and indigenous people have something to compare the latest “oppression” to that won’t go away once the virus recedes.
The oppression caused by COVID rules is incidental, the other oppression is systemic—that’s not a trivial difference. Vaccine passports and exclusionary policies have cramped our style for a few months and the masses are screaming. The movements I’ve mentioned are trying to lift oppression that has squelched people’s freedoms and stolen their dignity for centuries.
I’m pretty sure there are dozens of ways to argue with this post. But I am frustrated and impatient with the current screaming masses—they don’t deserve to take the focus off the movements that have worked so hard to get a voice.
The day Joni, my oldest daughter, was born 43 years ago, I was spinning wool so I had something to knit when I came home from the hospital. I birthed her with the help of a Caesarean Section. She was a perfect, beautiful little baby. Almost immediately people commented on her dimple. Perhaps a knitting needle poked her, people joked. For nine months she had been the shelf for my knitting.
Joni was born with the knitting gene. No one taught her. From the time she was a little girl she knew exactly what to do with needles and yarn. Joni inherited the gene from both sides of her family. Her Coast Salish Grandmother, Laura Olsen, also knit every day of her life until she could no longer lift her needles.
Joni is not just a knitter, she is a designer as well. She isn’t satisfied just knitting what everyone else is making. She is interested in pushing knitting in new directions donning her needles for a machine and then pushing the machine to its limits.
One of Joni’s most interesting creations was highlighted in the Qw’an Qw’anakwal Exhibition of Coast Salish Art at the University of Victoria in 2021. During a visit to the Chicago Field Museum in 2012 Joni viewed an early Coast Salish woven tunic. The piece inspired her to design a knitting stitch that reproduces classic Coast Salish weaving and to create her own fascinating rendition of the garment in the museum.
Joni’s tunic is a demonstration of fusion—using new tools and materials to reproduce old shapes and textures.
Stay tuned. There is more to come.
Joni’s latest design is the new home for Salish Fusion. The shop is currently being constructed and with luck and hard work should be open in time for Christmas.
In a landmark settlement the federal government designated “$20 billion over five years to improve services in Indigenous communities so children will no longer be removed from their homes.” (National Post) Another $20 billion is earmarked for compensation for people who suffered from past inadequate services.
Indigenous Relations Minister Patty Hajdu said, “Poverty cannot be a reason that a child cannot stay with their family.”
Years of good work by Cindy Blackstock and her team resulted in a well deserved and much needed victory. But what is missing in the narrative is the role housing has played on reserves. Improving services so children will no longer be removed from their homes presumes that the children have adequate homes. It presumes that the children’s parents have the same opportunities as other people to acquire housing. But that has not been the case for almost a century. The federally designed and delivered housing system in Canada, has prevented First Nations people on reserves from housing themselves.
Furthermore it is not necessarily poverty that prevents children from staying with their family. Even families with adequate incomes have been and, in many cases, still are prohibited from access to the financing needed to build or repair their homes. It is the absence of opportunity that prevents children from having adequate homes. It’s time to turn the narrative around. While poverty, on reserves, produces substandard housing, it must also be said that the disastrous effects of government designed and controlled housing actively created the poverty in the first place.
The problem can best be illustrated by telling a story I read in the national archives when I examined the Indian Department records while doing research into the history of government control over housing on reserves. In order to protect peoples’ privacy the details of this story are a composite of several families’ housing struggle. The archival records expose a lot of personal information making it necessary to mask individual identities.
In 1959 Roland was a 36-year-old woodcutter in the Maritimes. He hauled logs out of his First Nations territory and chopped them into firewood. He had many customers in neighbouring villages. He made decent money but wood selling was a seasonal business so Roland augmented his income with fishing and odd jobs when he had time.
Roland lived in a 400 square foot cabin with his 32-year-old wife Annie and their nine children ranging in age from less than a year to 17. They heated the cabin with a metal wood heater and lighted it with kerosene lanterns and candles so it’s not surprising that winter the crowded little dwelling burned to the ground. Luckily none of the family was hurt but they were houseless.
