Lost Gen­er­a­tions

An Inuk artist re­flects on the legacy of the res­i­den­tial schools in the Far North.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - Mary Carpenter. by

An Inuk artist re­flects on the dark legacy of res­i­den­tial schools in the Far North.

In 1966, Mary Carpenter ap­peared on na­tional tele­vi­sion and shat­tered the myth of res­i­den­tial schools as the “saviours” of Indige­nous chil­dren. As a guest of The Pierre Ber­ton Show, the twenty-three–year-old Inuk from Sachs Har­bour, North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, wept as she spoke of the phys­i­cal and men­tal abuse she suf­fered. It was a shock for thou­sands of view­ers, who had for gen­er­a­tions been fed a lie: that forced as­sim­i­la­tion was the an­swer to Canada’s “In­dian ques­tion.” To­day, Carpenter is an award-win­ning writer and poet. She holds de­grees from Rut­gers, West­ern, and Car­leton uni­ver­si­ties. She is a mother and a grand­mother. She is also a res­i­den­tial school sur­vivor. This is her story.

IN 1939, THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA RULED, UNI­LAT­ER­ALLY, THAT Eski­mos — to­day known as Inuit — were “In­di­ans,” and as In­di­ans they were wards of the Crown. The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment au­tho­rized var­i­ous reli­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions, with aid from the po­lice, to herd Eskimo chil­dren into res­i­den­tial schools — as they had been do­ing to In­dian chil­dren in south­ern Canada. Eskimo chil­dren were taken away by air­plane from their par­ents and clan groups, and all fa­mil­ial ties were sev­ered. That is what hap­pened to me. At a very young age, I, be­ing an Eskimo child, be­came one of these res­i­den­tial school in­hab­i­tants.

Be­fore con­tact with south­ern­ers, I had lived my life as the cher­ished daugh­ter of a wealthy, cos­mopoli­tan father who was the ac­knowl­edged leader of two strong Inu­vialuit clans. We did not need Canada or its schools and hos­pi­tals to sur­vive. We were an en­tity unto our­selves. The qual­ity of my life with my clan was ex­cep­tion­ally high. Con­tact with colo­nial Canada di­min­ished my life and up­rooted my clan. We are still strug­gling to re­cover.

Of­fi­cially, the primary pur­pose of res­i­den­tial school was to Euro­peanize Indige­nous peoples and to up­root us from our former “in­fe­rior” cul­tures. The Royal Com­mis­sion on Abo­rig­i­nal Peoples has de­scribed these schools as “in­tern­ment camps for In­dian chil­dren.” We, as in- terns, ex­pe­ri­enced mech­a­nisms of con­trol. I, as well as oth­ers, be­lieve that res­i­den­tial schools, run as in­sti­tu­tions, pre­pared us bet­ter for jail than for life in white so­ci­ety.

I en­tered the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem in 1948, when my father re­luc­tantly handed me over to the mis­sion­ar­ies at the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion Ro­man Catholic Mis­sion­ary School in Aklavik, North­west Ter­ri­to­ries. Un­til that mo­ment, I had never seen a white woman, or a two-storey build­ing. The school smelled of strange chem­i­cals that I would come to learn were kept un­der the kitchen sink for clean­ing.

I wit­nessed with trep­i­da­tion the tran­si­tion of parental power when my beloved father handed me over to the Grey Nuns and Oblate fa­thers. When my father left and the door closed behind him, these alien crea­tures usurped my Inu­vialuit life. I was to stay at the school for one year, be­fore be­ing trans­ferred with my three sib­lings — Mar­garet, Noah, and Joey — to the All Saints Angli­can Mis­sion­ary School, also in Aklavik.

At school we found our­selves iso­lated, not only from our fam­ily and home­lands but also from our friends and sib­lings. This iso­la­tion made us more vul­ner­a­ble to the mas­sive brain­wash­ing in­flicted on us in or­der to re­place our “pa­gan su­per­sti­tions” with Chris­tian­ity. Re­lent­less labour and rou­tine re­placed our former free and easy life.

The nuns harshly pun­ished any ex­pres­sions of in­di­vid­u­al­ity or Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture. As we en­tered the school, the nuns shaved off our tra­di­tional long hair and as­signed each of us a num­ber. Mine was W3244. The nuns took away my Na­tive name, Tun­goyuq, and re­placed it with “Mary,” a name from their Bi­ble. If I dared to ut­ter one word of my Na­tive lan­guage, Inu­vialuk­tun, the nuns se­verely pun­ished me. One of the pun­ish­ments was stand­ing on one leg in the hall­way for all to see with a bar of soap in one’s mouth.

My in­duc­tion into res­i­den­tial school alien­ated me from my former life and my iden­tity: what I came to know, who I came to love, what was im­por­tant to me as a hu­man be­ing. This ex­pe­ri­ence took away my world.

