‘The Positive Side of Residential Schools’


“Shockingly, the churches have failed to honour the dedicated service of most residential school employees, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. They have failed to defend their own integrity and they have failed to defend the integrity of their innocent employees. They have done little to correct the impression, in the minds of some Canadians, that many residential school supervisors were child abusers and pedophiles.”

ERBLThePosiitiveSideOfResidentialSchools800x800“I spent the 1966-67 year as a supervisor in an Anglican residential school, Stringer Hall, in Inuvik, N.W.T. Previously, I spent four months living at Old Sun School, an Anglican residential school, on the Siksika (Blackfoot) Reserve in southern Alberta. Much earlier, my wife (a Siksika) spent eight years at Old Sun, and even earlier, her parents attended the same school for eight years. All of us recognize many of the positive things that happened in residential schools. My wife, in fact, insists on calling Old Sun a “private Anglican school,” my father-in-law was ordained as an Anglican priest, and my mother-in-law worked in the local church for more than 60 years. None of us heard a word — not even a murmur — about children being sexually abused.

“It is now widely acknowledged that some people working in residential schools abused the children under their care. But, no one has acknowledged that some children abused other children. Of course, people who abused others should be charged, and if convicted, they should pay for their crimes. Moreover, administrators from the churches and from Indian and Northern Affairs who covered up these crimes should be charged, convicted, and punished.

“But, before joining the feeding frenzy of lawyers who want to extract billions of dollars from Canadian taxpayers, it may be worthwhile considering some of the positive things that happened in residential schools. Surprisingly, church leaders have rarely mentioned the benefits these schools provided for their students:

“Most children who went to residential school learned how to read, write and calculate. Many also learned other skills necessary for living in a modern society. Aboriginal citizens, like other people, use these skills every day.

“Some children had serious illnesses — TB, chronic ear infections and ruptured appendices, for example — which were diagnosed while they were in school. Doctors and dentists made regular visits to residential schools to treat sick children, something that may not have happened if they had been living in their home communities, for those in southern Canada, or if they had been out on the land hunting and fishing with their parents, for those in the North.

“Throughout the sad history of residential schools, there have been numerous situations — during epidemics and fires, for example — in which non-aboriginal and aboriginal people worked together to save “their children.” Often, these people continued to work even when it was a danger to their own health and safety.

“Some school administrators and supervisors were aboriginals. At Stringer Hall, for example, two of the six residential supervisors were Inuit women. Did aboriginal supervisors abuse the children under their care? Do both the children and the supervisors deserve compensation?

“Some children in residential schools were not aboriginals. I myself attended a United Church residential school in the early 1960’s, and when I was a supervisor at Stringer Hall, about 12% of the 280 students were non-aboriginal. Children of school administrators, white trappers, missionaries and merchants attended these schools. If aboriginal people are going to receive compensation, do the non-aboriginal students also deserve compensation?

“Shockingly, the churches have failed to honour the dedicated service of most residential school employees, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. They have failed to defend their own integrity and they have failed to defend the integrity of their innocent employees. They have done little to correct the impression, in the minds of some Canadians, that many residential school supervisors were child abusers and pedophiles.

“Nevertheless, most people who worked in residential schools wanted to help children receive the type of education necessary to survive in the modern world. In the 1960s, when I lived and worked in residential schools, it was the evangelistic calling for committed Christians similar to rebuilding houses following disasters in South America. Most residential school employees worked for very little pay, less recognition, and many sleepless nights. Most of them will never acknowledge that they worked in residential schools because they fear the denigration from other church members. Not surprisingly, many of them also fear the charges they may face from the wolf-pack of hungry lawyers hunting for compensation.

“I do not fear the denigration, and I’m not afraid of the lawyers. But, I am afraid that this feeding frenzy will tear the churches apart while further alienating non-aboriginal Canadians from their aboriginal brethren. I fear the alienation of one side of my family, including our son, from the other. This will happen because people who were never responsible for any crimes, people who never covered up for any criminal activities, are being forced to pay substantial sums to people who were never abused. If the scales of justice are to be rebalanced, it is important that those who actually committed crimes against their charges pay for these crimes.