Houselessness meant they needed to find relatives they could live with. The trouble was all their family members lived in similar conditions and no one had room for Roland’s children. You might think they could rent something in town but even if there was an available house that could shelter eleven people harsh racism targeting First Nations people prevented Roland and his family from even trying to find such a home.
Furthermore Roland didn’t qualify for a bank loan because the Indian Act prohibited Indians, living on reserves, from acquiring loans no matter how much money they made. In the Indian housing system there was only one place to go for assistance. So Roland began his letter writing campaign to the Indian Department pleading the case for his family. “We need material so I can rebuild our cabin.” “We have nowhere to live. Our families don’t have room for us.” “We are going to have to live in the bush this winter—all eleven of us.” “The baby is sick.”
The Indian agent sent a letter of recommendation to Ottawa saying, “Roland is a hard working fellow. He takes good care of his family. We need to help him but we are out of funds here. Please send emergency funds.”
Roland didn’t get any assistance that winter. He continued to desperately request help in the spring but by the following summer his letters ceased.
Even more troublesome was what showed up in subsequent files. Their poor housing conditions wreaked havoc on their health and within the year Annie and the oldest daughter were sent to the tuberculosis hospital. With no house and no one to care for the rest of his family the school age children were sent to residential school and the little ones were put into foster care.
There was only one reason why this hard working, committed husband and father ended up losing his family to the medical, school and child welfare systems. It wasn’t poverty. It was because Canada had a racist housing system on reserves that prohibited First Nations people from accessing the necessary financial tools and building materials that were available to every other Canadians. It was because First Nations people living on reserves were restricted from opportunities to house themselves.
While changes have taken place over the past fifteen years or so the same system is still in place today and young families with small children are still commonly living in shared accommodations, often in one room of a grandparent’s house.
There are more First Nations children in care now than in the height of the residential school era. When the ministry takes children from young families they are often caught in a housing catch 22. One common condition for the children’s return is that the parents get adequate housing. Yet even if a First Nation has housing, young people usually do not qualify for it unless they have their children full time.
Additionally, when they try to find housing in mainstream the same racism Roland would have faced still excludes First Nations from the rental market. Rejection is an experience young First Nations families know all too well.
“I want my son to feel okay to go out there in the world and to feel that he’s equal to everyone else but I know that’s not the case. He’s going to have trouble because of our skin colour. He’s been with me when I’ve been denied. He understands the struggle unfortunately.” (Shawntay Garcia, W̱JOȽEȽP –Tsartlip First Nation)
First Nations are working towards transferring the care and control of housing from government to their own organizations. Like in the child and family sector, their challenge is to avoid simply replacing what currently exists. They have the opportunity to build a system that eclipses both the First Nations and mainstream housing systems. That dream requires telling the real story and building a new vision. It also requires tremendous commitment and resources on the part of First Nations and government. One of the problems with housing is that the approach is fragmented. Organizations all over the country are taking control and what is still missing is a central voice that advocates for the whole sector and that holds the government’s feet to the fire both for current issues and past compensation.
But it can be done–Cindy Blackstock has proven it is possible. The same sort of focussed attention needs to be given housing because if is way past time for government to relinquish control of the on-reserve housing sector and to enable First Nations to regain the tools they need to house themselves.
It seems natural that in the order of things you come first, your kids come next, your grandkids after that, and so on if you live long enough to have great grandkids. In a linear world it’s the obvious way to arrange the family. Family trees go top to bottom—the old people on the top—the young people scattered below.
Living it out is different. When my kids came along I began getting the sense that they were out in front—that I was moving down the trunk and into the roots of the tree. Not when I was driving them to school, when dinner was ready or when there was chores to do. That’s when I was out in front dragging them along. In those days if I was behind them it was to edge them forward, to persuade them that they could do it. But I could feel the starting place in the chronological order of our family was the latest arrival not me, not my parents or grandparents.
When the kids were little it wasn’t so obvious but as they matured I realized that they “got” the world in a very different and much more current way than I did. What they brought to the world had a more immediate relevance. They taught me. Not in a platitudinous way but in an everyday, practical and essential way. I literally had to hustle to keep up.
