Friday, October 13, 2017

A Posting Break

Hi, Everyone!
I need to take a short break from posting on my blog.
Everything is okay, I just have too much on my plate;
and I am so behind in everything!

My next post will be on November 1 on IWSG Wednesday,
followed by my next Northern post on Friday, November 3rd.

Meanwhile I plan to catch up on recent posts by my wonderful blogging buddies!

And for anyone who needs a little breathing space in his or her life right now,
here's a picture of my go to place for some stolen moments of serenity.

A Favorite Spot Along Piney Creek
Aurora, Colorado, USA
October 8, 2017
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: A Question of Identity

I remember the first time I saw a person who wasn't the same color as me.
It's one of my earliest memories and only a flash.
My mother remembered it too well, only able to laugh about it years later.  

I was three, possibly just four, and we had gotten on a bus in Charlottetown.
We started down the aisle to take a seat,
and suddenly I came to a full stop at an amazing sight.

Three (Roy) and Four (Me)
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island Canada
late 1953 or early 1954
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

"Why are you brown?" I blurted out to an older man sitting by the aisle.

The flash I remember is of him in dark brown work pants, jacket, and a flat cap.
His white undershirt peeked out from the unbuttoned gap
at the neck of his shirt, so striking against his dark skin.
He was a big man, with warm brown eyes and a touch of gray in his dark curly hair.

My mother, brought up short behind me, was mortified and apologized,
"I'm so sorry, sir!  You mustn't ever say something like that, Louise!"

"It's okay," he said, smiling broadly and leaning closer to me.
"When God made us, he took most of us out of the oven on time,
but sometimes he forgot and some of us turned out browner."

"Like rolls?"

"Like rolls,"  he winked.

"Thank you," my mother said softly.  
"She's very young, and she's never seen a negro before."

She hustled me into a seat before he could hear the inevitable,
"God baked us in an oven?"

Hot Out of the Oven!
Flickr:  Yutaka Seki   License

How we identify, think, and speak of ourselves and others
are difficult currents to navigate at times.
It's easy to wound with a word, deliberately or unintentionally.

In my posts I have tried to walk delicately between the "Indian" of a half century ago
and the "First Nations, Aboriginal, Indigenous, and  Métis" of today,
balancing my father's language of the past with mine of the present.
I know I've failed at times, but I'm learning. 

Some of My Father's Students
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The language of identity is complicated.
Today Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada recognizes
617 First Nations, 126 of which are in Ontario. INAC

At the time my father lived in Lansdowne House
many of the Ojibwa belonged to the Fort Hope Band,
an original signatory to the James Bay Treaty, but now
they are recognized as the separate Neskantaga First Nation.

I am almost as confused today as my father was
during his first weeks in Lansdowne House.

When my father arrived in there in mid-September 1960,
he didn't just find an empty school.
He found a school with no student records.

My father handled the challenge of scrounging desks, chairs, and tables for his students from around the community with a combination of innovation, persuasion, and grit,
but identifying his students was harder. 

My father wrote of this
(I changed the names and numbers.):
"The difficulties faced by the Indian teacher are many and varied.
One of the foremost of these, aside from shyness
which I have already mentioned, is the identification of students.  

Indian families are quite large by white standards,
and it is very hard to keep records with any degree of accuracy.
This difficulty was further complicated in my first school
by the fact that the old school had burned down the year before,
and all the school records had been destroyed.

The New Church of England Indian Day School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

About half of my children had the same surname of Mink,
and at least two of the fathers were named Elias Mink.
All the mothers of my children seemed to be named
either Sophie, or Minnie, or Katie.

The solution to the whole problem,
and it took me a week of utter confusion
before I accidentally tumbled upon it,
is the band numbers.

All the Indians are organized into bands, 
and all the adults over 21 years of age have band numbers.
The children have the same band number as their father,
and when a woman marries, she loses her own band number
and takes the number of her husband.

At Lansdowne House, most of the Indians were of the Fort Hope Band,
although there were a few from the Ogoki Band,
and one or two from the Marten Falls Band.

A few of the other bands with which I came into contact later
as supervising principal included the Trout Lake Band,
the Caribou Lake Band, the Deer Lake band, the Pikanjikum Lake Band,
the Fort Severn Band, the White Sands Band, and the Poplar Lake Band.

As soon as I found out about band numbers,
most of my difficulties were over.

Ivy Mink became #528 Fort Hope Band,
and I knew which Elias and which Sophie
were responsible for her presence.

