Welcome! I love to write, and I love sharing what I write with my readers. I vary my style as much as I can-posting events, creative non-fiction, prose and poetry and the occasional video. Enjoy!



Sunday, October 30, 2011

NunatsiaqOnline 2011-10-29: NEWS: RCMP denies knowledge of residential school abuses

NunatsiaqOnline 2011-10-29: NEWS: RCMP denies knowledge of residential school abuses

Please read this...This is infuriating to say the least.....

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poem: Innocence Shattered

By: Christine McFarlane


your actions

your words

did you 
not know

that what 
you did

and what 
you said

would affect

for years 
to come


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Reader's Contribution: Rand Scott

This post was in response to my initial call out for a guest post on my blog. If any other readers are interested in contributing work to my blog, please send me a message via

Bio: Rand Scott home is in Toronto but feels at home in the natural world devoid of concrete. He is a recent graduate of Aboriginal Studies and English Literature. Studying and working with such notables as Lee Maracle, George Elliott Clarke, Ray Robertson, Marcy Woodrow, Lee Gowan, Janis Rapoport, and Judith Robertson have helped Randolph hone his craft. His work has been well received by them.

Randolph is currently researching texts on the military strategy of quarantine, destruction, and isolation that were/are deployed by colonial forces. With the creation of poetry and short narratives in response to the texts Rand commits to justice, gives voice to the voiceless and, shows that we have the power to re-name ourselves.

My World

The land turns red against the dawn
Flocks of returning geese string
ribbons bellied against spring’s melting prison
A crow’s feathered legs clings to the gravelled shoulder
Robins, twinned in matches fall over one another
unsettling leaf’s decayed faces
finally freed from winter’s cold carpet.

Pastures of plenty
apprehended like barren wombs
I straddle two worlds
un comfortable in each
a skeleton key my only possession
 my harbour a wind blowing through
a window crack

Rand Scott

Monday, October 24, 2011


By: Christine McFarlane

can be
many things

on how you hear

they can 

drive a dagger
in your heart

and make
you cry

they can

ensconce you
in their embrace

and let
 you know
that you are

can be
many things

on how you hear

it's up
to you

To make
the words
you choose


Sunday, October 23, 2011


By: Christine McFarlane



I hear 
the thump
against my 
chest wall


my head
feels foggy
thoughts are racing

noises too much


hands shaking
skin clammy

tears welling
up inside

but I hold
them in

i know
its anxiety

but outwardly
people don't see
my struggle
they just see me

they don't know
that I am just
trying to


Guest Post: Bruce Pascoe (Aboriginal Australian Writer)

(Bruce Pascoe-Photo by Christine McFarlane)
Bio: Bruce Pascoe is a leading Australian Aboriginal Writer who was one of the Faculty at the Banff Centre for the Arts for the Aboriginal Emerging Writer Program 2011. He was born in Richmond, Victoria in 1947. He graduated as a secondary teacher but has also worked as a farmer, fisherman and barman. He now runs Pascoe Publishing with his wife, Lyn. Until recently, they also published the successful quarterly, Australian Short Stories. He has two children and lives at Cape Otway in Victoria where is a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative. His works include, Earth, 2000, Foxies in a Firehose: A Piece of Doggeral from Warragul, 2006 (a children's book) Bloke, 2009, D Night Animals (stories), 1986, Nightjar, stories of the Australian night, 2000 and three other novels, Fox, 1988, Ruby Eyed Coucal, 1996 and Shark, 1999, winner of the Fellowship of Australian Writers' Literature Award for 1999.

By Bruce Pascoe
My trip to Canada to work with First Nations Writers at the Banff Centre got off to a rough start when I visited the Vancouver Anthropological museum. I wandered about the museum and my heart sank lower and lower. Every exhibit brought me closer to my knees and eventually I had to sit down. The poles and canoes and weavings and carvings were so superb and the ruthless dismissal of the culture by Europeans depressed me to such a  degree that I felt  I would faint. As I explained to my Banff students later I’m not the fainting type.

How could you look at that art, the depth of the spiritual embrace of the world and not believe that those people were rich and sophisticated? The arrogance of Europe’s superiority complex and the Un-Christian ferocity of their insistence that thou shall have no other god before me is truly staggering. What brought the European to such scientific prominence but such poverty stricken spirituality?

I travelled the land from Banfield to Ucluelet to Vancouver to Banff and everywhere I was aware of the great spirits within the land. I spoke to First Nations people and sensed the tenacity of my own Australian Aboriginal people but I was also aware of the unbridgeable grief we share.

The sounds, the mountains, the springs, the caves, the rivers, they all whispered with their beauty and it was so obvious that any visitor could imagine themselves enjoying living amongst such beauty and such spiritually and artistically advanced people. But why did it not occur to those visitors to ask permission?

The study of the European mind that allowed the dismissal of all other values and skills needs to be analysed. That mindset has caused grief, incredible grief in any land they visited. It is not just the Western European mind because some East Asian nations were colonists too but we have to understand what drove them, what gave them such self-assurance because it is possible they’ve lead the world down a cul-de-sac of unsustainable violence and waste such that we may not survive the experiment.

First Nations people must not hold their grief against their stomach and rock in hopelessness we must stick to the virtues of our cultures and argue that the world cannot continue with the experiment of unbridled imperial capitalism. This is not an argument for Capitalism vs Communism it is about human behavior and the potential for us to survive our worst impulses. Young First Nations people must return to the values of their people and argue for a return to a respectful relationship with the earth.

