More Than Just a Lost Boy

In school, I vaguely, and I mean vaguely, remember learning about Sir John A Macdonald. Sir Wilfred Laurier, Langevin and the other ‘Founding Fathers of Confederation’ as well as the Davin Report, the full name of which was, Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds. (Source)

I vaguely, and I mean vaguely, remember learning about how the Davin Report set the path for the assimilation of children into the Euro-centric culture of Canada’s founding fathers. It proposed a cooperative approach between the Canadian government and the church to implement the “aggressive assimilation” pursued by President of the United StatesUlysses S. Grant.[29][28]:1.

I remember vaguely, and I mean vaguely, photographs of the painting above. it is a recreation of an original painting by Richard Harris that hung in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa from 1884 to 1916 when it was destroyed in a fire that also destroyed the original Parliament Buildings. In 1964, Confederation Life, an insurance company, commissioned artist, Rex Wood, to recreate the original painting to be presented in honour of Canada’s Centennial. In the recreated version, three figures, who had not been considered Founding Fathers in 1883 when the original painting was commissioned, were added on the right.

I remember vaguely, and I mean vaguely, having to re-enact in some elementary school class, the negotiations, the haggling, the political maneuverings needed to get signatures on the bottom line of The British North American Act, Canada’s constitution.

I know, and I mean know, I did not ask, where are the Chiefs in this painting? Where are the First Nations people who were the first to inhabit these lands? Why were they not signatories? Why aren’t they in the painting?

I also know, and I mean know, whatever I learned about ‘assimilation’ it was framed in the language of the founding fathers, because I know, and I mean know, I never thought to ask…

What about the children? What about the residential schools?

What about the attempted annihilation of those who walked these lands, who hunted and planted, who gathered and raised families and had their own system of governance, who built canoes and lodges, who knew the medicinal values of all the plants and could heal broken limbs and festering sores with their knowledge rooted in the forests and lakes, the mountains and rivers of this land and who had lived here for centuries long before white man arrived?

I know this because I know that I was never taught about the residential school system when I was in school. I was never taught to question the purpose, value and impact of assimilation.

I could not question what I did not know.

My education into the harm done by the residential school system began in the 1990s when I began working on a project with a group of street-engaged teens. We were writing a play together. Its purpose: to build a bridge from street life to main street. To give those who did not know, an opportunity to learn more about something they did not understand – -street life.

Several of the teens involved in this project were Indigenous. Like the other young people involved they were thoughtful. Articulate. Passionate about the project and committed to using it as a vehicle to reach other teens to let them know, street life is not the solution. It is a road to more pain and suffering.

I was involved with this project for three years. In the second play we wrote there was a young man involved, I’ll call him Chris, who had run away from a reserve in Saskatchewan.

I credit Chris with awakening me to the horrors of the residential school system and its lasting impact on Indigenous peoples.

Both his parents, his aunties and uncles, they all attended the schools. They had never been lovingly parented. Deeply wounded, they did not know how to parent their own children.

Chris wasn’t angry with his parents. He was angry with ‘the white man’. With authority. With a system that denied him dignity, respect, justice and freedom.

And still, for all his anger and pain, Chris kept turning up for our group every single Wednesday afternoon. He didn’t have a home, but he did have a place to belong in our small group of fledgling writers and actors.

The play itself was a cooperative endeavour. Everyone involved offered their words and ideas and as a group, we chose which ‘story-line’ to pursue in the overarching piece.

Chris was an inspired rapper. His words penetrating. His emotions ran deep.

Everyone agreed, Chris’ story was a pivotal piece of the play and he was hyped to be giving voice to his people’s story.

And then, a few days before the play was to be mounted, I received a call from Chris.

He was in tears.

I’ve been arrested, he told me. I won’t be out before the play.

I struggled to find a way to get Chris permission to still be able to be part of the play. But the system was greater than me.

I don’t know what happened to Chris after that as once the prison doors closed, I lost touch with him.

What I do know, and I mean know, is that Chris made a difference in my life. He opened the door to the dark underbelly of our history. His wasn’t just ‘a story of a boy lost to the streets’. It was the story of an entire people whom, despite the centuries of abuse they’d endured, had never lost their will to fight. To survive. To live.

I don’t know where Chris is now, but I believe, and I mean believe deeply, that wherever he is, Chris is waking people up to the fact, ‘not knowing’ is not good enough.