Off to School the First Day
Photo by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

However this didn’t clear up all my difficulties,
as I found out to my acute embarrassment one day
when Nettie Marten came to school
to enroll her young son Samuel Marten.  

I took down Nettie’s name and number
and the name and number of her husband Joe.
Naturally the numbers were the same,
but when I started to put the number down for Samuel,
Nettie said, “No, no, Samuel has a different number.”  
I kept insisting that he couldn’t have,
and she kept insisting that he most certainly did have.  

The whole conversation was being carried on through an interpreter who, 
to further complicate the proceedings, was a French Canadian Oblate brother
who was not too proficient in Ojibway and equally unproficient in English.

All of a sudden it hit me what was the matter,
and I put down Samuel’s number with no further argument.
Samuel was illegitimate, the result of some premarital dalliance." 

My Father and His Interpreter, Brother Bernier
September 13, 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

As I said, the language of identity is complicated,
and its currents can be difficult to navigate.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Boars Head Lighthouse
Tiverton, Long Island, Bay of Fundy
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.  James Bay Treaty or Treaty 9:
     "Treaty 9 was an agreement established in July 1905, between the Government of Canada
    in the name of King Edward VII and various First Nation band governments in northern Ontario
    One First Nation community in the bordering Abitibi region of northwestern Quebec is included
    in this treaty. It was also known as the "James Bay Treaty," since the eastern end of the affected
    treaty territory was at the shore of James Bay."   Quote:  Wikipedia

2.  Unpublished Handbook:
     Recorded in Dad's unpublished The Northern School Teacher:  A Hand Book To Be Issued To All
     New Entrants To The Teaching Profession In The Indian Schools In The Sioux Lookout Indian
     Agency, 1966, pages 6-8.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario
Wikimedia  edited

Location of Lansdowne House (Neskantaga)
Wikimedia   edited

Location of Charlottetown, P. E. I.
Wikimedia edited

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG: Wednesday, October 4, 2017 ~ Shaped by Life

It's the first Wednesday of the month:
the day when members of the
Insecure Writer's Support Group
share their writing struggles
and writing successes
and offer their encouragement
and support to fellow writers.

To visit the IWSG website, click here.

To become a member of the IWSG, click here.

Our wonderful co-hosts who are volunteering today,
along with IWSG founder Alex Cavanaugh are:
Olga Godim,  Chemist Ken,  Jennifer Hawes,
and Tamara Narayan,.

I hope you have a chance to visit today's hosts and thank them for co-hosting.
I'm sure they would appreciate a visit and an encouraging comment.


Slipping this in just before the contest deadline ~ Cause that's who I am.  I'm revealing a bunch of insecurities, not so much with writing but with technology and blogging.  I'm traveling, so no IWSG swag.  I can't figure out how to add my photo to the logo, like other clever IWSG members.  And worst of all (so embarrassing)  I can't take iPhone selfies.  So I've taken a photo with my point and shoot camera of me with my computer and logo in my hotel room, between packing and hitting a pub to recover.  Cheers!

Technologically Insecure!


Every month the IWSG poses a question
that members can answer with advice, insight,
a personal experience, or a story in their IWSG posts.

Or, the question can inspire members
if they aren't sure what to write about on IWSG Day.

Remember the question is optional.
This month's featured question is:

Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?


The obvious answer to this question is yes, since I'm writing a memoir.

However, the more accurate answer depends upon
the definition of "personal information."
If the question means simple information
like my appearance, my address, my age, my income,
or how I hold my fork in a piece of fiction, I would say no.

If it means me, who I am, how I think, what I believe in,
and my life experiences, how can the answer not be yes?

Whenever I write fiction, it's often setting,
particularly place, that leads me into a character.
My character is grounded in a place,
because so much of whom a person is
comes from his or her place in the world,
and my understanding of him or her is derived from
my personal experiences or observations in that place.

My characters are often drawn from people I've known
and conflicts I have experienced or observed.
For example, in my novel-in-the-works one main character
is trying to escape from a preordained life as a logger in rural Nova Scotia.
That character was inspired by someone I knew well in the same situation,
but my fictional character is very different from the real person I knew.
I find my characters quickly take over and show me who they are in my writing.

The short stories I have written and the novel I am writing
have my fingerprints all over them.
When I consider the elements of story ~
setting, character, plot, theme, and style ~
I see myself in each element.

That’s because, if I'm going to invest time and effort in a story,
I'm going to write about settings, characters, plots, and themes
that speak to me personally and in a style that is my unique voice.