Sometimes visiting a strange land can focus your understanding of the ways of the world. My visit to Canada did that for me and I thank you for the opportunity. Solidarity, Bruce Pascoe

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cold Nights:

cold nights
winds howling
teeth chattering
wearing thick
hiding under blankets
trying to keep warm
wearing flannels
cold nights
winds howling
winter is here

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post: Michelle Melanson

(Michelle Melanson)

Da Bio

Michelle Melanson is a winter-weary writer from Manitoba with an attachment to alliteration.
She recently received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to attend the Aboriginal Emerging Writers program at The Banff Centre. Michelle graduated from  the Creative Communications program at Red River College in 2007 and she is hopeful she will one day put that diploma to work. She also dabbles in stand up comedy and tries to bring humour into her writing.
She is currently working on a novel. She also has a blog, please visit it at
Da Story :)
The Dirty One Thirty by Michelle Melanson

He has a voice that carries, amplified perhaps by rye or vodka. It's crunch time. There's only thirty minutes left on the clock before the bar closes up and everyone stumbles home.
He is sitting on the edge of his seat, leaning in to some girl who looks thoroughly pickled. Every once in awhile he makes a move, verbal or otherwise, that makes me giggle.
"You're going to look so hot in my bed."
His lines run from pathetic confidence to plain pathetic.
"Shouldn't everyone get laid on their birthday? Don't I deserve that?"
I've been sneaking peeks at this smooth operator for at least half an hour in between my high-stakes 25 cent video poker hands. He's wearing a polyester shirt that's almost as shiny as his greasy gelled-up hair. The guy is kind of short for a guy, maybe 5'7", and although it sounds like I'm preparing a description for the cops a few days in advance, I think he's kind of cute in a slimy bar star kind of way.
Maybe I should tell him it's my birthday too.
Tonight's lucky winner is starting to slump over on top of the little round bar table in front of her. She's clearly had a couple more than she should have been served, and clearly not interested in giving this guy's mattress a test drive.
"You're so pretty. Can I give you a hug?"
"Um, no," she says.
Two-Too-Many absentmindedly chews on the ice cubes that didn't melt in the alcohol she sucked back minutes earlier. The ice clicks and clacks against her teeth before she grinds it into tiny bits and swallows hard. She looks around thoughtfully in the midst of her drunkenness, searching for an out.
"Can I get you another drink, beautiful?"
Two-Too-Many's answer is blunt and direct. "Um, no."
Mr. Hot N. Bothered looks at his watch with some desperation in his movement.
"You're going to wish you came home with me if you don't, you know."
Finally the lights come on and someone is kind enough to step between Two-Too-Many and H.N. Bothered and get the girl into a cab.
I cash in my twelve dollar and seventy five cent ticket at the wicket and make my way outside. The bar star is standing in the parking lot next to a late 90s car, angrily puffing away on a cigarette.
I smile at him and wish him a happy birthday with a slight twinge of sarcasm.
He doesn't pick up on it right away but eventually realizes I must have heard his "everyone deserves a birthday piece" bit.
I love watching people connect the dots.
"You wanna go home with me, lady?"
I unlock my car door, look at him and say, "Um, no."

Showcasing A Brief Glimpse at the "Prairie Chicken & Grass" Style Dance


(Dancers in video are Lindy Kinoshameg, who is from Wikwemikong First Nations of the Ojibway Tribe and Mike Healy, a Blackfoot of the Blood Tribe from Alberta Canada) 
By: Christine McFarlane
The Canadian Aboriginal Festival is fast approaching and its back in Toronto! 2011 marks its 18th Anniversary and offers a bit of everything to everyone. Instead of doing just a short blip, I wanted to offer my readers a brief glimpse into a dance style often seen at First Nations peoples pow wow's- the "Prairie Chicken & Grass" Style dance. 

This short video was  made by an acquaintance of mine, Lindy Kinoshameg, of Wikwemikong. Kinoshameg, as part of a class project, did a couple of videos that reflected First Nations culture and traditions. This involved keeping a blog and posting these videos up. 

After helping him edit the videos, I thought it would be really cool if I showcased his dance style in anticipation of the Canadian Aboriginal Festival coming around the corner. Much like words and images tell a story, so does dance, especially the dance styles reflected here. Take notice of the movements and rhythm, from the dancer's head right down to their toes. 

They are telling a story with the way they move. Also  have a look at the dancers regalia, the beads, the bells, the feathers, the colours and designs. Each individual's regalia is unique to them and to them alone.Enjoy! and don't forget to come out to the Canadian Aboriginal Festival. Its taking place this year at the Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place, in downtown Toronto, Ontario. This video was filmed at the University of Toronto, and you can also view it at 

[Special thanks to Lindy Kinoshameg and Mike Healy for giving me the permission to showcase their traditional dance style video on my blog. Other credits go to Chris Mejaki for Filming, Mike for sharing his dance, and A Tribe Called Red for their musical style.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My 2nd Guest Post- Roy Pogorzelski

(Roy Pogorzelski)

Roy Pogorzelski: is a member of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan.  His family is from the Meadow Lake/Green Lake region of Northern Saskatchewan.  Roy convocated from the University of Regina with a B.A in Indigenous Studies (distinction) and a B.H.J in Human Justice in 2006.  Roy has been heavily involved working in the Aboriginal field.  He has worked as a Research/Teachers Assistant for the First Nations University of Canada, as a Research Officer for the Department of First Nations and Métis Relations and as a Youth Care Worker with the Ranch Ehrlo Society and Regina Public School Board. In 2006, Roy worked in Vienna, Austria as a Research Assistant on International Indigenous issues for the Legal Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Roy has travelled extensively in Europe, covering 24 European countries. In 2009, he completed his master's degree in Cultures and Development Studies from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium (distinction). His thesis was on Metis Identity in Canada. Currently, Roy is working as the Aboriginal Diversity Support Co-ordinator with the Aboriginal Council of Lethbridge and sits as a committee member for the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CMARD).

