In 1920, Dr. Duncan Campbell Scott said,
- “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. 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
In 1920, under Scott’s direction, it became mandatory for all native children
between the ages of seven and fifteen to attend one of Canada’s Residential
In 1920 my grandfather was an 8 year old Maliseet boy.
“Church people put me on a train, made me leave my family. After that, I
only saw my mother once or twice a year. They cut my hair and I couldn’t
speak my own language, even.”
“The nuns’ll beat you, they don’t like you talking Indian. They’ll lock you in a
closet all day, and leave you hungry. I didn’t speak English but I learned
“I kept running away, only got to 9th grade. The last time I ran, I was fifteen,
they didn’t come after me no more. Went to Woodstock for awhile, stayed
with my cousins. I was lucky, alot of those kids got TB and died right there
at Mount Elgin. I still test positive for exposure.”
“Our language is beautiful. I remember the sound of the women talking at
dusk, voices rising and falling like birdmusic, I tell you. They sounded just
Caged, children remember the mother’s warm breath rising,
lifting those hollowed bones into weightless flight.
The old words echo still, in empty classrooms,
where bird-talk was gouged out, buried with them in the cemetery
at Mount Elgin Indian Residential School, far from the home
where they first learned to raise their wings.
Lost, their tongues split, they travel a barren land,
seeking the shelter of story.
It is everything and nothing, and all we have to offer;
words, and the telling, rising up like song,
into the night, and to the stars our kin, bearing witness.
My grandfather called me Dues.
A pet name, my mother said, until the day I asked for the meaning
and she answered, ‘It’s Indian for sweetheart.’
‘What’s Indian?’ I asked.
– Published with permission from Mihku Paul