THIS STORY CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ABUSE. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
At 77 years old, Métis senior Jim Cunningham shares his story of attending Sturgeon Lake Indian Residential School. He opens up about his experience, detailing the abuse he suffered at the hands of other students as well as school administrators.
THIS STORY CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ABUSE. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
A recollection of the Métis buffalo hunts from Victoria Callihoo (1861-1966). The story was originally printed in the Winter 1960 issue of Alberta Historical Review, Volume 8, Number 1. This story is significant because it is a first hand account of one of the last great buffalo hunts in Western Canada. Once the mainstay of the Métis lifestyle and economy, by the late 19th century the prairie herds had all been wiped out, forcing the Métis to adapt an agricultural lifestyle. Victoria Callihoo herself was a noted Métis historian who lived to be 105 years old. Here follows a brief biography from Library and Archives Canada:
Victoria Belcourt Callihoo was born in Lac Ste. Anne, a Métis community northwest of Edmonton. Living in Lac Ste. Anne for all her 104 years, she witnessed the many changes in Canadian life that took place in this time period. Questioning the value of money the first time she saw it, she preferred the "fur" system of barter which did not foster the hoarding of wealth. She was more approving of the telephone, as it permitted Callihoo, a woman related by blood or marriage to the Cree, Iroquois and French, to communicate in the language of her choice.
The daughter of a Cree medicine woman, she went to her first buffalo hunt in a Red River cart at age 13, when the great western bison herds could still be described as "a dark solid moving mass." She later farmed with her husband, Louis Callihoo, and raised 12 children. An expert teamster, she also freighted for the Hudson's Bay Company between Edmonton and Athabasca Landing.
Callihoo's vivid recollections, outlined in the Alberta Historical Review, are a remarkable window into 19th-century Métis daily life and customs. Indeed, she was still dancing the laborious Red River jig "the way it should be done" well past the age of 100.
A short documentary on the First Meetings Project, a photo exhibit re-imagining the first meeting between First Nations & fur traders. Project Lead Dawn Saunders Dahl leads viewers through an exploration of the project and it's intent, with perspective from Indigenous and Francophone collaborators.
Interviewed on January 17, 2015 by Kyle Napier, Carla Ulrich and Richard Van Camp
RVC: So, Bea, I wanted to ask you just as we’re getting set up here, so you came to Fort Smith when?
B: In 1953.
R: 1953 and you were in charge of the TB program?
B: No, I came up here to teach the TB routine. The hospital was going to take all the NWT TB patients and put them in St. Anne’s hospital here. And it was all on the second floor. We came here, another nurse and I, to teach the TB routine to the staff and sisters ‘cause I worked at the camps for many years. I was only up here for two months at that time: 1953. I was up here I think—no, I got here on my birthday, April the 30th, and I left about July 2 or the 3rd. But those were two, we worked hard but it was two good months and then I went back to Edmonton, met Reg…and we went back in 1958. But Reg went to school here and everything. He’s originally from Chip…
R: Beautiful. So where were you born?
B: I was born in Saddle Lake, St. Paul.
R: Oh and what year?
B: In what year?
B: Yeah, so I’m almost 83.
R: Bea, when you were growing up, were you ever taught Cree or Chip?
B: I am so annoyed with my parents. My mother is French and my dad is Cree.
B: He spoke fluent Cree. But they decided that they would not teach us English. Teach us French or English. Biggest mistake they ever made because they thought we would be further ahead not knowing it. That’s what my Dad thought. My oldest brother and I--I went to Blue Quills School for four years and then they took us out and then we went to a day school with Irish kids. Because my dad took us out because he thought we would never get past grade 8 if we stayed in Blue Quills. Those were the best years of my life, but my brother---I think he was having problems. My Dad took us out, but in those days they never told you why. To this day I don’t know why we left there. ‘Cause I loved Blue Quills.
R: So you’re saying they never taught you Cree or French?
B: Nor French and I could have had both.
R: Have you noticed that that has changed?
B: I think so. Well, I have certain friends…that come all the time. But when I first came to Fort Smith I remember Christmas with Mrs. Bird and Mrs. Mabbitt. I had not even met them but they went to every house visiting, you know, and I guess around home that’s what we did, too, around Saddle Lake. We always had a lot of visitors.
On traditional birth practices:
B: Well they used to come, take a needle and thread and just, it was only supposed to be certain people that could do that too not everybody could do it, then you’d lay, the woman would lay down and then if it went straight that was a boy but if it kind of went round it was a girl.