He is also a freelance writer for Alberta Sweetgrass and Saskatchewan Sage magazines under the Windspeaker Label, and a freelance writer for the Lethbridge Journal, in a column called Aboriginal Voices. He just recently took part in the Aboriginal Emerging Writers Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts and has a blog titled "Embracing Identity" Please visit it at 

I Jigged Last Night!!
 By: Roy Pogorzelski
Completely alone,
Identity strong,
Waiting in Anticipation,
It’s time to go on.

My first performance,
Scared to death,
Trying to Breathe,
Remembering the steps.

All eyes on me,
The fiddle starts to play,
A familiar tune,
Makes my legs automatically move.

They're out of control, as the fiddle changes,
Basic, fancy, basic, fancy,
My legs remind me,
What my mind forgets.

The loud sound of inconsistent clapping,
The cheering with every new step,
Body feeling tired,
Adrenaline taking over.

Sweat rushing down my face,
Breathing heavily,
Finally the last step,
Music ends.

The people stand and clap,
Tiredness kicks in,
Being Métis promoted,
Mom, guess what?

I Jigged Last Night!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Poem: You're In Your Own World

By: Christine McFarlane

In your own

Plugged in

Full blast

I hear it
Two seats away

Your mouth
Silently moving

To a song
Only you know

Is tapping



Song is
On your lips

I smile

You’re in
Your own

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Poem: The Morning Rush

By: Christine McFarlane

Lurching bus
Disembodied voice
Breaking through
the fogginess in my head

Yelling out
each stop

Dundas  Street!

People scrambling
Pushing each other
Tripping over each other
Just to get a seat

Bodies touching
Shoulder to shoulder
The smell of cologne
wafting by my nose

Other smells
Like the stale sweatiness
Of an unwashed body
Enough to make me plug
My nose
And shrink away

Lurching bus
Disembodied voice
Breaking through
The fogginess in my head

Yelling out
each stop

College Street!

Its the morning rush
People jostling each other
Slurping their coffees
wiping sleep from their eyes
Coughing, clearing their throats

Women with their compact mirrors
Trying to put their make up on
People talking on their phones
Or busily texting away

Yelling over
Each others heads
Just to be heard

Who wants to hear
That's not meant to be heard
There's no semblance of privacy
During this particular morning rush

Lurching bus
Disembodied voice
Breaking through
 The fogginess in my head

Yelling out
Each stop

Queen Street!

The bus screeches
To a halt

I jump out
Amongst the morning rush

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An Opinion on The "Aging Out Dilemma Plaguing the Foster Care System."

Aging Out Dilemma Plaguing the Foster Care System:
By: Christine McFarlane

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post about the “Aging Out Dilemma Plaguing the Foster Care System.” Bill Baccaglini, the Executive Director of the New York Foundling, wrote the article and in part, this piece is reflective of what I went through when I aged out of the foster care system here in Ontario, and a response to the article by Bill Baccaglini.

Baccaglini opens his article with the statement “imagine that because you’ve been abused or neglected as a child, you’ve spent the first 21 years of your life separated from your biological family, bouncing from one foster home to another and changing schools every few years. At 21 years old, you have never paid rent, bought your own groceries or managed your own expenses.”

Furthermore, “with no family or other support systems in place, you’re told that you are now an adult and responsible for functioning in the world on your own.” Baccaglini asks his readers “would you be able to do it?

When I think of that question, it stirs up a gamut of emotions. I wonder to myself, how did I do it? And I also ask myself, would I want anyone else to go through what I did, just because they aged out of the foster care system also?

My response to the above question, would be no. I would not want others to go through what I did, and something needs to be done to help support youth coming out of care, instead of having them flounder further with no support or guidance.Going from a place of support and having people around you to almost nothing is difficult. It tests your very being. I can’t go back to change the things that happened when I left the foster care system, but I wish that at the time there had been more programs in place, that could have helped me to make the transition from being in care, to being on my own, or at the most that I had listened to those who tried to advise me back then about what could happen, and how I could have dealt with the issues that popped up for me.

I graduated from high school and left my third and final foster home. I moved back to the city that I had spent my earlier years in and moved into an independent living home that was run by the Roman Catholic Children’s Aid Society. This was a home that was supposed to teach and help me with living on my own. At this home, though I lived with several other girls and one staff member, and had a semblance of some support and a routine, a multitude of personal problems popped up, and made my transition more difficult than I would have liked.

At 17 years old, you tend to think that you can take on the world and everything in it. You also don’t heed advice given to you because you tend to think that the person, who is giving you the advice, just doesn’t get it, or is out to get you.  I was still a huge child at heart, and I was thrust into a world that no one could have prepared me for. Amongst the many things that happened to me upon my leaving my foster home, was my adoptive father coming back into my life, and my sister I had not seen since I was 10 years old came back into my life too.  Though I loved that my sister was back in my life, it was very difficult for me to have my adoptive father back in my life. The pain that I had been sheltered from came back when I saw him again, and I took it out in the only way I knew how at that time, by hurting myself.

Being away from the friends I had made and away from the only foster parents who had given me a sense of stability was difficult to say the least. My mental health began to falter. Before I had left my foster home, I had been suffering from an eating disorder, and my eating disorder became even worse as I tried to adjust to my new living situation. I went through extremely intense anger and a lot of self-destruction. Issues that had been festering inside of me for years began to haunt me once more.