Yes, I'm writing books, and yes, I'd like to get them published;
but I am quite selfish in that I am writing about ideas that are significant to me,
and they are shaped by my beliefs based on my experiences.

Writing Shaped by Life
My Brother and I Canoeing
Lake Attawapiskat, Northern Ontario, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 29, 2017

Counterfeit Money and the Cost of No Deodorant

"It is awfully hard to teach children when they only understand
about a third of what you are saying to them,"
my father wrote in a letter from Lansdowne House in early 1961.

"I nearly drove myself up the wall today trying to teach one of my beginners
to recognize the largest of a series of numbers and to mark it.
I just couldn’t get it across to her what I meant by big and small..."

Typing a Letter Home 
Donald MacBeath, Lansdowne House
Northern Ontario, Canada, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue

As a teacher in a one-room Indian day school,
my father frequently faced challenges like this.
He was referring to a kindergartner and math in this instance,
but the complexities of concepts and of  academic English
increased at every grade level and occurred in all subjects.
Consequently he dealt with such difficulties frequently.

My father never considered these stumbling blocks
a question of the intelligence or capability of his Ojibwa students.
He placed the solution squarely on the shoulders of the teacher:
"The success or failure of the teacher's efforts depends upon his ability or inability
to adapt the textbooks and curriculum to the pupils and the situation." 

I vividly remember my father handling the challenges
of teaching his students to identify money
and to understand transactions
like paying for an item and counting change.

These concepts were part of the math curriculum
for each of his six grades in April, 1961:
from me, the only student in grade five,
to my sister Barbie, the youngest kindergartner,
to all the Ojibwa students and two of my siblings in between.

Canadian Change
Flickr ~ Roadsidepictures   License

How do you teach young students the concept of money
when they understand only the rudiments of your language
and have little or no experience with money?

My brother and I could certainly identify Canadian coins and bills,
and we had already had small jobs and had done things
like pay to go a movie or buy ice cream at a store.

The Ojibwa students knew only the Hudson's Bay Company post
and a couple of tiny indigenous stores,
one on the island and one on the mainland.
The Bay's system of trading debt for furs their fathers trapped in the bush
was unlike anything depicted in their textbooks. 

While my sisters Donnie and Barbie might not grasp
adding amounts over a dollar or making change,
they had watched my father counting money many times.

Many evenings he would empty his wallet, change purse, and pockets
and lay out his money on the kitchen table.
Then he would sort the coins into meticulously-formed dollar stacks,
tunelessly whistling as he did so.

We kids used to joke among ourselves as we watched this daily routine,
"The king is in his counting house counting all his money."

Unlike us, a number of the younger Ojibwa students
had likely never touched money,
nor seen it sorted out into stacks of coins and bills.

When my father tackled money and its use with his students,
he quickly realized that textbooks, paper, and blackboards were not working,
especially for his kindergarteners and younger students.
He also recognized that everyone needed more practice handling money
and a greater understanding of how money worked in Canadian society.

So one memorable afternoon, my father scrapped the regular curriculum
and announced, "This afternoon we're going to be counterfeiters!"

Familiar Bills from My Childhood

After explaining what he wanted us to do,
and the fact that we were not going to be real counterfeiters,
my father had us push back all the desks and chairs,
cover patches of the floor with old newspapers,
and get out paper, pencils, scissors, and paint.

At first it was quiet and calm,
as students began drawing coins and bills,
using templates my father had made over the lunch break.

However, as they became more absorbed
in adding denominations to the larger-than-life coins
and sketching pictures on the bills, chatter broke out.
Soon scissors were snipping, paint was slapping,
and the laughter and voices of excited children filled the room.


Some children took particular delight
in drawing the beaver
on their counterfeit nickels,
because the animal was more familiar
to them than the nickel.

Others had fun drawing their "counterfeit" bills,
especially the forest and river scene on the back of the five dollar bill,
the most similar landscape to theirs.

The Back of the Five Dollar Bill
The 1954 Canadian Landscape Series

As we finished our coins or bills,
we laid them out on desks pushed near the windows.
It was bright and sunny outside,
and sunlight poured into the classroom,
quickly drying the damp papers scattered about.

After the activity was done and the classroom restored to order,
my father announced that when we returned to school the next day
things were going to be very different.

We all scattered to our homes filled with laughter and energy,
after an unexpected afternoon as counterfeiters.