The only con­tact I had with my father came once a year, and only for two days du­ra­tion. Each sum­mer, my father would ar­rive at Aklavik aboard his fa­bled schooner, North Star of Her­schel Is­land, to trade his yearly catch of white fox furs. I cher­ished those two days spent with my fam­ily, but the women of my clan seemed alarmed at my be­hav­iour be­cause I had be­come a “bed­wet­ter” and a “clinger.” I was so starved for at­ten­tion. And when my father’s trad­ing was fin­ished, his de­par­ture was heart-rend­ing.

When I fi­nally re­turned home to Sachs Har­bour for good, I was four­teen years old and filled with so much sad­ness and anger. By this time I was writ­ing seething poetry that alarmed my fam­ily. My be­hav­iour, fu­elled by re­sent­ment and anger, con­fused them.

Why did my hunter father con­sent to my in­car­cer­a­tion? I needed to know. And so, within hear­ing dis­tance of my en­tire clan, I con­fronted my father with these cal­cu­lated words: “You are a po­lar bear hunter, and you know the mother bear ei­ther kills or is killed de­fend­ing her cubs. Why didn’t you do that for me!?”

My father never an­swered — and my clan never for­gave me for these harsh words. They echo back and fuel the de­spair.

RRes­i­den­tial schools shared many sim­i­lar­i­ties with pris­ons. We were like in­mates, our days ruled by rou­tine. Ev­ery morn­ing, the bells rang through­out the dor­mi­to­ries, and we lined up for the bath­room, then put on our uni­forms, and sleep­ily and silently walked in a straight line to the cav­ernous chapel. The Oblate priests, dressed in black robes, chanted from el­e­vated al­tars and served wine and wafers only to those con­firmed into the Ro­man Catholic Church. The nuns were there to serve the priests and to keep their young charges in line. It was a reg­i­mented en­vi­ron­ment where we soon learned to line up for ev­ery­thing in our daily lives. The white

peo­ple had all the power. Many chil­dren never saw their par­ents or home­lands again.

Res­i­den­tial school be­came our cul­tural land­scape. In­ex­orably, we lost our cul­tural roots. We did not be­come white, but we were no longer brown. We be­came lost gen­er­a­tions.

Res­i­den­tial schools were driven by a pol­icy that voiced an agenda to “kill the In­dian” and “save the man.” The cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal ex­tinc­tion of Abo­rig­i­nal peoples as self-de­ter­min­ing na­tions was in­te­grated as an ob­jec­tive of a school sys­tem that was still in place decades af­ter the de­vel­op­ment of the wel­fare state.

The volume and in­ten­sity of Na­tive tes­ti­mony about the cul­tural op­pres­sion that char­ac­ter­ized the schools make it clear that the of­fi­cial agenda of at­tempted as­sim­i­la­tion was a cause of se­vere pain and last­ing dam­age.

The lay­out of the res­i­den­tial schools tells us much about how the white masters controlled the chil­dren. Ev­ery­thing about res­i­den­tial school was about sev­er­ance and bar­ri­ers. We Inuit chil­dren came from a place with no walls, where life un­folded in front of us with­out any phys­i­cal or emo­tional bar­ri­ers. There­fore, the lay­out of the res­i­den­tial school and the per­son­nel who ad­min­is­tered them were fun­da­men­tal to re­shap­ing our un­der­stand­ing of space and the pur­pose of that space.

In my Inu­vialuk world, there were no gen­der dif­fer­ences in names, and our clan sys­tem was in­clu­sive. Ev­ery­one co-op­er­ated. There were no walls, and we all slept and ate in the same space. As chil­dren, we learned to live and to thrive in a sen­sory world. We learned with our five senses. By con­trast, the phys­i­cal space of the school had many walls. We had a de­fined space to sleep, to eat, to play. We sat rigidly at a desk, fac­ing the teacher. We sat in long wooden pews watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to priests and nuns as they in­structed us from a strange, big, black book with a gold-em­bossed “BI­BLE” em­bla­zoned on the cover. In res­i­den­tial school, the Bi­ble was of­ten used to jus­tify the ill treat­ment of in­no­cent chil­dren.

As the weeks turned into months and then years, we learned to line up in or­der to eat, and to march to class, to chapel, to the dor­mi­tory. We learned to re­spond to and lis­ten for the bells, which dic­tated our lives. We learned to sur­vive in a reg­i­mented world. We learned to bury our senses. Quickly we learned au­to­matic, per­func­tory mo­tions such as mak­ing the sign of the cross over our bod­ies, to stand erect like mo­tion­less, life­less, ce­ramic stat­ues, and to sit erect, like tree stumps, on hard pews. We learned to sur­vive in a world of no laugh­ter and no sound ex­cept bark­ing com­mand­ments.