The self-harm included not eating, or if I did eat, making sure it didn’t stay inside me, taking pills to numb myself, using knives and scissors to cut myself, and attempting suicide. The group home that I was in couldn’t handle the issues that I had, and after one particular suicide attempt, and a hospitalization, the Children’s Aid told me “enough was enough.”

They gave me two weeks to find a place of my own, and essentially after that I was on my own. Thus began a life of relying on social assistance and apartments that were absolute dives. I remember my first apartment, how it was infested with cockroaches, the noisy neighbors who were always yelling and fighting, and how my apartment view was a parking lot off of an unsavory bar. I recall that when I looked out my window, late at night, I would often see patrons from the bar relieving themselves against the brick wall aligning my apartment building, or a fight would begin and I would hurriedly have to shut my window and its curtain so that I didn’t have to witness yet another person getting decked.

Back to the article, Baccaglini states, “under the current system, when young people in foster care turn 21, they have the rug pulled out from under them. They must sink or swim. But if they sink, we all pay a price.”

Yes, a rug was pulled out from me, but I also played a role in having that rug pulled out from under me. If I had known any better, which I can admit at the age of 17, I didn’t, I know that I would not have chosen to be kicked out of the Independent Living group Home I had been in, nor would I have chosen to be reliant upon social assistance.

Not all foster kids choose what happens to them, when they leave the system. I certainly didn’t.  At 17 I didn’t expect to be paying for my own apartment, paying for hydro and a phone. Nor did I totally expect that I would be living on my own.

Baccaglini says, “because of their life experiences some kids need more support than others-and they may need it for longer.” In my case, after several years of floundering on my own, going into debt, and struggling to learn how to budget on my own, I was put under the care of a trustee. This action though I must admit was hard to deal with at first, has helped me the most.

Aging out of the foster care system or getting kicked out of the child welfare system is a difficult transition. Transitioning from foster care to being on your own is hard, but support systems are needed.

Baccaglini asks what's the solution? And then suggests First, we need more and better programs to prepare these kids for life on their own. Once they are on their own, they are likely to still need help with housing, jobs and enrolling in some form of academic or vocational higher education. They may also need social work or mental health assistance to deal with issues like parents coming out of prison or siblings with drug problems. For those kids, providing this kind of support until age 23 could mean the difference between a productive life and a life in the corrections system or a homeless shelter. These age appropriate programs that work beyond the system are a very good investment indeed.”

I believe Baccaglini is right, more programs are needed, and programs are needed so that these foster kids who age out of the system don't sink. Programs should help aging out foster kids to prepare them for life on their own. It is essential, because when you're out on your own, for the very first time, it's almost certain that you will sink, if you don't have the proper supports to assist you and that can have much more affect on an individual experiencing it, than what the system really cares to believe or understand. I know because I went through it, and though I am years away from that experience, it has taken years for me to rise above what  I went through and to come up on top of it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Poem- Fingers

By: Christine McFarlane

Make their way

Across my skin


My lips


My neck

Onto my chest


My breasts

Hesitant at first
Pausing on the faint scar

But picking up speed

Blazing a path
Of desire

I haven’t felt
In a long, long time

Make their way

Across my skin

Our breath catches
Melding together

As though we breathe
As one

A moan
Escapes my lips

And I hear you whisper

I love you

I have come


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Guest Post: Lee Maracle

(Lee Maracle- Photo by Christine McFarlane)

Lee Maracle, of Salish and Cree ancestry, a member of the Stó:lō Nation, was born in North Vancouver, B.C. in 1950. She is the mother of four and grandmother of four and was one of the first Aboriginal people to be published in the early 1970s. She is one of the founders of the En'owkin International School of Writing in Penticton, BC, a learning institute with an Indigenous Fine Arts Program and an Okanagon Language Program. Maracle has taught creative writing and held a visiting professorship with the Women's Studies program at the University of Toronto. She was the traditional cultural director for the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the Aboriginal Mentor in the Transitional Year Program at the University of Toronto. She has been theDistinguished Visiting Professor of Canadian Culture at Western Washington University and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Guelph.
The author of a number of critically acclaimed literary works including: Sojourner's and Sundogs, Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, Daughters Are Forever, Will's Garden, Bent Box, I Am Woman, she is also the co-editor of a number of anthologies including the award winning publication, My Home As I Remember. She is a co-author of Telling It: Women and Language Across Culture. Lee is widely published in anthologies and scholarly journals worldwide. Maracle is an award-winning writer and teacher, and an occasional editor, film story editor, dramaturge, stage actor and a gifted orator.

By: Lee Maracle
It was one of those kinds of days

The sun was planted up there in the sky
lookin’ like it was rockin’ and rollin’
between indecisive clouds

The day volleyed between bright light
and semi-dark, unable to make up its mind
whether to shine or cloud up
            just like my Gus.

Nuit Blanche 2011-Medicine Walk: Breath Tracks

By: Christine McFarlane

The Aboriginal Studies Program at the University of Toronto did a premiere installation at Nuit Blanche Toronto this year. Titled Medicine Walk: Breath Tracks, it was driven by students, alumni, staff and faculty of the Aboriginal Studies Department and it invited Torontonians to remember the living waters- fifty waters, tributaries, creeks and ponds that have been entombed beneath the streets of our city.

The installation invited many to pause for a moment to absorb the ambience of the Kahontake Kitikan Garden- the Native Student Assoication's Medicine garden, that is located by Hart House. Alongside drumming, a sweat lodge structure and a taped teaching by Traditional Teacher and celebrated writer Lee Maracle running in the background, it was a night that brought together many.