This is not to say that I abandoned my role as teacher. I’m a historian and I believe that in order to go forward we need to know and understand the past. This also is not to say that I didn’t pursue my own learning. I didn’t go to university until the kids were half grown. I was in my late 30s when I got a BA. I got a Masters Degree in my 40s, almost finished another in my 50s and got a PhD when I was 61. I had and still have a lot to learn.
I’ve taught at the university for more than a decade and I still have a lot to teach. But increasingly my life has become less and less about me and more and more about the people who have come after me and who go out in front.
Like all families ours started with two, then there were four more and now there are eight more after that. Each one has access to what I bring to the table as well as what their siblings, cousins and extended family brings to the table along with their own unique contributions. It gets bigger. It gets broader. It gets better.
It’s a good thing that each new generation takes the lead and that my place is behind them edging them forward, persuading them that they can do it. Because they are pursuing things I never could have imagined; they are imagining things that are beyond my scope of possibility. And if ever we have needed new, innovative, extreme thinking it’s now. It is their minds and their energy that must lead us forward.
In my family the two things that were inevitable were not death and taxes. The first absolute certainty was the cataclysmic end of the world that would be heralded in by the literal return of Jesus Christ. The second was the establishment of a kingdom on earth led by Jesus himself and managed by God’s chosen people. You could be one of the chosen if, at the great judgment, you were deemed a sheep not a goat.
Thus, from the cradle, I was raised to be an end-of-the-worlder.
“We are living in the end times,” my father would say with the same sort of enthusiastic anticipation he had when he was announcing a family holiday or a visit from an old friend. The end times, meant that the apocalypse was imminent. To me it meant doom was just around the corner—that THEEND would be the next important event in my life.
After THE END things got a bit fuzzy. While the kingdom was supposed to be a good time the story was complicated by 1000 years of cleansing the earth. This was to take place under the management of the sheep, which, if you’d gotten it all right during your lifetime, would include you. I remember being skeptical. When I looked around at the people in our religion, the ones aiming to be a sheep, the chosen, and thus lined up for the management positions in the kingdom, they didn’t look like a good crew for such a job. I knew from a very, very young age that being a sheep wasn’t a good quality for leadership. Don’t worry, I was told. God will work that out. I hoped so.
As a child my family read the Bible twice a day. We followed the Daily Bible Companion that set out a plan for reading the Old Testament once and New Testament twice each year. On top of that we were encouraged to do personal Bible study—to mark up our Bibles with explanatory notes prepared by church leaders. While not strictly forbidden, we were discouraged from reading anything other than the Bible or Bible related books that were written by men from the church. We had a few Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books in the house although I don’t remember reading them. My oldest sister hid her romance novels under her bed. That was the extent of my worldly literary education.
The single most important message I got from my early life was that it would end. Soon. I remember wondering if I would ever reach double digits. Being 10 seemed out of reach given the imminency of THE END. I worried about whether I would become a teenager. Would Christ’s return give me time to get my driver’s license? Turning 20 was something I assumed would never happen. Each new stage in life came as a surprise and I was completely unprepared. Without realizing it I was a living example of Dolly Parton’s “One day at a time, sweet Jesus”.
Other than doing what the Bible instructed in preparation for the judgment where I would hopefully achieve sheep status what was the point in making plans? Education, career, travel; these things had little value. If Jesus held off his return giving me a chance to grow older I assumed I would get married and have children.
Bleak as this worldview sounds it provided certainty; God was in control and he had a plan. There was comfort in that idea. The trouble was that no matter how bizarre the plan sounded your job was to believe; it wasn’t your place to question God.
For many of my church peers the plan made sense. Daily Bible readings, followed by personal Bible study, augmented with three or four church meetings a week left them with no time to question anything except themselves. Would they please God in the end? Were they sheeply enough? It was a constant worry.
I wasn’t willing to question myself without questioning everything else as well. I started with “Why would God make such a strange plan?” and then “How could such a plan succeed?” Given the evidence I could see of how badly God’s first creation was turning out for humans and the planet and I was unconvinced his next plan would be any more successful.