A Child Paints
Flickr:  André Hofmeister   License  

The next day we all showed up eager to find out what Mr. MacBeath was up to.
We four MacBeath kids didn't know any more than our curious Ojibwa classmates.
Despite all our questioning, pleading, and needling,
Dad had revealed nothing over the supper table the previous night.

He didn't keep his pupils waiting for long.
After roll call, my father said:  "For the next few weeks
we're operating strictly on a cash basis at school.
I will pay each of you a salary,
using the money we made yesterday.
A salary is money you earn by working at a job,
and your job is coming to school to learn."

He went on to explain in simple terms
how we would have to pay rent for our houses
(our desks and chairs) and buy food (our milk and biscuits)
out of the salaries we earned each week.

We could earn extra money by doing chores in the classroom,
and we could earn prizes by scoring 100% on a test
or improving at something we were learning.

Then he hooked us with a big juicy worm:
"Whoever has the most money at the end of each week
will earn a real one dollar bill!"

That was serious money!
It took me four weeks of multiple chores a day,
like hauling water, dumping the chemical toilet,
and fetching groceries from the mail plane, to earn a dollar.

Roy and I locked eyes immediately,
each signaling to the other that he or she was going to win.
Of course, all around the classroom kids were thinking
that they would be the one to win a real dollar.

Rivals from the Beginning
(This Time Blowing Bubbles)
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue

My father tacked a list of favorite activities on the wall up front
and told us we would have to pay for certain school activities,
like swinging on the swings at recess (15 cents)
or playing a game of war when our work was done (25 cents).

He added a list of chores that we could do to earn money,
such as erasing the blackboards (10 cents per front or side board)
or knocking chalk dust out of the erasers (15 cents). 

Then he pulled out his personal cashbox
which he had stocked with bills from our Monopoly game at home.
He explained that this was the bank and a bank needed lots of money,
so he was adding Monopoly money to our stash of "counterfeit" bills.

He started each of us off with twenty dollars,
the younger children with a combination of ones and fives,
and the older kids with a green $20.00 Monopoly bill.
This represented money we had saved, he told us,
and would tide us over to our paycheck on Friday
at the end of the following week.

Monopoly Money
Flickr:  Melanie Hayes   License  

We would each earn $20.00 a week,
and our rent of $6.00 and our food bill of $4.00
would be due each Friday,
leaving us $10.00 to spend as we pleased.

He appointed one of the elder kids Banker for the Day,
and any time we needed to pay for something
we had to go to the bank to do so,
counting out the money involved in the transaction. 
The challenge was on!

We began with my father matching us up in pairs
to practice identifying and counting coins and bills 
appropriate to our grade level and skills.
My father ensured that at least one of each pair
had the knowledge to help the other with the task.
Day by day, we spent time practicing,
as my father adjusted the pairs and tasks according to need.

As the simulation unfolded, so did the strategies.
Some pupils were savers and others were spenders.
Some were entrepreneurs who went into business
by suggesting to my father that they could grade papers
or do other things not on the chore list he had tacked up.

My father generously passed out pennies and nickels
for desired behavior and good work
and collected fines for infractions of the classroom rules.

On Friday afternoon it cost us twenty-five cents
to buy a bingo card and participate in the weekly games.
We could buy a second card for twenty cents,
a very attractive offer since the winner of each game
won a chocolate bar which my father had bought at the Bay.

Classic Bingo

For my brother Roy and I, there was an extra twist
to the quest to win a dollar the first full week.
Dad had overheard us one evening betting on the outcome.
Roy bet that he'd beat me, and I bet that I'd beat him.

"Are you going to back your bets with real money?" Dad asked.
He often said that when he caught us betting.

We each bet twenty-five cents, a week's allowance.
Dad marked the bet in his notebook,
and Roy and I eye-battled with each other,
each confident in our ability to beat the other
and reap the riches.

It was a close battle among the school kids as the days sped by,
and a tighter battle between Roy and me with our side bet.

I was holding my own, until one ghastly moment
when my father stopped by me and leaned in to check my work.

"Damn-it-all, Louise, you stink!
How many times do I have to tell you
you are older now and have to wear deodorant!
You owe me five dollars right now
for stinking up the classroom!"

I forked over the demanded five, chagrined.

"Now go home and don't come back,
until you've washed and put on deodorant."
I slunk out the school door.

I fumed all the way home through the bush.
I knew my father had been reminding me for days
to use deodorant ~ a new development in my life.
I knew his socks were lined up like soldiers on parade in his drawer.
I knew that he spit-shined his shoes every Sunday
and wore a suit and tie to school every day.
I knew that he said you couldn't let yourself go in the bush.
I knew that he always wore deodorant.
I knew that I had forgotten deodorant ~ again.

