This letter was sent to me and I think it is worth reposting. “Here is a letter by an indigenous related person named Jim Bissell, which he wrote in reply to a Sun columnist related to the ‘Residential schools” that is leading to church terrorism (by non-native people).
A letter from Jim Bissell
The time has come for 70 year old people like me to speak the truth. A little background. I grew up surrounded by 4 reserves and a large community of indigenous peoples (95%). It was a community of wonderful, kind, very generous, very humorous people that remained that way even when very poor. Also I have a wonderful successful indigenous daughter with grandkids and great granddaughters.
I am not a Catholic and I do not belong to any church. I belong to me and my family but I like Christian values.
It should be noted that the missionaries though were very essential to our success in the northern communities at that time. I had my first TB test administered by a missionary trying to stop a TB outbreak. (I hated her at the time for the scratches on my back LOL). I got my first stitches from a wonderful nun. I got my first tooth pulled by a missionary. My first X-ray by the nuns. My first teacher was an angel called Sister Rita. I will never forget her and her deep love of all the children she met and taught over the years. My best teacher ever and she was not qualified by Government standards. So although I have never been a Catholic, their church has been very good for me and although I now do know one very bad priest, most of the people were wonderful. I can still see brother Fillion who later became a priest working all by himself outside the school window making a wonderful merry-go-round for the school yard.
There also were two residential schools in the community. When I arrived in the community, there were no phones, very poor roads, mostly winter access, and not a lot of services other than the churches. The mission school was there long before my time. It has been told to me by elders that many small children, some way younger than school age, were dropped off at the missions sick, hoping the nuns could heal them. Sad to say many died from measles, diphtheria, TB, smallpox, flu and many other conditions of the poor. Just the reality of the north. Years ago most of the dead were placed in the trees so the birds and other animals could take them back to nature.
It was the churches that convinced them that that part of their culture should be changed to stop the spread of disease so they started to bury the dead. If the dead were Christians, their grave was marked by a painted rock of a small wooden cross which rotted away in 25 years or so. No one could afford a headstone and if they could there was no one that made them at the time. Times were hard and in fact desperate in the 30’s. Many people owed their lives to the missionaries and we tend to forget that.
They were not always right, no of course not, but they actually wanted to educate, feed and make the lives of all people better regardless of where they came from. The churches do not need to apologize for trying to educate the poor in the only system that would work for nomadic peoples, they need to say sorry though for protecting and moving about the few bad apples. (priests).
The Government saying they are sorry is meaningless. They didn’t have a clue of the impact of their decisions at the time and they don’t have now. Most of the older generation that did suffer are long dead and gone or have forgiven. It seems to me that many of the new generation just want to be victims and feel money would solve their pain. We need to understand that very few people wanted to live in the north under the isolated conditions at the time just to help out with a few indigenous peoples. After the federal government took over the school system, most of my junior high school teachers were immigrants from the British Commonwealth (India, England, Ireland and other countries) as no Alberta teacher wanted to live up there when they could live in or near a city with a doctor, bank, good grocery store, ambulance and my goodness even Policeman.
The quality of my education suffered because all of a sudden the nuns were not qualified to teach us in 1967 thus I had to try and take lessons from teachers with a very heavy accent and hard to understand and wanting to move close to the cities as soon as they could. Thank goodness the missionaries were there for the past 300 years. Were they all good? No, but many were wonderful and now that seems to be forgotten.
How many of today’s critics have relatives that went up to those communities in those times to try and help? Not many, I bet. The media today is only telling half the story, so I feel we as witnesses have to speak up and speak to the truth. If you want I will take you to a sacred ground where hundreds of people were left in the ramps and trees or laid on the ground when they died. No one but historical memory marked their graves.
Please believe me when I say that the missionaries were not a bunch of evil persons out to kill little children like it sounds in today’s media. That is not what I witnessed. The missionaries knew that the ancient peoples of our land could not continue to exist in a nomadic and isolated society, so they tried to educate them and of course change their culture to be more compatible with the conditions of the times. Were they right? Maybe, I don’t know, but at least they were willing to try and help.
Like I tell my children, I cannot become indigenous like them but they can become Canadians like me and they are. There are more success stories out there than even you realize. The missionaries did not just throw bodies into the ground. Most were marked by a small wooden cross made by the brothers of the mission or parents of the child. Those crosses are long gone. Sad but true. I can also take you to the unmarked graves of many people that were not indigenous as well if you want. That was the way of the north.
Sorry to ramble on for so long but many things need to be said and if the elders of our society lack the moral courage to say them, we are doomed anyway. Please encourage people to stand up and be heard for the good not just the bad. Thanks and keep writing.