B: (laughing) I think it was kind of, that maybe you know that if the person knew how to do that … and usually they were right, yeah. That was what we were more interested in, in finding out if it was a boy or girl. We still had to wait ‘til the end. I still like people to wait till the end but at least we used to fool around, I guess. You guess what it is: boy or girl, uh?
RVC: So is there anything you would like to share with us?
B: There’s so much to share, isn’t there? I thought that when I left the Health Centre I would travel; then I decided it cost too much to travel; then I became interested in the NWT Seniors, became president to the local Seniors’ and then I’ve been president to the NWT Seniors for ten years or … ten or eleven years. Now I’m Vice President because we still have the same president since I left, but I’ve really enjoyed working. I enjoy working with volunteer things.
RVC: So, for future generations, with all your experience, what would you like them to know about the north?
B: It’s a good place to live. It was a good place to bring up children. I don’t know if it’s a good now as it was then. We … we brought up our children; then we brought up one grandchild who-- that one is a true northerner: he works and he loves the land… I think it was a good place to raise children. There’s still a closeness in Fort Smith. When something happens, we really stick together. Like I say, you like Fort Smith, we love Fort Smith, too, and I don’t know what else I could say about it but it just … just we’ve had so many good years … when my family comes to visit me from, well, they live mostly in Alberta--some in BC--they think this is the greatest place. We have the greatest friends and they came up to our 60th anniversary this summer and they say, “No wonder you never left there. You know, you have so many good friends.” And I say, “Yeah, we have so many good friends up here.” My family brings that to me every time they come. They say, “Oh my God, Beatrice. You live in a good town,” uh? And we do, it’s just…it’s just Fort Smith. I don’t know: it must grow on people.
K: How did Cree sound, compared to other languages that you’ve heard?
B: We didn’t hear much else. We went to school with a bunch of Irish when we did go to day school. They were people from Ireland that moved there in 1930--same as my Dad and them were born and they had an Irish accent. We picked up the Irish accent like nothing. And then the only thing we ever heard was Cree and French. And when they didn’t want us to know anything they spoke …
B: Yeah, my dad understood enough French that he knew when Mom was talking to her relatives that and when they didn’t want us to know they spoke those languages. They didn’t hide it from us so they spoke it so hopefully we wouldn’t know what they were talking about.
RVC: With all the camping you did and all the time on the land what was the greatest gift that that gave you and your family?
B: The togetherness, I guess. You’re always together and you’re eating together and sleeping together, the closeness and freedom. You know, to do whatever you want out there. Eat whatever you want, cook. Cookin’ out I’ve always liked, uh? Yeah.
K: So what is it about Smith that caught you here?
B: I liked Smith when I came up here … I’ve always liked working for the Grey Nuns; they were the greatest people to work for. They were, you know we don’t give them enough credit for the things they did for the health of Fort Smith, uh? I mean, the Mission gave, used their own money off for them. I mean, I know I worked for nothing for years and years at St. Anne’s ‘cause I was a nurse but I wasn’t paid as a nurse; sometimes the nurses they hired from the south they realized in the end they were getting more money than me. But I worked. I just liked it because they were such family people. When I worked for them, if any one of my kids were sick I could just, I’d go with my kids first and they would take over. One of the nuns would take over what I was doing. They were the best people I’ve ever worked for; they taught me so much, yeah. Yeah … best years of my life was St. Anne’s, then over, the beginning years of the Health Centre were good, too.
RVC: My question to you, Bea Campbell, is: what do you want the world to know about the beauty of Fort Smith? What do we have in Fort Smith that the rest of the world doesn’t?
Bea: … the smallness. It’s getting to know each other and know new people right away. We’re small enough for that. What are we … we’re good at welcoming people and I hope we continue to do that and… I gotta think a hundred years from now. We’ve changed so much in the last thirty or forty years we’re not quite as nice as we used to be. Or we can’t be: we have to be more, more careful. I hope we get rid of all the Elder abuse or the financial abuse to seniors. Probably because I’m old now, I think, and I work a lot with seniors. I think my mind is gone to seniors mostly. Um, I hope we find … I hope that we know how to deal with Alzheimer’s and people …
R: What are your favourite memories of Fort Smith?