Was I fuming because he had humiliated me in front of the class?

I was furious about the knowing smirk Roy flashed me on my way out.
I was going to have to pay up a real quarter to him.

My father arrived home not long after,
having unexpectedly dismissed everyone for lunch early.
He took me quietly aside and returned my five dollars.
He told me that he felt terrible about what he had done,
and that he never should have said what he said
in front of all my classmates.

It was one of the rare times in his life
that he apologized to me for something,
and I never forgot it.

I can't remember who won the coveted dollar each week.
Guaranteed it wasn't one of us MacBeath kids,
because my father felt we had more than enough,
and rightly or wrongly, he would have found a way
to ensure that an Ojibwa pupil won each time.

I don't remember who had to pay the humiliating bet,
Roy to me, or me to Roy.
It wasn't the only time one or the other had to pony up,
as we grew up rashly making bets.
Whenever my father caught us,
he would make sure the loser paid,
invariably reminding us that we could never welch on a bet.

Everyone learned lots about money and something about hygiene.
As for me, I've rarely forgotten my deodorant since!

Dad's Pupils Dunking for Apples
and practicing their English
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing Petite Passage
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo Copy by Roy MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Letter:  January 18, 1961
2.  Unpublished Handbook:
     Recorded in Dad's unpublished The Northern School Teacher:  A Hand Book To Be Issued To All
     New Entrants To The Teaching Profession In The Indian Schools In The Sioux Lookout Indian
     Agency, 1966, page 14.

3.  The king is in his counting house:
     This is from a line from a nursery rhyme we all knew called "Sing a Song of Sixpence."

4.  Milk and Biscuit:
     Twice a day every student had a snack of powdered milk and vitamin biscuits provided by a
     government nutrition program.

5.  Game of War:
     This is a card game that my father taught his students to play.  The objective was to win the entire
      deck of cards.  It involved students being able to recognize larger, smaller, and equal numbers,
      and they had to practice English while playing.  How to play War
     As a teacher, my father tried to make learning fun and to add incentives for his Ojibwa students
     to practice speaking English.

6.  Bingo:
     On Friday afternoons my father set aside some time to do activities like singing songs and
     playing bingo.  The purpose was to encourage his Ojibwa students to overcome their shyness,
     to speak in English, and to have fun while learning.

     When I became an elementary teacher myself, I drew a lot on what I had learned from my father
     so memorably during grade five and later in grade eleven.  I used many of his ideas and techniques
     with my own students.

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited

Full context of the quote from my father's January 18, 1961 letter:
"It is awfully hard to teach children when they only understand
about a third of what you are saying to them.
I nearly drove myself up the wall today trying to teach one
of my beginners to recognize the largest of a series of numbers and to mark it.

"I just couldn’t get it across to her what I meant by big and small.
I finally got it across by using about three sheets of foolscap
and putting down about twenty-five series of numbers.  

"Alongside each number, I would put a group of dots corresponding to the number.
After I finished each series, I would count the dots after each number
and cross out the number having the largest group of dots.

"After each series, I’d draw another series and see if she could do it;
and if she couldn’t do it, I’d repeat the whole process.
She finally caught on to it at the twenty-third series of numbers.
By this time I was really seeing dots before my eyes.  

"I wonder how many series I’ll have to draw next week when I
attempt to teach her to recognize and mark the smallest number."

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: The Unfairness, Unjustness, and Inhumanity of It All

When I was a girl living in the North,
I keenly felt the unfairness, the injustice, and the inhumanity
in the way aboriginal people were treated by white people.
I observed this treatment, but I primarily absorbed it
through my relationships with my Ojibwa and Métis friends
in Lansdowne House, Lac Seul, and Sioux Lookout.
My girlhood shock and outrage have never left me.

We Five Shortly Before Moving to the North
Roy, Donnie, Louise (Me) with Bertie, and Barbie
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada  Fall 1960
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

When I first moved to Lansdowne House in 1961
and attended its Church of England Indian Day School,
I thought that the government, the church,
the schools, and the Hudson's Bay Company,
were there to help the Ojibwa achieve better lives.
I had no idea of the complex and troubled history
between Canadian institutions and aboriginal people. 

However, I soon sensed that the way white people
interacted with the Ojibwa was paternalistic.
I may not have understood the full meaning of paternalism,
but I was increasingly aware
that the Ojibwa were considered less than whites.