Medicine Walk: Breath Tracks was presented by the Aboriginal Studies Program at the University of Toronto, with Professor Dr. Jill Carter as curator, cultural advisors being Cat Criger, Lee Maracle, Alex McKay, Sylvia Plain, Michael White and the Toronto Native History Project.

According to Dr. Jill Carter “Medicine Walk” is a performance/installation that draws from all areas of Aboriginal Studies (including, language, literature, history, research methodology, Indigenous Knowledge, Native science, theatre, visual arts, governance, and truth and reconciliation). It was researched, installed, written and performed by the Aboriginal students at the University of Toronto who then staged individual and collective acts of cultural, territorial and linguistic reclamation in this site of Ceremony. Under the guidance of Aboriginal artists from the Toronto History Project Arts Collective, the students spoke, sang and danced an intricate weave of traditional, contemporary and personal stories within an art installation that works with the natural life of the Medicine Garden to re-right histories of displacement and to rewrite the original human and nonhuman “actors” into the “Gathering Place.” The focal point of the installation is the garden itself and the human bodies (which are the books upon which our histories are inscribed).

Performers included Jennifer Hammond, Jennifer Long, Christine McFarlane, Nicole Penak, Tyler Pennock, Selcuk Pir, Sylvia Plain, Lena Recollet, Erik Wexler and Madeleine Yachnin, and lastly

Hand Drummers and Singers included Nicole Penak, Connor Pion, Lena Recollet, Michael White, and Meghan Young with fellow volunteers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

By: Christine McFarlane

seeps through
my bones

and through
my very core

I shiver

Yet my face
feels flushed
and warm

My nose
is runny

My temple
aches dully

My eyes
threaten to close

seeps through
my bones

And through
My very core

Sleep calls me

I must listen..

Education and First Nations Peoples

Education and First Nations Peoples:
By: Christine McFarlane

The education of Canadian First Nations people was not always fraught with the difficulties and tragedies it is known for. Instead it was the problematic policies introduced during and leading up to the residential school era that cemented the decline and infamy of the state of Aboriginal education. Fortunately, although the current phase of education is entangled with an intergenerational legacy of pain, we are moving forward, away from a system devoid of Indigenous knowledge and worldview. My paper will first examine how First Nations education used to be, secondly how it changed when certain policies were implemented into the system and produced schools of thought and knowledge that did not reflect or represent Indigenous worldviews, and lastly what current strategies and initiatives are being implemented to regain the control over our education today.

Schools and schooling have been at the heart of relations between First Nations people and the settler society for centuries. When our leaders first looked at education in pre Confederation times, it was initially supported. According to the article “Ojibwa Participation in Methodist Residential Schools in Upper Canada, 1828-1860,” written by Hope MacLean “Ojibwa leaders of Upper Canada participated enthusiastically in the formation of two pre-Confederation Methodist residential schools, Alnwick (at Alderville) and Mount Elgin (at Munceytown).” (MacLean 93)

Originally, before the arrival of the settler societies, methods of education varied from nation to nation and were tailored to self identified needs and customs.  Canadian historian J.R. Miller defines what education means stating  “education aims, first, to explain to the individual members of a community who they are, who their people are, and how they relate to other peoples and to the physical world about them. Secondly, an educational system seeks to train young people in the skills they will need to be successful and productive members of their bands, city-states, countries, or empires in later life.” (Miller 15)

 However various educational practices of First Nations communities did share a common or homogeneous method for instruction. “The common elements in Aboriginal education were the shaping of behavior by positive example in the home, the provision of subtle guidance towards desired forms of behavior through use of games, a heavy reliance on the use of stories for didactic purposes, and, as the child neared early adulthood, the utilization of more formal and ritualized ceremonies to impart rite of passage lessons with due solemnity.” (Miller 17) They also emphasized “an approach to instruction that relied on the three Ls- looking, listening, and learning.” (Miller 16) This approach often began in childhood, where “proper behavior was instilled largely by indirect and non-coercive means, in striking contrast to European child rearing techniques.” (Miller 18)

Also, in the case of people identified within an Aboriginal society as being destined to be political or spiritual leaders, more specialized and structured methods were used. Again, this approach was reflective on the individual needs of the community and the different economies of the nations.

“Not surprisingly, the educational system of the Aboriginal peoples of the northern portion of North America was admirably suited to the structures and values of those indigenous communities. It operated in a largely non-coercive way, relying on the use of models, illustrations, stories, and warnings to convey the information that was considered essential.” (Miller 35) This reflected the high value that most Native societies placed on individual autonomy and avoidance of the use of force with members of the community. It is a great example of how the content of Aboriginal education reflected and reinforced the community’s interests as much as its techniques.

Two First Nations leaders stand out when examining the transference of educational responsibilities from within the community to an outside entity, Peter Jones and John Sunday. Peter Jones was an influential young Methodist missionary from the Credit River Band. He converted to Christianity at the age of twenty-one and two years later began his missionary career as a Methodist preacher. Jones was successful in converting his own Ojibwa band and other Ojibwa-speaking bands around Lakes Huron and Superior. In 1833 Jones was ordained and became the first Native Methodist missionary in Canada. He was trained by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society and become a teacher, interpreter, and missionary. (Peter Jones biography) John Sunday was a Mississauga Ojibwa chief and a Methodist minister. He was ordained in 1836 and became a missionary among the Indians of central Canada. (Alderville First Nation website)

