Dispatches

Resistance and Renewal

Randy Fred

Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School by Celia Haig-Brown was published thirty-three years ago by Tillacum Library, an imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press, in Vancouver. It is about the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The book was awarded the Roderick Haig-Brown BC Book Prize for BC history. There was no nepotism here as the book was well deserving. It is still in print today, and available from Arsenal Pulp Press.

I wrote the ten-page-long foreword for the book. I was the publisher for Tillacum Library and was unable to find anyone else to write it. Indian residential school experiences were almost never spoken about. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the ordeal of writing about my nine-year experience in the Alberni Indian Residential School, which I began attending in 1955 at the age of five. Stephen Osborne, then the publisher for Arsenal Pulp Press, told me to write ten pages. I probably ended up with eighty pages.

In the school I learned how to hold back my tears. I bawled my eyes out as I was writing the foreword. Having been in court for more than five years over abuses suffered in the residential school, I am able to talk about these experiences without getting choked up. This summer, hearing the news of the 215 unmarked children’s graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, I was unable to hold back my tears.

The news reminded me of a story the late George Clutesi told me and my wife. When George worked at the Alberni Indian Residential School in the 196s as a maintenance man, the principal told him to clean out the barn, which was beside the principal’s residence. George said he did not know any details but he could not see a student surviving a whipping like that as there was so much flesh and blood.

Many stories are surfacing about First Nations children not returning home from residential schools.

In 1996 I travelled to Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal with my wife, our daughter who was then eleven, Melvin Good, who also survived the Alberni Indian Residential School, and his wife, Kathy. We were raising money for the lawyers’ final arguments in the first part of the civil action lawsuit that we were involved in against the United Church of Canada and the Government of Canada. The twenty-eight plaintiffs and their lawyers wanted the final arguments for vicarious liability to move to Prince Rupert from Nanaimo. Children were sent to Alberni Indian Residential School from all over the BC coast. Many of the plaintiffs were from around the Prince Rupert area. But there was no money to enable plaintiffs and supporters to travel to Prince Rupert. We were able to raise sufficient money to fly thirty people from Vancouver and then house and feed more than fifty people in Prince Rupert for a week. During our trip out east, we held a talking circle in each city. We heard horrific stories about Indian residential schools. Many people told their survival stories for the first time in their lives. After hearing those stories nothing can ever surprise me. Horrifying accounts continued during our stay in Prince Rupert. I am still unable to fathom how human beings can be so cruel to children.

The timing and need for Resistance and Renewal was perfect. Around the same time it was published the “Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples” was also published. This was a massive project that documented much of the histories of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and experiences in residential schools. Celia had written Resistance and Renewal as a thesis for her master’s degree in education and she was more than willing to rewrite it for a general audience. It is gratifying to see, thirty-three years after Resistance and Renewal was published, that the Indian residential school system in Canada is finally being acknowledged and recognized as the genocide it was intended to be. Celia’s work contributed to this, and she was very courageous in having her work published.

Celia and I spent several months attempting to cross paths. I knew her brother, Allan, from Williams Lake School District, where he set up the first Native language teaching program in a BC public school system. I knew of her sister, Valerie, too. She was a busy editor. Their father, Roderick, was famous as a magistrate and defender of social justice, a conservationist and sports fisher. Cell phones were not yet a thing in the 198s but Celia and I eventually did connect. I am so glad we did as she is such a lovely woman.

Another lovely woman connected to the old Kamloops Indian Residential School building was Chief Judy Wilson, now the Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. She worked for Theytus Books in Penticton when I was the publisher there.

Judy utilized the skills she learned at Theytus Books to set up a publishing program for the Secwépemc Cultural Centre. Her project was in the old Kamloops Indian Residential School. In the mid-198s she invited Stephen Osborne and me to facilitate a publishing workshop there. Steve and I drove up there with Jeannette Armstrong and Jeff Smith, who were directors for the En’owkin Centre and oversaw the operations of Theytus Books. It was a long drive from Penticton to Kamloops in those days so the four of us had some stimulating conversation on that journey. We dreamed up “The New World Encyclopedia,” which is still in development.

When we arrived, an unfortunate death in the community prevented people from attending the publishing workshop. The people who did come were Judy’s staff, volunteers and curriculum developers, who wanted to learn about the publishing process. It was a beautiful sunny day when Steve and I were there. I remember sitting on the fire escape of the building during break time. There were many similarities between the Kamloops and Alberni schools. When walking through the Kamloops school it seemed the same size as the Alberni one, which housed 15 boys and 15 girls. The hallways had that hollow echo you hear when walking down the hallway in Kent Maximum Security Prison. The large dining room in the basement where we had lunch had that same large resounding echo. Overall, the feeling I got in that building was creepy.

It was good, though, seeing Judy and others putting the school to good use.

Resistance as detailed in Celia’s account is what enabled us to survive the deadly residential schools. Renewal is what we are experiencing today. The documentation that will result from the physical investigations of the ground of all the former Indian residential school sites will generate much more insight into what took place at the residential schools across Canada and the North.

I am honoured to have met and worked with Celia Haig-Brown and I am proud of the impact we made with the publication of Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School.

This was published in the print edition as a side-by-side with "Resistance and Relentlessness" by Celia Haig-Brown.

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Randy Fred

Randy Fred is a Nuu-Chah-Nulth Elder. He is the founder of Theytus Books, the first aboriginal-owned and operated book publishing house in Canada. He has worked in publishing and communications for forty years. He lives in Nanaimo.

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