B: My favourite memories of Fort Smith … all the sports that we used to belong to when we were young, and they don’t seem to, they don’t have that anymore for the kids. We used to, Reg and I used to play ball all summer. And we played ball ourselves; we’d plan tournaments and in the winter we curled and played hockey with our kids so now? Now there doesn’t seem to be… I’d like to see more things in the future for children growing up like in the summertime here. I never see any Ball anymore. All summer we used to play Ball; we even used to go out to Pine Lake, come in with an old truck kids in the back and all…Nobody would come in now for a ball game. Like we used to have six or seven teams: men’s teams and at least four teams of women and that was so much fun. I’d like to see the kids getting into that but nobody … I know they’ve tried. Harry has tried, we’ve tried to help them but we can’t seem to get the … Harry used to get them out when my kids were small but it was up to the parents. But now they, they seem to have too many other things, probably their video games and whatnot. I’d like to see people go back to teaching … if they don’t go back to the land at least go back to these simple little things we used to do around town. Maybe a hundred years from now they will again?
R: Mmhmm that would be nice.
R: So, when you were growing up … do you remember Kissing Day? Did they practice that when you were allowed to kiss anyone you wanted on Christmas Day or on New Year’s?
B: (laughing) I don’t … I remember New Year’s and there was so much kissing that you (laughing) that must have been Kissing Day what day … I remember New Year’s going to the Legion especially when Paul Kaeser was mayor; he had what you called their “Open House”, but he called it something else: it’s a fancy name. Oh it was a great day because you got out and was able to wish everybody … you know you had a drink or just--didn’t have to be alcohol drink but--and then they, they went around the hall, the building and, yeah, there was a lot of kissing. That must have been Kissing Day.
R: Kissing Day. Well I remember when my parents used to live next to JBT in that big yellow house. New Year’s Eve party and, man, I tell you about half an hour before midnight the whole house went bananas with kissing.
B: Yeah that’s the way it was … I don’t think … now it’s hugs I think. Now I’m not so sure.
R: Maybe it’s hugs.
B: I don’t know but, boy, there was just …
R: No hickeys--just hugs!
B: Just too much kissing, you almost ended up with, uh, cold sores or whatever.
B: Yeah that was a little too much kissing. Lots of people didn’t like to go, uh? And you tried to get just … hug them but that didn’t always work.
R: Still tried to latch on?
R: It’s like lamprey? Eh? Oh holy cow! You’re absolutely right about sports because when you think about it I would have never learned about baseball had it not been for Harry Sudom. And then you think about the champions like Pete Smith. He got all the kids working out, feeling good, so the question is who are the champions now for sports or culture? This town deserves new leaders.
B: Yeah, deserves new leaders, yeah.
R: When it comes to taking students and families back to the land or, you know, with sports and tournaments.
B: And to plan tournaments, like I, the kids remember me as statistician for ball and all the fastball I did that for years uh? So we had some lady come to town one time and she was, she come to teach. She taught me how to score keep and do stats so I did that for years and years yeah. And I really really enjoyed it so …
Carla: I’m just curious just for myself. I don’t know--I think you touched on it the last time a little but you said … did you come here and then meet Reg? Or you met him and then came here or …
B: No I came here in 19 … the year of the Coronation--oh that was an interesting year, too. Only for two months to teach the TB routine at the old hospital; it was then the new hospital. And then I went, I met Sandy … Sandy Loutitt was here and he like the … well there was two of us came and he liked the girl I was with and he wanted to bring a blind date and Reg was my blind date! Yeah …
C: Really …
B: That was in 1953.
C: And where did you guys go on your date?
B: In Edmonton, we met on our date in Edmonton.
C: Oh, it was in Edmonton.
B: Yeah we met back in Edmonton when Sandy brought … we were both back after our two months here. And that’s where we’d go when we went out for supper. Then I think we went over--it used to be the PanAmerican and tea had just finished up, and they were having a party. They took us home because the party was just too rough for us, they went back. They told us only after.
R: What’s NT? Northern Transport?
B: Yeah Northern Transportation. They used to come up here. Oh it was a great place to come in the summertime--holy man! Go to dances--all kinds of men to dance with and, yeah, we never lacked a date or anything. There was no place to go except to the dance or to a movie in the new movie theatre, but they used to show movies in the old Legion upstairs. They had dances in there, movies in there, and …
R: The Legion in Fort Smith?
B: Yeah that Legion. Yeah …
R: Oh, gee. I didn’t know they used to show movies there. I didn’t even know about dances.