 Kahkewaquonaby (Peter Jones) and Shahwundais (John Sunday) played integral roles in lobbying and funding the first Methodist run schools and paid for these schools through their own annuities. The period from 1825 to 1835 was a time of unique influence for Aboriginal people in the Methodist Church. It was during this period that many Aboriginal peoples became members of the Methodist congregation, and the Methodists maintained nine mission stations and eleven-day schools for those who converted. “The day schools were remarkable for such practices as use of Ojibwa teachers, bilingual education, use of Ojibwa language texts, and adoption of the Infant School or Pestalozzi system, a teaching method chosen to suit Native learning styles. The schools were regarded as training grounds for Ojibwa teachers and missionaries, with the most academically talented students sent on to advanced education in Methodist colleges.” (MacLean 97)

In addition to day schools, the Methodists also experimented with a second type of schooling for adults, which the author names as “Reserve communities” (MacLean 97) As the Ojibwa began to settle onto Reserves the Methodists began to teach them farming and trades such as carpentry, blacksmithing and crafts. Notably, the Methodists were not the only group doing this. They competed vigorously with the Indian Department and the Church of England, who offered similar programs on some Reserves.

The third type of schooling was the residential schools and these began shortly after the first day schools. The goal of these schools was to send the students as teachers to other Reserves. Peter Jones and William Case, another Methodist missionary felt that schooling was central to the Ojibwa’s future. Jones saw Manual Labour Schools as fitting into what he was doing with the Methodist’s schools because he thought “ they would supplement the work of the day schools which did not give enough practical instruction in trades and agriculture.”(MacLean 98)

The situation for these pre Confederation residential schools was quite different from the later residential schools run after the 1850s when things turned negative. Soon though, their enthusiasm dissipated, calling into question what could have gone wrong? The beginning of the end can be traced back to 1860 “when jurisdiction over Indian affairs was transferred from the British Imperial government in London to Canada (Canada, Public Archives 1975:1-2). This introduced a new set of actors into Indian administration, and led to a made in Canada Indian policy after Confederation.” (MacLean 94)

The era of residential schooling was the product of a peculiar new relationship that developed between Natives and newcomers in the nineteenth century. The arrival of an age of peace, immigration, and agriculture in British North America brought about the shift in relations that explains the effort of state and church to assimilate Aboriginal communities through residential schools. The rationale behind this change in relationship was that “the fundamental factor was that the Indians were no longer essential to the realization of the goals that non-Natives were pursuing in North America.” (Miller 62)

 Therefore Residential schools were established under the guise that First Nations society were unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing world, and European colonizers believed that Native children could only be successful if they assimilated into mainstream Canadian society by adopting Christianity. This included relinquishing their culture, traditions and languages.

The policies that were introduced were in response to the changing role and image of the Indian by the state and church. This change reflected the decline in the military importance of the role in which Natives had previously played. “Crucial to the process was a shift in responsibility that occurred in the interior colonies of Lower and Upper Canada in 1830: jurisdiction over the management of Indian affairs shifted from military to civil authorities.” (Miller 63)

In the 19th century, the Canadian government believed that they were responsible for educating and caring for the country’s aboriginal people. They believed that their best chance for success was to learn English and adopt Christianity and Canadian customs. It was the government’s objective that First Nations people would pass their adopted lifestyle on to their children, and native traditions would diminish, or be completely abolished in a few generations. The vision and implementation for more residential schools continued.
“Residential schools were federally run, under the Department of Indian Affairs. Attendance was mandatory. Agents were employed by the government to ensure all native children attended.”(CBC website) The government felt children were easier to mould than adults, and the concept of a boarding school was the best way to prepare them for life in mainstream society. The goals of assimilation were to be through evangelization, education and agriculture and there were more coercive methods of achieving this goal.
This ‘aggressive assimilation’ was taught through other policies such as the abolishment of self government and the implementation of traditional government with ‘municipal government, and gave the Department of Indian Affairs the “power to make and enforce regulations under the acts affecting all aspects of public and private life in communities. Aboriginal traditions, ritual life, social and political organization, or economic practices could be described as obstacles to Christianity and civilization or could be declared by Parliament, as in the case of potlatch and sun dance, criminal behavior.” (Milloy 21)

This “aggressive assimilation” that was developed was taught at church-run, government funded industrial schools, later called residential schools. The Residential School policy was also in support of the “Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of Indian Tribes in this Province, and to Amend the Laws Relating to Indians (commonly known as the Gradual Civilization Act). It was a bill that was passed in 1857.  Duncan Campbell Scott, who as the head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, infamously stated, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem, spurred this policy on further. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand-alone. Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” (Residential School website) the ‘Euthanasia of savage communities.’
Initially, about 1,000 students attended 69 schools across the country. “In 1931, at the peak of the residential school system, there were about 80 schools operating in Canada. There were a total of about 130 schools in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick from the earliest in the 19th century to the last which closed in 1996.” (CBC website)
The government and churches role in the apprehension of Native children began with their desire to segregate the children from their families, discouraging them from speaking their first language or practicing native traditions. With not being able to speak the language they knew-As an example of this, I turn to a personal account from the book “In the Words Of Elders: Aboriginal Cultures in Transition,” where Elder Liz Mosher relays “ I was there for four years and that was enough for me. I never really learned anything but I think what happened was that’s where all the abuse started. That’s where I got my first licking. And one of the things is, I couldn’t speak a word of English when I went there and I think the second week we were there I got a licking because one of the girls lost her candy, someone stole her candy, she blamed someone. I was the one who was blamed.” (P. Kulchyski, D. McCaskill, D. Newhouse 143)

Parental visits were also discouraged and recruitment of children from more remote areas was favored because their families could not visit them. In fact, Reverend John West who ran the Red River school noted that he had trouble with children whose parents were in or near the settlement, but all children ‘whose parents were more remote, soon became reconciled to restraint, and were happy on the establishment,’ (Miller 70)

Native children were also often caught unaware of where they were going when they were sent off to residential schools. Mosher further relays an account of when she first went to residential school and was leaving her reserve “That was new, different to me, and because I never had contact with White people until that bus came to get the children to go to residential school. And here I thought I was going for a ride because I’d never been in a car before. I never travelled off the reserve. So it was really exciting for me, but I was wondering why my mother was crying when we were getting on the bus. I didn’t know where I was going.” (P. Kulchyski, D. McCaskill, D. Newhouse 144)

Of all the initiatives that were undertaken in the first century of Confederation, none was more ambitious or central to the civilizing strategy of the Department, to its goal of assimilation, than the implementation of the residential school system.