At school, the nuns taught us to de­spise the tra­di­tions and ac­com-

plish­ments of our peo­ple, to re­ject the val­ues and spir­i­tu­al­ity that had al­ways given mean­ing to the lives of our peo­ple, to dis­trust the knowl­edge and the ways of life of our fam­i­lies and kin. When the school re­leased us and we re­turned to our vil­lages, many of us had grown to de­spise our­selves. We all be­came dam­aged goods.

TThere is no rem­edy for the sev­ered ties from mother, father, grand­par­ents, aunts, un­cles, cousins. There will be no “over­come” for me. But writ­ing sto­ries, ar­ti­cles, and po­ems has given me courage to face my fears, de­spite be­ing afraid of what I may re­call. And I am buoyed by the other Inu­vialuit au­thors who have ex­plored the dark legacy of res­i­den­tial schools.

Magic Weapons: Abo­rig­i­nal Writ­ers Re­mak­ing Com­mu­nity af­ter Res­i­den­tial School, by Queen’s Uni­ver­sity Indige­nous lit­er­a­ture scholar Sam McKeg­ney, in­tro­duces read­ers to the writ­ings of sev­eral Inu­vialuit au­thors, in­clud­ing An­thony Apakark Thrasher and Alice French. Apakark wrote Skid Row Eskimo in the early 1970s while in­car­cer­ated in Cal­gary. When one con­sid­ers the theft of land, dis­pos­ses­sion, and dis­crim­i­na­tory leg­is­la­tion that have his­tor­i­cally de­fined Abo­rig­i­nal and non-Abo­rig­i­nal re­la­tions, one won­ders who the true crim­i­nals are and what true jus­tice is.

Alice French’s story My Name is Masak was pub­lished in 1977 and fo­cuses on her Inu­vialuk name. In her book, she sig­nals to the world that she is re­claim­ing her iden­tity as an Inu­vialuk woman de­spite her years in res­i­den­tial school and the en­forced fa­mil­ial dis­con­nec­tion.

Sto­ries such as those writ­ten by Apakark and Masak are the sparks that will ig­nite the for­ma­tion of Inuit cir­cum­po­lar iden­tity and imag­i­na­tion. My Inu­vialuit ances­tors were imag­i­na­tive peo­ple! This writ­ing will also ex­pose the ca­pac­ity for Indige­nous strength in light of EuroCana­dian as­sump­tions about our sup­pos­edly in­her­ent weak­ness.

Many res­i­den­tial school sur­vivors have died with­out for­giv­ing their par­ents, the gov­ern­ment, or the churches. They died think­ing that it was im­pos­si­ble to es­cape the ter­ri­ble her­itage im­posed on their lives. Our com­mon ten­dency was, as legal “wards of the Crown,” to self-de­struct from in­her­ited para­noia and in­ef­fi­ciency. The ed­u­ca­tors drilled into me that white peo­ple came to the North Amer­i­can con­ti­nent solely from their sense of duty to their God. They told us we should be grate­ful for their forced as­sim­i­la­tion.

None of my ances­tors in­vited them. I owe them noth­ing. Be­ing a res­i­den­tial school sur­vivor, I un­der­stand how po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion works. I had four­teen years of in­car­cer­ated lessons on geno­cide! Taima! (Enough!).

Mary Carpenter, far left, and her fel­low stu­dents at All Saints Angli­can School in Aklavik, North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, re­ceive a ge­og­ra­phy les­son in 1953.

Clock­wise from left: Mary Carpenter re­moves baked goods from an oven at All Saints Angli­can School, Aklavik, North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, circa 1950s. Frank Carpenter (bent over), Mary's brother, and Merle, his adopted son, at Sachs Har­bour, Banks Is­land, N.W.T. Fred Carpenter with his chil­dren, in­clud­ing Mary, who is wear­ing a skirt and a light-coloured shirt. A map of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries shows the dis­tance — about 555 kilo­me­tres — be­tween the Carpenter fam­ily's home at Sachs Har­bour on Banks Is­land and Aklavik, where Mary and her sib­lings at­tended res­i­den­tial school. Aklavik Ro­man Catholic school and hos­pi­tal, circa 1943.

This page, clock­wise from top left: Dah­wana, Mary Carpenter's pa­ter­nal grand­mother, date un­known. Fred Carpenter's schooner, the North Star of Her­schel Is­land. A 1964 Na­tional Geo­graphic ar­ti­cle fea­tur­ing the Carpenter fam­ily. Mary Carpenter and her father Fred in 1964. Carpenter with au­thor Pierre Ber­ton, circa 1990s.

Left: Ada Gruben, Mary Carpenter's mother, in Tuk­toy­ak­tuk, North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, circa 1930s. Gruben died in 1956 at age 38.

Above: Mary Carpenter in her home in Ot­tawa, Jan­uary 2017.

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