We must educate ourselves. We must start asking questions. Demanding action. Creating change. Now.

15 thoughts on “More Than Just a Lost Boy

  1. McDonald was brilliant, a drunkard, a clever politician, likely corrupt, and many other things for which he has been sanctioned by parliament in his day, and more recently by public opinion, including the taking down of statues and removing his name from things. Still, be brought us confederation, a national railroad and the foundation of federal/provincial relationships that have, in the main, been valued and widely praised. Many of his accomplishments deserve high praise. Many, as history has better revealed, do not. It’s not so much a matter of changing times as it is the exposure of his deeds and motives viewed through history’s lens.

    Having said that, the question, what do we as a country do with this information about McDonald, Langevin, Grandin and others. Changing names of buildings, streets and neighbourhoods does not – in itself, erase anything, correct anything, or make anything better for indigenous Canadians. But it’s a start. It’s awareness. It’s history in the making – of what happens in 2021 to affect change.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dear Louise,
    We both live in countries that are deeply flawed, deeply racist, and collectively and individually highly afraid (and jealous) of people we don’t understand. If we can clean up the “problem” and make it disappear we have solved our immediate discomfort. In those acts we have committed huge atrocities. It is incredibly sad and an outrage. Thank you for standing up and stating what is true. Have you sent your words to the papers? They are so beautifully written they deserve a bigger audience. Sending hugs and love.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you Lilli Ann. Deeply flawed and deeply beautiful. We are all of what you dscribe and also, so much more.

      and thank you for your words of encouragement and support. — and no, I haven’t sent them anywhere. 🙂 I’m getting there… 🙂 ❤ .

      Like

      • I agree with Lilli Ann. Your words deserve a larger audience. We are also learning about a tragic part of history in Tulsa. Heartbreaking and no longer being ignored. I must believe there is hope. Sending love.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We all have experiences with the dark belly of human nature. That is a fact. Does anything change because we “change” names? No, I opine we are picking up the edge of a carpet and sweeping the bad away. We need to educate, speak to truth, acknowledge that those who are famous for something may actually have done something wrong. Unfortunately it is only seen as wrong decades or even centuries as we use “today’s” values, morals as a benchmark. Yes, McDonald, Langevin are part of our Canadian history, founding fathers of Confederation who had a vision. Yes, that vision included residential schools, attempts to impose “their values, culture, etc” on a people who had centuries of a different way of life. Did these men know that it was “wrong” to impose their will on others? No. They thought they were doing the right thing. So, using today’s values, etc. let’s educate not just Canadians, but the world, that we acknowledge and embrace the good with the wrong. Please, do not attempt to re-write or eradicate history. The Soviets tried that for 7 decades and today, 30 years AFTER the demise of communism, the history books in former Soviet bloc countries still are not depicting the truth of those 70 years. We, the human race, are so afraid of stepping on toes, upsetting someone. Time to stand up, accept the truth that our past history is flawed and get on with life. Today’s generations cannot be responsible for actions of our forefathers. We need to take responsibility for NOT repeating history. Unfortunately, history has a very bad habit of repeating itself. Let’s learn from the mistakes of the past, stop dwelling on it and help build a brighter, safer now and future for all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iwona – you make a clear set of statements, ones I don’t quarrel with. However, how you and I feel is only one part of this. How do indigenous Canadians feel? While there is a lot of focus right now, this is a 450 yr. legacy of being conquered, withstanding and surviving multiple genocide attempts, and still treated as 2nd class citizens in a land they’ve lived in for more than 10,000 years – how do they feel? This is not just about ‘taking a clear view of history’ as it is lifting people into equality they can taste, feel, experience as mainstream Canadians – not as your or I might define it, but as they define it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mark;
        You are so correct. In an exchange with Louise yesterday I brought up the matter of who will, who should be part of these discussions which i neglected to include in my a/n comments. Thank you for adding this very important aspect to the equation.

        Like

    • Thank you for sharing your cogent and powerful thoughts. Yes! ‘let’s stand up, accept the truth that our past history is flawed — and I LOVE this thought — “Today’s generations cannot be responsible for actions of our forefathers. We need to take responsibility for NOT repeating history.”
      For those harmed by our forefathers, let us acknowledge the truth.
      And I wonder…. how could it be different today, if in the past, governments and the church had acknowledged the truth, the pain, the suffering and taken responsibility.

      Like

  4. Pingback: 215 – Equipoise Life

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