“It is important that Canadians, including church members and even lawyers, should honour the vast majority of people, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, who selflessly dedicated their lives to helping aboriginal children. Moreover, citizens who did not know that abuse was taking place in residential schools should not be forced to pay for the crimes that other people committed.”

–‘Residential Schools Story More Complicated’,
Rodney Clifton, Frontier Centre, May 1, 2003

(Rodney A. Clifton is a professor of education and Senior Scholar at the University of Manitoba. He received his B.Ed and M.Ed. from the University of Alberta, his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and his Fil.Dr. from the University of Stockholm. In addition, he has been awarded a Spencer Fellowship from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, a Rh. Award from the University of Manitoba, a R.W.B. Jackson Research Award from the Canadian Educational Researchers’ Association, and both an Edward Sheffield and a Distinguished Research Award from the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education.)


Dene Chief Cece McCauley
Dene Chief Cece McCauley

Cece Hodgson-McCauley is the founding chief of the Inuvik Dene band:.

“There are two sides to every story and this is the other side of the residential school.

“There is always a good side to everything and I have been getting phone calls from everywhere after I wrote that people are so fed up. We all know money talks! And we see who is pushing this bottomless pot of millions of dollars (lawyers and their smart side-kicks). They don’t want this to end. They keep pushing and using people.

“They are now going to the jails, using the desperate souls, throwing the crumbs while they fill their bank accounts with millions, and people are fed up reading about it for too many years now.

“…Ever since I invited people to phone me on the good side I have had calls from everywhere, even long distance phone calls.

“There are a lot of people in town for meetings and I was told I should write something soon, so I promised them I would in this column.

“As I mentioned before, our mother died when I was six and my brother, John, was two-and-a-half. It was fall time, Dad had no choice but to put us on the last steamboat, the Hudson Bay Company’s stern-wheeler. It was fall time and Dad was a trapper. We went upriver to Fort Providence to the Catholic convent (residential school). I spent 10 years there, going home every summer for the holidays on the mission boat.

“The nuns taught us so much. I only remember one nun who was very strict and one nun who made us pray too much. In every society you have people with personalities that are on the bad side. But, I can swear on the Bible that my time in the convent was good. We ate three meals a day, not fancy but nourishing, a lot of recreation, every winter they built us a big slide and we would have fun sliding and we went on many picnics in summer time and in the winter we would go for hay rides, sleighs pulled by oxen.

“We set rabbit snares and ate rabbit. They had pemmican, that is pounded meat that natives love. They taught us how to knit stockings for ourselves, to do fancy beading for moccasins and to do quill work, from two quills up to 12 quills. We learned to make our own dresses, they taught how to cook and bake and clean.

“The boys had hockey and baseball. The native Indian boys used to always try to beat the Metis boys, lots of fun.

“In my step mom’s time, the older girls use to milk cows. I remember cleaning the chicken coop and collecting eggs. The only bad time was when the nuns picked older native girls to be in charge, just ask my sister Muriel Foers. She remembers one big girl who was so mean when the nun put her in charge, she sure used the big stick. Muriel said the poor little girls were scared to death of her. She said she told about this at one of those residential meetings.

“Another thing elders want to say is, aboriginal people have always been mean, especially to their wives. A lot of jealousies, we all know horror stories. I can tell you some good ones. Time to face the truth.


“The young people never saw so much money and, as they say, some will sell their souls for the money. But that’s their business, if they can live with it. But remember when you die, you must face St. Peter, if you believe in God. I believe in God and I pray to him every day, even if I don’t go to church.

“So, now that I have opened the can of worms with the encouragement of you good people, should we apply for some of the millions spent on the negative side of the residential school and start reporting the good and positive side of residential school? Let me know.”

–‘Positive stories from residential school’,
Cece Hodgson-McCauley, Northern News Service, December 3, 2012
{CAPS added}


Joe Mercredi0811mer1-nwt“In the book, he wrote the work is “in retaliation” to the many negative stories about residential schools.”
“Before he died in 2009, Joe Mercredi of Enterprise {NWT} asked his wife, Amy, to publish a book he had long been working on about his childhood years in residential school.