Carla: Oh, so Reg is from here?
R: Reg is from Fort Chip but went to school here lots; he knows everybody from here. Yeah, Reg was born in Fort Chip and his mother was widowed young, and she used to come and work on the boats and Reg would go to school here. She lived here lots, like everybody from Fort Chip and Fort Smith has a lot of relations, uh? Yeah, that’s how that went. He’s more from here than I am. But people when they had the school reunion in the 80’s, I think people forgot that I never went to school here. (laughter) I was right in and I didn’t know them. I said, “Don’t forget I didn’t go to school here. Reg did.”
R: Thank you, Bea. That’s it. You’ve given us something very beautiful. Again, mahsi cho.
Bea: Okay. Thank you!
My beginning really has no age but what it has is...it starts off with really bad memories. I was taken away from my mother before I was less than a year old. I went back to a convent in Vancouver and the nuns said, “Oh I remember you. On your first birthday you cried and you screamed.”
I guess that is my beginning because that’s the only thing I know about being a baby. Then after that it was foster homes and ugly people, lots of ugly people in foster homes. I remember one home. When you talk about hair you talk about power. And I remember--and it was before I went to school, I have no idea what age it was. I remember walking into the home, and the first thing the people did to me--the woman--was cut all my hair off. I don’t really remember what I felt--probably was anger, but it was something I’ll never forget.
I guess when I was about eight years old; the Children’s Aid Society told me that my mother--the reason I’d been apprehended from my mother was because she had a drug problem. In my heart I never wanted to find her because I never ever wanted to look and only find out she wasn’t alive anymore.
I have a very good friend of mine that works with the youth in Powell River, name is Glenda Monteith. And she was always after me, “Come on, Bernice, find your family. Go do it. Go do it.”
And I used to say to her, “Yeah I know, I know.”
And she used to get angry at me because she said, “Yeah you know but you never do anything about it.” Which is the way I’ve always been. I know but I can’t do anything about it because I’m afraid. I’m going on just what I learned, how I survived as a child. Glenda went to a conference in Qualicum and she met two women, Honey Cook and Cookie Cook. Glenda told them about me and that I understood I was from Alert Bay, my family was from up there and there’s not many people left in my family. I think probably I’m the only Kamano left. Everyone has since passed on.
Honey and Cookie said they would go back to Alert Bay and find my family and they found my grandfather, and, of course, they knew my grandfather but everybody in Alert Bay used to call him “Peanuts.” Nobody called him by his given name: Victor Kamano.
So I was sitting at my dinner table on a Saturday night. I was getting ready to go to work. I was having dinner with my children. And the phone rang. It was “Hello?”
And I’m going, “Hello?”
“Hi! My name is Victor Kamano and I’m your grandfather.”
I said, “Oh. Okay.”
I think I was probably 27 at the time. The emotions, there were too many.
I said, “Well thank you for calling.” I said, “I will come and see you.”
I didn’t really honestly know what to think about it. I was overwhelmed, scared, everything, I don’t know. So I hung up. I, of course, cried. I told my children what was going on.
So I went to work and told everybody at work what happened and everybody was crying all over the place. It was a difficult night to work!
And about two weeks later my friend Glenda and I went to Alert Bay to find my grandfather and my family.
I met Pinky Hansen who, the first time she saw me, and I told her who I was, that I was Joyce Kamano’s daughter, proceeded to just grab me and hug me. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my whole life. That’s all I did. Pinky would take me around and say, “Well this is your uncle and this is your cousin and this is your auntie.”
And I spent time with my grandfather.
I met a woman in Alert Bay. Her name was Norma Meyers. And she probably was one of the only people that my mother ever kept in contact with when my mother was sick and going through withdrawals. I guess after I was apprehended it was just as devastating for her as it was for me. Norma, at that time, did the best that she could to help my mother but it was very limited. My mother ended up in Kingston Penitentiary, after which she met another man and married and had five more kids...
I know that my mother was living in Niagara Falls and I knew that I had to go and see her. So I went back to Powell River and I made arrangements for someone to take care of my children while I flew to Niagara Falls to find my mom and, like I said, my mom had five more children, four sons, and I have a half-sister named Cathy.
When I got to Niagara Falls, my mother’s husband introduced me as a cousin not to upset the family, which is understandable, because I didn’t want to walk into their lives and say, “Hi. I’m your half-sister.”