I could see the poverty that the Ojibwa lived in,
and I could hear the way that white adults talked about them.
I grasped that the white adults around me
thought our way of life was superior to that of the Ojibwa,
and that the lives of the Ojibwa would be greatly improved
if they abandoned their primitive ways and adopted our modern ones.
What took me longer to sense was the cost of such a transition for the Ojibwa.

Indian Camps on Shore of Nipigon Lake
Photograph by Joseph Burr Tyrrell, 1906
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, 
Toronto, Ontario Canada, M5S 1A5
Part of: MS. Coll. 26 Tyrrell (Joseph Burr) Papers

At that time I had no knowledge of the 1876 Indian Act,
of the government's intent to subsume indigenous people
by destroying their languages and cultures,
nor of the cruel treatment of indigenous children in Indian schools.

I recognized that my experiences as a white girl
attending an Indian Day School were in no way typical
of an indigenous student's experiences,
but I had no comprehension of how the Indian educational system
had been used to demean and to undermine indigenous cultures.  

I only knew that my father was my best teacher ever
and that he wanted all of his students to learn and to succeed,
not just his offspring, but his Ojibwa children as well.

From the time I was a small child,
I knew that my father believed in the necessity of reading and writing English well.
So it was no surprise to me that in his classroom in Lansdowne House,
my father's primary focus was teaching English to his students.
He didn't care if we were white or copper,
but he did care that we improve our English skills
at whatever level we were at as students.

My father insisted that we four siblings spoke to our classmates in English,
for he believed that his Ojibwa students
would improve their English skills by interacting with us.
That insistence worked with Roy, Donnie, and myself,
but not so much with four-year-old Barbie
who was having fun learning Ojibway from her Ojibwa friends.

My father was not someone who ridiculed or punished a student
for speaking Ojibway in the classroom or on the school grounds.
I doubt at the time he completely understood the insidious nature
of the Canadian government's drive to teach indigenous people English;
although, I think he quickly developed a full understanding of it 
as he gained more experience in the Indian Affairs Branch.

Barbie and Dad
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada  Winter 1962
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don't think many people spend much time thinking about
how fundamental their native language is to their very essence;
I know I certainly didn't. I'm just beginning to grasp its significance now.

A native language shapes who you are, how you relate to others,
and how you understand the world around you.
It connects you to your parents, your grandparents, and your past,
and it encompasses your culture, traditions, and spirituality.

When a government deliberately implements policies
that separate a group of people from its native language, 
what it is actually doing is committing cultural genocide,
particularly if it separates children from their parents
and puts them in government schools
designed to eradicate their language and culture.

By disrupting families a government is preventing
the transmission of language, culture, and identity
from one generation to the next.

Group of students, Indian Industrial School
Brandon, Manitoba, 1946
Library and Archives Canada
Credit / Mention de source :
Canada. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque. 
Library and Archives Canada, PA-048574
Reference No. / Numéro de référence : MIKAN 3381315, 4112011

In Canada, for well over a century,
it was the goal of the Canadian government,
not just to eradicate indigenous languages and cultures,
but to eliminate First Nations peoples 
by ultimately absorbing them
into the mainstream, white, western culture.
Indians were to cease to exist legally, culturally, and racially.  

I think that Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald,
expressed this goal for the new nation of Canada
when he told the House of Commons in 1883:

"When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; 
he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write
his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian.
He is simply a savage who can read and write.

"It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department,
that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence,
and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools
where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men." 

Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future:
Summary  of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada:

Sir John A. Macdonald, 1872

When I lived in Lansdowne House, I didn't know that our first Prime Minister,
a key figure in Canadian Confederation, had uttered such words, 
and I didn't understand that Indian schools were a powerful tool for achieving that goal.

Had I read MacDonald's words at that time,
I would have recognized that, according to him,
I was living among savages and attending school with savages on their reservation.

I would also have known that my Ojibwa friends were not savages
and that our heroic Father of Confederation was very wrong.

Now it's more than fifty years later,
and there have been improvements in the relationships
between Canadian institutions and aboriginal people.

We still have a way to go as white Canadians,
but I think we are finally understanding with our hearts
the unfairness, the unjustness, and the inhumanity
with which aboriginal Canadians were treated in the past. 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Lansdowne House Lies in the Wilderness
West of James and Hudson Bays

Lansdowne House 
Northern Ontario, Canada

Map of the Eastern British Provinces in North America
at the time of Confederation 1867