This brings me now to what went wrong. “Even though Ottawa was contributing to the upkeep of more than fifty industrial institutions, boarding schools and ‘homes that also provided some education, clearly there was considerable doubt in government circles that these schools were making the progress predicted when they were established in the early 1800s.” (Miller 121) It was noted that there was difficulty experienced when it came to recruiting children and it was this difficulty and the way the government executed this assimilationist policy, which made residential schools and how they were run come under fire.

“Although the federal government was legally responsible for the education of status Indian children, in fact many other parties were involved. Charged constitutionally with jurisdiction over ‘Indians and lands reserved for the Indians’ by the Canada Act (1867), Ottawa in the 1880s and 1890s developed an administrative team to discharge this duty.” (Miller 122) With the many people involved in carrying out this education policy through the implementation of the residential schools it was reported that “ when it came to developing, carrying out, and reporting on policy for both day and residential schools, a bewildering number of additional figures entered the picture. These included local schoolteachers and other staff, church officials and lay people, and simple citizens and their elected representatives in parliament or the territorial legislature. All these people could and did stimulate, alter and sometimes thwart Ottawa’s policy for Native education.” (Miller 122)

The residential school system was fraught with substandard conditions and atrocities. Students endured physical and emotional abuse. There were also many allegations of sexual abuse. “The students at the residential schools rarely had opportunities to see examples of normal family life. They were in school 10 months a year, away from their parents. All correspondence from the children was written in English, which many parents couldn’t read. Brothers and sisters at the same school rarely saw each other, as all activities were segregated by gender.” (CBC website).

 Reactions and impacts to residential schools came in many forms. Native parents were reluctant to send or make their children available. “For many survivors, the first trauma they endured was the sudden separation from their parents and family. Leaving behind the familiar world in which they had been raised, children suddenly found themselves far from home, confronting a new culture, language and role expectations without any support whatsoever.” (Dion Stout, Kipling 30)

 Furthermore, when students returned to the reserve after residential schooling was done, they often found they did not belong. They did not have the skills to help their parents and became ashamed of their native heritage. It is here that “the aims of assimilation meant devastation for those who were subjected to years of mistreatment.” (CBC website)

“With the period since 1969 being marked by a growing trend towards Aboriginal self determination in matters of education, most remaining residential schools ceased operations by the mid-1970s. Only seven such schools were still open at the end of the 1980s and the last federally run residential school closed its doors in Saskatchewan in 1996. (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, n.d.)

In May 1946, a special joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate began an extensive review of Indian Affairs for the purpose of preparing amendments to the Indian Act. It was during the meeting of this committee that it was announced, “residential schools were to be closed.” (Milloy190) With this announcement the residential school road came to an end.

It was in 1990 that Phil Fontaine, then leader of the Association of the Manitoba Chiefs called for the churches involved to acknowledge the physical, emotional and sexual abuse endured by students at the schools. Fontaine was a survivor of the residential school system. A year later, the government convened a Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, where many people told the commission about their experiences within the residential school system and in 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) recommended a separate inquiry into residential schools. This was never followed through on, but over the years “the government worked with the Anglican, Catholic, United and Presbyterian churches, which ran residential schools, to design a plan to compensate the former students.” (CBC website)

It was in 2007 when the federal government formalized a $1.9 billion compensation package for those who were forced to attend residential schools.  Under the federal compensation package, “compensation called the Common Experience Payments was made available to all residential schools students who were alive as of May 30, 2005. Former residential school students were eligible for $10,000 for the first year or part of a year they attended school, plus $3,000 for each subsequent year. Any money remaining from the $1.9 billion package will be given to foundations that support learning needs of aboriginal students. As of April 15, 2010, $1.55 billion had been paid, representing 75,800 cases.” (CBC website) Lastly acceptance of the Common Experience Payment releases the government and churches from all further liability relating to the residential school experience, except in cases of sexual abuse and serious incidents of physical abuse.

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Harper delivered an official apology to residential school students in Parliament. His apology in part states:
I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools.
In the 1870's, the federal government partly in order to meet its obligation to educate aboriginal children, began to play a role in the development and administration of these schools.
The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.
In the 1870's, the federal government, partly in order to meet its obligation to educate aboriginal children, began to play a role in the development and administration of these schools.
Two primary objectives of the residential schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.
These objectives were based on the assumption aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal.
Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, "to kill the Indian in the child."
Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.
Most schools were operated as "joint ventures" with Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian or United churches.
The government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from their communities.
Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed.
All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents and communities.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools.
Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools and others never returned home.
The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language.” (CBC website)

 Initiatives that came out of this $1.9 billion package was the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to examine the legacy of the residential schools. The commission was established on June 1, 2008 and is chaired by Justice Murray Sinclair.