Anyway, so Cathy and I went to the hospital room and we walked in and my mother looked at me and she looked at Cathy and she said to Cathy, “Who is that?”
And Cathy said, “This is Bernice.”
And my mother just looked at me and started crying. Well, of course, I was crying. And I looked at her, and I said to her, I says, “Please don’t ever think in your whole life--or I hope you’ve never thought in your entire life that I hate you. I love you. You brought me into this world. You gave me my strength. You gave me it, who I am. You are my mother and I love you.”
I understand the life that she led.
And I spent a month visiting with her and with my family. And I promised her I would go back but I never did. I don’t know why I didn’t go back--whether it was my own fear or what it was. I guess when you’ve lived alone all of your life, when you’re alone, a loner, it’s really hard sometimes to make a connection with another person. I mean you can to a degree and then you can’t make that connection. I guess it’s a barrier built in to protect yourself. And having gone through foster home after foster home after foster home, the word ‘family’ is really a word, it’s not really a concept. It’s something you don’t really understand. And maybe that was one of the reasons why I never went back to visit my mother, probably because of a combination of a lot of those reasons.
I do have two daughters of my own who are my world--who’ve always been my world because they’re all I have and I have a son who, unfortunately, didn’t grow up with me but has my innate qualities, if that’s what it’s called, and that’s nice.
My daughter even says to me, “Mom, Flint sounds just like you!”
My daughters didn’t really understand what I was going through when I went to meet my mother because they were quite young. They understand now because they’re mothers themselves.
One of the things that I’ve always wondered is “Where I do get my strength?” because I do have an incredible amount of strength and I believe it’s because of who I am and what I am.
The one thing, even though I don’t even know exactly the day when my mother died, I do know my mother came to me when she did die because I was in bed and I was sleeping and it was like there was this circle and I will never forget it as long as I live.
This circle, it was a large circle and it was closing and it was closing. And I knew in my heart that I had to jump through that circle in order to keep going or to give me strength, I don’t know what it is, but I knew I had to do that in my heart. And I jumped through the circle and as I was jumping through the circle I screamed for my mother.
And for me to use that word ‘Mother’, it’s just inconceivable because it’s just not a word I ever use except in my own mind. It was not a verbal expression. And my daughters, I guess, at that time, were probably about 12 and 14, came running into my bedroom and they were screaming, “Mom, Mom, are you okay?”
Because my daughters knew that the word ‘Mother’ for me to scream that word ‘Mother’, wasn’t a normal thing for me to do. And I guess that was kind of the end. And it wasn’t until about a year ago that I actually found out my mother did pass away cuz no one told me because I wasn’t really part of the family.
But it was a strange feeling to know that I already knew that she was passed away. I don’t know--it’s so hard for me to put in place some of the feelings that I have because unlike people that have been brought up in a family environment, growing up with their grandparents and their aunts and their uncles, not knowing how to deal with these emotions...It’s almost like it’s okay. She’s passed away. It’s all right. She came to me. I was strong before this experience happened and I still have the same amount of strength. I guess maybe what she was giving to me was she gave me my life and then when she passed away she gave me more life. I love my mother for giving me the strength to be able to do all of this, to rise above it and claim who I am, and be who I am and be that person with a lot of dignity and pride which I’ve always had and hopefully I’ll see her in the next life...
I guess being a Native person that’s what it’s all about, to be proud, to be who you are. What happens when you do that is people feel that in you and it’s good. I walk down the street some days and I’m just beaming and people say, “Hey! I really like your smile!”
The one thing that I am thankful for--and whoever God is--is that He made me an Indian!
Bernice shared this with me in Victoria, BC, in March of 1995. She is the mother of Yvette, Zoie, and Flint.
Holy cow you know who knows lots about the Tlicho? Terri Naskan. I am so proud to know her and I'm proud that she lets me tape her stories. Once I have permission to share them, I will, Cousins.
Mahsi cho to our Knowledge Keepers.
The project staged a setting where French/European Voyageurs men first meet the Aboriginal peoples in their camps and villages. The idea was to portray the true setting, where Canada’s First peoples are seen as healthy, friendly people who helped the first white voyageurs and settlers live on the land. Many ideas and artworks of the “First Meeting” have been portrayed in history as negative, scary and shown in an idealized, romantic light. We created an environment that was closer to the true history of the first meetings, where First Nations peoples are portrayed as healthy, kind and helpful people who shared their resources with men who had been travelling for months and in most cases were starving.