Looking inward I was pretty confident that God would not choose me to be a sheep. Sunday school teachers taught us early-on the difference between sheep and goats. Goats, they said, are naturally curious and independent. Goats love to escape the herd and head off solo. They will try and outwit and challenge the herder. We were told that these were not characteristics God was looking for in his chosen people.
Sheep, on the other hand, have a strong flocking instinct. They don’t like to be separated from the flock and are much easier to handle than goats. Sheep are less likely to challenge the shepherd and are more prone to follow and do as they are told.
I was pretty certain that I did not have the sheep-like qualities God wanted. Challenging God and questioning his plan was the only way I could make peace with what appeared to be my lot in life. But with THE END coming just around the corner and seeing myself much more of a goat than a sheep, challenging the Bible, the teachings and God himself didn’t result in peace, it became an obsession. This journey culminated during five or six years in my mid thirties. I became absorbed in an internal theological debate that spiraled into a personal existential crisis. Was there a God? If so, what did he want from human beings? If anything, what was I supposed to do about it?
As one strange interpretation of the Bible after the other fell away from my worldview I was left in what felt like the Biblical beginning…without form and void. The one thing that remained in place was the belief that human existence, as we know it on planet earth, was barreling towards some sort of end. I wish that wasn’t the belief that stuck with me. It’s no fun.
In my youth being an end-of-the-worlder was uncommon. Not anymore. Today most people either believe in some sort of THE END or are actively denying it. Most people are either eating, drinking and making merry, as it says in the Bible, or are trying to save us all before it is too late.
While I have recently been firmly in the “save it” camp I am revisiting the existential crisis of my 30’s. This time my journey is not in search of a relationship with God and my goal isn’t really to save myself or to save the world. My goal is the same as it has always been…to understand the human condition.
This time I’m exploring the relationship between humans and our fellow beings…animate and inanimate. This time, rather than examining the worldview held by my father where man has dominion over the entire creation to destroy or to save, I am drawing on my son’s perspective. His worldview comes from teachings from his indigenous family and holds that we are all relatives…insects, mountains, islands, fish, human beings…all of us…relatives. That perspective changes everything right down to the core of being itself.
I have no tidy conclusion to this post. It’s pause time. Time to be. More later.
Meet Jack James Hastings. He’s my eight-year-old grandson. Like every grandson Jack is a special little boy so grandson stories are ubiquitous. But this one is really worth a read.
Two months ago Jack phoned me “Grandma,” he said. “I’m going into business and I’m wondering if you would like to invest in it. I am going into the egg business. I am going to buy 40 chickens. I cashed in the cans and bottles I’ve been collecting and with my birthday money I’ve been saving I have $105.00. I need about $100 more to buy the chickens and fix the pen.”
It’s not a direct quote but, I kid you not, that was his spiel.
“Of course I’ll invest but I need a full business plan. I want to make sure that you’ve thought of everything and that the $100 is enough and that you won’t be coming back for another loan right away.”
“Great,” he said. “I’ll phone you back later.”
He phoned back after a few minutes. He had already done a plan. He read off all the expenses, along with his projected revenues as well as two commercial customers who had already placed standing orders.
“The only other thing I will need is solar panels. The chickens will need light to lay. But I’ll get them later.”
So Tex and I knew what to give him for his 8th birthday—solar panels.
The chickens are Jack’s responsibility. 100%. Every morning before school. Every evening after supper. Jack buys their food (more bottle collection), feeds them, cleans their pen, talks to them, found out that one was a rooster and another is now a mommy. He gets tired of the daily grind but the anticipation of eggs keeps him going.
Last week I got another call.
“Grandma, guess what!”
“I went out to feed the chickens this morning and guess what I found? The first egg!!! Pretty soon, when all the chickens are laying, I’ll start paying off the loan.”
In the past few weeks four friends passed away. One a life partner, one a professional associate, one a high school turned lifelong friend, one a neighbour. COVID, heart attack, advanced age, suicide. With each one I wanted to phone Diane. She would cry with me, complain with me, worry with me. We’d wonder. Why him? Who next? When us?
But Diane’s gone now as well and I have no one to call. For almost fifty years she was the one I phoned, that is, if she didn’t call me first.
