(Ed. note the Truth and Reconciliation hearings will be at the Big House — U’Gwamalis Hall, Monday and Tuesday)
Special to the Gazette
This picture is of St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay.
The small door is to a chamber called the “monkey cage” where children were locked up as punishment.
My father —Wolkine’ — was taken from Guilford Village by RCMP when he was seven- or eight- years-old.
Prior to being taken he was raised by his grandmother, a medicine woman who lived entirely from the resources of our land and water.
Wolkine’ learned how to survive at this young age traveling with his grandmother and family by canoe on daily and seasonal excursions, harvesting year round.
For a time he thought that they were poor when in fact they lived in abundance and wealth without concern for the white world and problems.
They were descendants of prominence in a superior society that eventually would be taken from many of our forefathers by policies and acts of genocide.
His grandmother never needed or wore shoes; she paddled the canoe all over our territory, gathering food and medicine to provide and heal many people.
When my father was taken from this freedom he vowed at his young age to never allow them to break or change who he was. He would resist.
In residential school he survived torture as a young boy; he was put in the monkey cage where there are no windows or light.
He was put on the fire escape overnight, as physical punishment — it was an instrument of cruelty and inhumanity to change us and to kill the culture of Indians.
Wolkine’ often ran away for weeks at a time, evading police and police dogs and surviving in the woods on sap from trees and raiding turnips and potatoes from the farm fields at the school.
At the end of this month, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will hold hearings in Port Hardy and in Campbell River, where many such stories will be heard.
Our will to survive and to sustain our culture and way of life comes from the strength and resistance of our survivors — what doesn’t break you will only make you stronger.
There are many people today, including First Nations, who do not know the truth behind the genocide or understand what genocide is.
Attawapiskat (a reserve in Ontario recently in the news after people there declared the housing situation is in a state of emergency) is only the tip of the iceberg of the continued policy of attrition by Canada to starve and remove the Indian from his homeland, and one of many human rights injustices that need to be exposed and recorded by history.
I hope you will attend with your families, or pay attention to the hearings in Port Hardy and Campbell River in order that you will, or need to be, factors in learning, defining, and changing what is necessary to achieve reconciliation and real freedom of our culture. For healing and to end and devolve from Canada’s illegitimate control and unacceptable repressive policies that still seek to assimilate us to be noble savages of Canada..
Eric Joseph lives in Kingcome Inlet, B.C.