“He said to me, ‘Make sure you get that book printed for me,’” Amy recalled.

“She told him she would, and she has now fulfilled that promise.

“Recently, she received the first copies of the self-published “Adventures of a Young Metis Boy in Residential School”.
The small, hardcover book – written at about a Grade 5 or 6 level – is Joe Mercredi’s fond recollections on the three years he spent at St. Joseph Mission School in Fort Resolution in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

“Unlike many other people, the well-known Metis elder’s experiences as a child in residential school were positive, and he never witnessed violence or abuse.

“In the book, he wrote the work is “in retaliation” to the many negative stories about residential schools.

“We were not all abused and we did not all, as a mass, hate the mission schools and what they were mandated to do,” he wrote. “There was a lot of good that was done and we should not throw out the good with the bad.”

“In particular, he credited residential schools for educating many aboriginal people.

“Amy Mercredi said it was important to Joe his book be published because he wanted it submitted to the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“She doesn’t believe Joe expected the book to create any controversy over his views on residential schools.

“He just wanted to give a positive picture of not everything that happened in the mission school was negative,” she explained.

“She said the book has its origins in about 1990 as a series of columns her late husband wrote for ‘The Mackenzie Times’, a newspaper he published in Fort Simpson.

“Joe was 10 years old when he was sent to St. Joseph Mission School.

“His parents sent him and his two sisters from Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., to the school to get an education.

“He looked at it as an adventure,” Amy said, saying that’s why she gave the book its title.

“The book’s target readers are former students of the mission school and young people.

“Amy Mercredi said Joe had finished writing the book when he died at the age of 70 in February of last year.”

–‘A positive story’,
Paul Bickford, Northern News Services, November 10, 2010


Rena Martinson
Rena Martinson

“I think what happened with the residential schools is they painted everybody with the same brush, They said ‘you’re all bad, all the ministers, everybody’ but that’s not true.”

“Rena Martinson is one of a kind.

“For six years during the 1950s, Martinson, along with her reverend husband John, headed the St. Phillips Anglican Residential School in Fort George, northern Quebec.

“But contrary to the common residential school story, Martinson left a positive and lasting impression on the community of about 1,000.

“So much so, that on Saturday she was made an honorary member and elder of the Saskatchewan River ‘First Nation’, the first non-status Indian band in Canada, in recognition of her work.

“Rather than keep the children from speaking in their native tongue, Martinson learned Cree.

“She was responsible with ordering supplies to the school for an entire year and became an active part of the community.

“She went out on seal hunts and bought the students changes of clothes rather than funnel them into uniforms.

“She didn’t want to have the children in any uniform, so she, out of her own pocket, bought three changes of clothes for the kids,” Frank Dufrene, her son-in-law, said. “And they would wear them through the year instead of, like in a lot of traditional residential schools, (wearing) uniforms.”

“When the news of her work reached Rodney Hunt, chief of the Saskatchewan River ‘First Nation’, he said he knew Martinson needed to be recognized and inducted her as an honorary elder at Birchwood Terrace Nursing Home Saturday.

“Martinson, originally from Ignace, adopted four native children, including her daughter Anne, a niece of the oldest residential school survivor on record.

“She always said she wanted kids like the ones she saw in the north,” said Ann, who was adopted from Moose Factory…

“It’s ironic, said Frank, that Anne’s aunt shook hands with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, when the government issued its apology for its participation in residential schools and her adopting mother ran one of those very schools.

“I think what happened with the residential schools is they painted everybody with the same brush,” he said. “They said ‘You’re all bad. All the ministers, everybody’ but that’s not true.”

–‘Woman honoured for positive impact at residential school’,
Garett Williams, Kenora Daiy Miner & News, December 21, 2010


Cecilia Jeffery Indian Residential School (Kenora, Ont.)
Cecilia Jeffery Indian Residential School
(Kenora, Ont.)

“…there are other stories that need to be told, as well. Stories like my mother’s.