I have a bearing missing. Diane kept my wheels connected to the axle. She was the part that kept the ride smooth when the road got bumpy.
This is the time of life we always talked about—the time when we lose our people. We talked about how important it was that we had each other.
It’s quiet here. The wind has settled. I’ve lit the candles. Their steady flames reach up. It will be light soon. I’m left wondering and thinking that in a way she’s still with me.
Over the past couple of years the First Nations Housing and Infrastructure Council of BC managed the most comprehensive research project ever conducted into what First Nations people are saying about housing and infrastructure in BC First Nations. Over 90% said they want to take back control of their own housing and infrastructure services.
That’s not surprising given the abominable job the federal government has done of managing First Nations housing for close to a century.
There isn’t a Canadian who has driven through a First Nations reserve who hasn’t wondered why the housing is so substandard compared to neighbouring communities. We’ve all asked, “What is wrong…with those people…with the First Nation…with the system…with the government?” Most of us haven’t known which question to ask because we don’t understand how housing is acquired on reserves. We mistakenly start with what we know about housing in the rest of Canada and that will not get us even close to how housing works in First Nations. From that assumption we presume the first question is the right one. “What is wrong with those people?”
I got a job working in Tsartlip First Nation as their housing manager in the mid 1990s. I had lived in the community for more than 20 years by then and had just finished a Masters Degree and it still took me several years to figure out what questions to ask.
The questions were difficult because it was hard to believe that Canada had actually bungled the First Nations housing file so badly for so long.
A little background: In the 1930s the country was reeling from the Great Depression and housing, including First Nations housing, was in a crisis. The federal government responded by creating two housing systems…one system for the mainstream; focused on providing affordable and accessible lending mechanisms, establishing building standards and driving job creation, and one system for First Nations; a welfare-style distribution of small batches of building supplies designed by an Indian agent (often from afar). There was no thought of standards, financial tools or jobs.
The reserve system blocked First Nations from housing themselves and literally forced them to accept the government programs. Oh a person could move off the reserve, you might say. Yes but if you did, as a First Nations person you would not be welcome in mainstream communities and so your housing prospects would not necessarily improve. The same is still true today.
By the 1940s it had become blatantly obvious that the system the government had for housing on reserves—let’s be perfectly clear, First Nations people and their leadership had no control of the system whatsoever—had never and could never produce adequate housing.
Now here’s the rub. When the system failed, as it did over and over again, government agents took that to mean First Nations were unable to be successfully housed and that they needed more ‘help’. The history of housing in First Nations is a series of government fixes—one program after the other trying to fix the previous failure. Never once, that I could find in the records, did the Indian Department contemplate that the problem might rest with government, not the First Nations.
Of course I didn’t, because, in the deeply rooted racist worldview of Canadians, we believed that Indigenous people were not capable of managing their own affairs.
So when you drive through a reserve and wonder why the housing is in such disarray there is an easy answer. Because Canadians believed that First Nations people were not capable of managing their own affairs the government did the managing. The Indian Department designed the programs and controlled how they would be delivered and the lion’s share of government funding for First Nations housing returned right back into the pockets of the enormous “Indian industry” of bureaucrats and professionals who operated the system. And what you are looking at, when you drive through a community and see the ramshackle houses, is the outcome of that arrangement.
Of course housing on Indian reserves (legal name) looks different than in the rest of Canada. Nowhere else in this country has such a housing system existed. No other group of Canadians has been subject to so many state controls over their houses. No one else in Canada is refused the opportunity to go to a bank borrow money to build or renovate a house simply because they live in a certain community.
It takes a bit to grapple with. Long after most residential schools had closed their doors government agents still controlled how First Nations people would be housed. The ill health and social disruption caused by unimaginably substandard housing continues in many communities to this day.
But if we look at it from different angle then think about the time when you drove through a reserve more recently and said, “Hey there’s some really nice houses going up. I wonder what’s happening.” What’s happening is that many First Nations are taking control of their housing. There’s still only a trickle of independently wealthy and sophisticatedly administered communities that have really repatriated control over their housing. But it’s happening for the first time in a century.