Sinclair has stated that the scope of the task confronting Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is enormous and unprecedented. He also believes that “Canada’s TRC is unique from other commissions around the world in that its scope is primarily focused on the experience of children, and that not only does its research span more than 100 years, it is also the first court-ordered truth commission to be established.” (Anishinabek News) As part of their mandate, Sinclair said “commissioners will create an accurate and public historical record of the past regarding the policies and operations of the former residential schools, detailing what happened to the children who attended them and what former employees recall from their experiences.” (Anishinabek News)

Public policy in the field of education expresses quite directly the changes in the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. “The process of repatriation of education back to First Nations control began with the National Indian Brotherhood publication of Indian Control of Indian Education (Matthews 2001; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 1996). In 1973, the federal government made an explicit 180-degree reversal of previous policy and accepted the principle of Indian Control of Indian Education. That year marked the beginning of an increasingly hands off attitude to the contents of education for students on reserves. In 1974, the federal government started to fund band-operated schools and the number of federally directly operated schools began to decline. This process has, in fits and starts, continues to this day.”(Mendelson 3)

Today, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada funds Band councils or other First Nations and education authorities pay for education from kindergarten through to adult learners for people resident on reserves. “Federal funding pays for students normally resident on reserve to attend schools (whether the schools are on-or off-reserve); student support services such as transportation, counselling, accommodation and financial assistance; and school administration and evaluation. Funding is through several types of agreements, with varying degrees of autonomy for First Nations.” (Mendelson, 7)

Issues regarding education changed dramatically from a process of a ‘means to assimilation’ to one of ‘revitalization’. Within the document “Indian Control of Indian Education,” for instance the National Indian Brotherhood succinctly states “we want education to provide the setting in which our children can develop the fundamental attitudes and values which have an honoured place in Indian tradition and culture. We want the behavior of our children to be shaped by those values which are most esteemed in our culture. It is important that Indian children have a chance to develop a value system which is compatible with Indian culture.” (National Indian Brotherhood 1972)

            Education is an important tool for everyone to use, and for our First Nations communities and leaders, to be able to decide and have control over their own education is integral to the healing from the residential school legacy. In an important document “Tradition and Education: Towards a Vision of the Future” by the Assembly of First Nations (the successor organization to the National Indian Brotherhood) argues that “education is one of the most important issues in the struggle for self government and must contribute towards the objective of self government. First Nations’ governments have the right to exercise their authority in all areas of First Nations education. Until First Nations education institutions are recognized and controlled by First Nations governments, no real First Nations education exists.” (Brant Castellano, Davis, Lahache 15)

Aboriginal people have been struggling for three decades to regain control of education. In the 1990s there was many efforts to rethink Aboriginal education and to articulate, “what is Aboriginal” about Aboriginal education.  There have been case studies that share experiences of innovative practice-challenging existing system, creating new designs and strategies, and translating hopes and dreams into realities. They affirm that Aboriginal education is more than an abstraction. It is made real in the daily acts and decisions of thousands of Aboriginal Elders, parents and educators who bring particular values, knowledge and ideas to the development of children. (Brant Castellano, Davis, Lahache)
This has come through in the establishment of First Nations specific schools, language classes and Aboriginal Studies programs within Western institutions such as the University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, Nipissing University, McMaster University, Lakehead University, Brock University and First Nations University. Other initiatives include “The Reforming First Nation Education Initiative” which supports improved educational outcomes for First Nations students. The initiative will shape future directions in education program reform through two proposal-based programs: “the First Nations Student Success Program and the Education Partnerships Program. For the first year of submissions under the Reforming First Nation Education Initiative, the department approved a total of 37 proposals from across Canada: 18 for the First Nation Student Success Program and 19 for the Education Partnerships Program.” (Indian and Northern Affairs website)
The selected projects according to Indian and Northern Affairs as well as new ones funded in subsequent rounds of the program, will help to promote collaboration between First Nations, provinces, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), and other stakeholders. The First Nation Student Success Program is described as being “ designed to support First Nation educators on reserve (Kindergarten to Grade 12) in their ongoing efforts to meet their students' needs and improve student and school results. In particular, the program will help First Nation educators to plan and make improvements in the three priority areas of literacy, numeracy and student retention.
        The Education Partnerships Program is designed to promote collaboration among First Nations, provinces, the Government of Canada and other stakeholders in order to improve the success of First Nation students in First Nation and provincial schools. It will do this through support for partnership arrangements, where First Nation and provincial officials share expertise and services, and partners coordinate learning initiatives.
In conclusion, the initial policies surrounding Aboriginal education was what initially had First Nations people struggling, within the Western construct of how education was determined and meted out, but with Aboriginal Studies programs now implemented, and the return of the teaching of Aboriginal knowledge, First Nations people are coming out from under a cloak of oppression and rising above a power that once threatened to engulf them.

Works Cited:
Brant Castellano. Marlene, Davis. Lynne, Lahache. Louise. Aboriginal Education: Fulfilling the Promise. UBC Press. 2000

Kulchyski. Peter, McCaskill Don, Newhouse David. In The Words Of Elders: Aboriginal Cultures in Transition. University of Toronto Press. 1999. Reprinted 2003

McFarlane. Christine. “Truth Commission Facing Huge Task” Anishinabek News. January-February 2010. Pg. 30. Retrieved March 23, 2011.

Mendelson. Michael. Improving Educations on Reserves. A First Nations Education Authority Act. Retrieved March 24, 2011.

Miller. J.R. Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Residential Schools. University of Toronto Press Incorporated 1996. Reprinted 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006

Milloy. John S. A National Crime: The Canadian Government And The Residential School System. 1879 to 1986 The University of Manitoba Press. 1999

National Indian Brotherhood. 1972. Indian Control of Indian Education. Ottawa: National Indian Brotherhood.