“My mother is 75 and attended the Cecilia Jeffery School outside Kenora, Ontario. In the 60-some years that have passed since her experience, she has become a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She lives in a small house on a reserve outside Kenora.

“When you enter my mother’s house, there’s one thing more than anything that strikes you. It’s incredibly neat.

“She cleans fastidiously. Every surface in her home gleams and everything is organized and arranged to make the most out of the living area.

“There is a cross on the wall, a Bible by her bed and a picture of Jesus in the living room. It’s a home not unlike the home of any grandmother anywhere in Canada.

“She credits the residential school experience with teaching her domestic skills. While she was at the school, she learned how to cook, sew, clean, launder and take care of a home. Her house on the reserve is known as the neatest and cleanest and even though she’s an elder, she takes care to maintain it. Her lawn is the only cultured lawn on the whole reserve, shorn, immaculate, stunning.

“My mother has never spoken to me of abuse or any catastrophic experience at the school. She only speaks of learning valuable things that she went on to use in her everyday life, things that made her life more efficient, effective and empowered.

“Why is this important? Well, because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission needs to hear those kinds of stories, too. As a journalist since 1979, I’ve heard people credit residential schools with the foundation for learning that allowed them to pursue successful academic careers.

“Others tell of being introduced to skills that became lifelong careers, and still others, like my mother, talk of being introduced to a faith that guided the rest of their lives…

“To be brave and go against the flow and tell Canada that for some native people, the residential school experience was not exclusively a horror show is to tell Canada that we have grown as nations of people, that we recognize that truth means a whole vision and not just a selective memory…

“Tell all of the stories. The good along with the bad. Lead by example and use this opportunity to create harmony, to create a more balanced future for all of us.

“Such is honesty. Such is truth. Such is the foundation of forgiveness and such are the bones of reconciliation.”

–‘The good side of the residential school story is valid, too’,
Richard Wagamese, Calgary Herald/Vancouver Sun, May 12, 2008
{Richard Wagamese would like it known that he does not support ERBL or its mission…}


All Saints Indian Residential School Lac La Ronge, Sask.
All Saints Indian Residential School Lac La Ronge, Sask.

“The reconciliation acknowledges the tragic negligence that took place and affirms that such things should never happen again. But its value has been questioned in some quarters. Enough is enough already. Those who have suffered are being re-victimized. This reflects the view of mental health counsellors who say constantly revisiting incidents of abuse is like repeatedly picking a scab until scar tissue forms. It reignites anger slowly and distorts the healing process.

“Others say the ‘Indian industry’ has concentrated on the negative and ignored the positive aspects of the schools. Why? Was it because there is no compensation money for positive stories? …

“It’s true Canada failed its aboriginal children by sending them to residential schools, but I have seen critics, often in the media, misinterpret events to push a distorted and imbalanced view, failing to understand that many of the actions were usual at the time and represent the same treatment given to other Canadians.

“This outraged statement—which suggests racism—is an example: 

“They shaved their heads as they arrived at these schools.”

“Why? Well, this is because head-lice infestation was common years ago, and that has never been restricted to any culture. A lot of the children arrived infested. Head-shaving is the quickest way to get rid of head lice and prevent the infection of others.

“Sending police to take the children to residential schools was not a terror tactic, as some critics have hinted. It was merely done because at that time there were no ‘First Nations’ truant officers. That left police responsible for enforcing the legislation that requires children to attend school.

“Again, this was not something only done to a specific group or culture. The Doukhobors who originated from Russia to settle in Canada and build their own communities did not want their children educated in public schools. RCMP officers of the day were ordered to retrieve these children and force them into schools.

“Promotion of the negative through the past 20-some years has led many aboriginals to blame the residential schools for all of life’s hardships and miseries.

“Many other aboriginals believe our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we ultimately become. That’s a lesson that needs to be reinforced as well when we think about Canada’s Indian residential schools experience.”

–‘Residential Schools: Time to Stop Focusing on Past Horrors’,
Don Sandberg, The Epoch Times, November 7, 2010


The Old Sun residential school on the Blackfoot (Sikisika) reserve near Gleichen, in southern Alberta.


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