So you can see what happens when First Nations are in control. Housing improves and, given time, First Nations housing will meet the same standards as elsewhere.
So as I said earlier, it’s no wonder First Nations want to take back control over their own housing. What is really the wonder is that it wasn’t until this recent federal government took over the reigns of the Indian Department that it decided the government itself was the problem and it ought to get out of the business of delivering services on reserves. It’s still not convinced that First Nations can do it themselves but First Nations are taking control in any case. As my First Nations daughter, Joni, who is an elected councillor for Tsartlip First Nations said, “Mom, at some point it isn’t about what the government does or doesn’t do. The cat is out of the bag. We are taking control over our own lives. The government will just need to figure that out and adjust.”
But there are still so many questions: Will government acknowledge the destruction caused by its housing system? Will there be compensation? Building a new system is a colossal task, will there be enough support to ensure its success?
Thirty years ago Diane Harris, my best friend, sister-in-law and then social worker for Stz’uminus First Nation convinced me that Kuper Island Residential School, where her parents (my in-laws) and many local First Nations kids went to school, was a central cause for the trauma and dysfunction being experienced in her community. And, she said, no one was talking about it. She then convinced me to go with her while she interviewed former students. She said she would interview and I would take notes. Over a couple of months during the summer of 1991 we talked to 70 people. Several people pointed their finger at me and said that they were only talking to me because I was writing it down and they wanted me to tell people…to tell the world what had happened at the school.
Afterwards I filed my writing pads in my desk. I couldn’t even reread my notes. I had no courage to write and no will to tell. My own life was coming unhinged, partly as a generational effect of the Kuper Island school. I was devastated from the stories I’d heard, heartbroken by my family’s own suffering and conflicted about my role, a white woman, in the whole tragedy.
I had a debilitating case of “who the hell are you to say or write anything?” It’s been a life long condition that has constantly had me waffling between thinking I should share my experiences and knowledge and burying my stories to avoid criticism. Diane is pretty much fully responsible for convincing me to write anything at all. She shamed me into writing. “You always tell people they should not be afraid to tell their truths and share their stories,” she lectured me. “Then why are you afraid?” I’m still afraid, but as Diane continues to tell me “Quit that now.”
Back to the Kuper Island interviews; Diane wouldn’t let up on me. “You promised you would write the story,” she said. A day never went by when I wished I hadn’t promised. I just couldn’t do it. We talked and talked about what we had heard. We went over the notes and I jotted down glimpses I remembered and thoughts that she shared with me. We came up with an abbreviated rendition of our notes called “the interview”.
The former students we spoke to also asked us to put on a gathering so they could share their stories amongst themselves. Diane and I, in spite of threats from the Catholic Church and from First Nations people who didn’t want the stories told, arranged the first residential school conference in the country. Phil Fountaine led the discussions along with the late Delmar Johnnie from Cowichan.
Diane invited Christine Welsh, a Metis filmmaker, and Peter Campbell from Gumboot Productions, to film the Kuper Island gathering. (I’ve attached Kuper Island: A return to the healing circle.) Diane also helped organize the healing ceremony on Penelekut Island that you can see in the film. She set up a table and invited people to bring photos of their family who lost their lives because of the school. The table was filled with images, not just of the children who didn’t return from the school and were buried on the school site, but of those who did return but died early, tragically, either from TB or other health conditions or from the trauma of the experience of the Kuper Island school.
The film turned out to be the best way to get the story out, the one I could not write and could not tell. It will be rereleased this fall with a new name, Penelakut: Returning to the Healing Circle.
Finally in 2000 Rita Morris, Ann Sam (both from WOJELEP First Nation) and I found a way to tell the stories of the Kuper Island school. They were kids’ stories so we wrote them for kids. We worked with 6 elders from WASANEC who listened to the stories I wrote and gave us feedback on everything from the tone of the language to what they actually ate at the school to the type of vehicles that were around at the time. The stories, made fiction, can be found in the book No Time To Say Goodbye. It came out 20 years ago and is still being sold with all the proceeds going towards First Nations’ youth activities.
My apologies for repeating some of what I wrote in an earlier post. Diane was in Nanaimo Hospital during the amazing Kuper Island Residential School walk in Chemainus a few weeks ago. I brought her photos and “the interview,” the only writing that we managed to produce in those early years. It’s never been published or widely shared. They are not my words or Diane’s they come directly from the interviews that I put together almost 30 years ago as a collage and that I am giving back…to the world…where the people who entrusted me with them wanted them to be.
do you think it is a sin to tell
no maybe it isn’t
but they told us never to tell
I don’t think it can be a sin
they aren’t around anymore anyway
but it might be best to just let the thing alone
it’s time to get on don’t you think
some of the elders are saying that it’s best left alone
life is hard enough just dealing with what happens today
sometimes I wonder why it is so hard
nothing seems to make sense to me
it’s hard for the kids
I love them so much
I don’t know how to tell them…..or show them
I’ve never tucked them into bed…..or read them a bedtime story
it’s best left alone don’t you think
I think it was hard for mom to send me there
but I don’t know
we never talked about it
she’s gone now
I remember my grandmother
she cried when they came and took me
quietly….but I knew she was crying
I know she didn’t want me to go
she said she couldn’t stop them
and maybe it would be best
she thought it might be good for me to learn English
I was so scared
I was only six
I hadn’t been off the reserve much
I couldn’t understand what they were saying to me
they talked so fast
I couldn’t even pick up the little bit of English that I knew
there were a few of us
I remember George
he was a bit older than me
he helped me out with the English
but he was scared too
the boat ride over to the island was the worst
I didn’t know where I was
I knew that my parents would never be able to find me
my cousin was there
I thought I could find her
she would help me
but I never saw the girls much
she would smile at me and wave
but I lived with the boys
they beat me up a lot
they said I was a sissie because I wanted my cousin
but I didn’t stay a sissie long
I had more trouble learning English that some of the boys
it seemed that I was always hungry
hungry and mad
there was one brother that used to hit me
he made me sit in the closet all day
I didn’t know how to say that I had to go to the bathroom
so I wet my pants
I sat in the dark closet all day
he forgot me and I fell asleep
he got me out in the morning
I was really afraid of the dark
I guess I still am
you know I sleep with all the lights on
it was that same brother that used to come into our room at night
I used to see him take the other boys away
one by one
I didn’t know what he was doing
until one night he took me away
then I knew
the boys didn’t talk to each other about it
we still don’t
I missed my grandmother
I could smell her when I went to bed
I saw her a couple of times
during the summer before we went berry picking
I told her that they weren’t nice to me out there
I didn’t tell her what they did to me
she used to just hold me
it didn’t make sense
I don’t think it made sense to her either
I always remember her
she died when I was nine
I used to look after some of the boys in the infirmary
one boy from Sooke got really sick one year
they wrapped towels around his neck
I had to bring him food but he couldn’t eat
it was T.B.
I remember them finally getting a doctor over to see him
the doctor got really mad
they took the boy over to the hospital in Chemainus
he made it
but he never came back to school
some of the boys tried to tell them
they tried to get the place changed
mostly it just ended up in a fight
I guess we learned they were in charge
they whipped some of the boys
we were all supposed to be quiet so we could hear them cry
one boy wouldn’t cry
we heard him get whipped and whipped
the brother was swearing at him
he said that if he would just cry then it would stop
but he wouldn’t cry
some were really strong
the only thing to do was run away
I went to the village and tried to get on a fish boat
they brought me back
others tried to escape
escape….it’s funny isn’t it
but that’s it
we were trying to escape
the island was like Alcatraz….no way out….no way off
others tried to escape on logs
or in canoes
some made it
I remember when there was a bigdance at Kuper
the people would come over on their boats
they would walk right past the school to get to the bighouse
we would look out the window and watch them
sometimes we would see our family
when I got older I didn’t want to see them
they didn’t know me anymore
I didn’t know them either
when I went home for the summer I didn’t fit
they had got on with their lives
I didn’t know how to get on with mine
I guess I hated most things
I hated the school
I hated the food
the beds….used to wet mine all the time
the bigger boys
I hated talking Indian
I hated not being able to talk English properly
I hated being Indian
it didn’t make sense
they said everything that was Indian was evil
everything that was Indian you were supposed to change
I hated being Indian
I hated white people
I guess mostly I just hated myself
I started doing some of the things I hated most
it didn’t make me feel good
but I can’t remember ever really feeling good
I had nothing to lose
no one was there for me….except me
I was about fifteen when I finally got out of there
I didn’t live at home long after
I pretty much just slept wherever I found myself
I started drinking real bad
I was real bad
I knew one thing and that was that I would never
let no white man tell me what to do
I wasn’t going to let no one tell me what to do
but I didn’t know what to do
you know I have never gone to look for a job
I’ve worked on the reserve sometimes
but I’ve never looked for a job
no I’ve always just looked after myself here
it’s probably best
I can’t control myself when I get mad
I don’t let anyone tell me what to do
no one pushes me around
anyway….I never went back to school after Kuper
I guess I learned to read and write
but I’d never be able to get one of those office jobs
why did they send me to that school?
I don’t really know
my mom’s gone now
she was angry when I left so she didn’t really say
I have never known my dad
they separated when I was at school
he’s on the mainland somewhere
I’m not sure where now
he went to Kuper….I’m not sure about mom
I’d like to find out
there is a big empty hole in my life
sometimes I am just empty
it’s like the whole sky with nothing in it
but not even
it’s not even like that
sometimes I spend a whole day and I don’t think about anything
I think I would like to pray
I haven’t gone to church since I left the school
no….I did once
the priest said mass in Indian
I couldn’t even understand what he said
it doesn’t make sense does it
they changed the rules
now the priest can talk Indian better than me
God doesn’t make sense
at school we prayed all day
beforebreakfast at breakfast afterbreakfast beforelunchatlunch….
but all I prayed for was to go home
God never listened
they told me there were devils at home
I never had a home after
I can’t pray to God anymore
I just go out in the woods and sit
I’ve told you what I remember
I think I don’t remember most of it
it’s part of the emptiness
it’s part of what doesn’t make sense
I’m still afraid….I’m afraid to remember
I’ve told what I remember
it hurts but sometimes I don’t know why
everyone has their stuff to deal with
I don’t want to blame them for the way I am
some people say they had a good time out at Kuper
some say it was better than home
some remember good people out there
there was one brother
he used to coach our soccer team
we were really good
we would go to Chemainus to play
sometimes we would travel
I was a good soccer player
yea….now that I remember I had a good time playing soccer
Sometime in the morning of April 8, 2021 after a few weeks of negotiations we received a call from Caroline, our lawyer, to tell us that Tex and I, along with our partners Elizabeth May and John Kidder were the owners of the Saturna Lodge located on Saturna Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea.
It was only a few weeks before, that the four of us had decided to look into purchasing a place together. None of us were sure what that would look like but once we visited the Lodge we knew that we had found our home. The news that our hastily made plans were now a reality felt like pure possibility. Suddenly there were five of us in the mix, two couples and a grand old lady perched on a gracefully tiered hillside overlooking the calm, sparkling Boot Cove.
First the house would become our home— Elizabeth and John wanted to live there full time; Tex and I, part time. Almost immediately we faced our first challenge. They moved in lock, stock and barrel out of their apartment in Sidney, but the previous owners had left everything from dish towels (some still dirty) and bedroom furniture to a loaded pantry with stuff like a dozen or so bottles of HP sauce, half eaten boxes of Stoned Wheat Thins and jars of peanut butter in the fridge. Our first tasks were to clean, expunge and make space.
Colin Kwok, an architect and friend from Vancouver, came with Joyce, his wife, to get to know our fifth partner and advise us on adaptations we can make so the five of us can live together peacefully.
Never before have I felt more reverence towards a house and a place. Never before have I had such an immediately wonderful relationship with a house and felt such a deep responsibility to enhance and protect her, knowing she will do the same for me.
It’s been only 3 months so we are still settling in to all these relationships. It’s been a long time since any of us have had roommates but we are excited about in our new experience of collaboration, sharing and adventure.
One thing all five of us agree on is that we want many of you to come and visit and share the peace and the beauty. It’ll take time but stay tuned.