Written in the interests of the Presbyterial of Lanark and Renfrew, and addressed to the members of the Women’s Missionary Society by Miss Jessie Comrie, of Carleton Place.
In a treaty made with our Dominion Government and made with the Indians.
In 1871 there was the promise of schools for their children; to fulfill that promise our Government has undertaken a share in this work and recognizing the necessity of giving the Indians an education under Christian influences gave over the work to the different churches.
The churches have taken a part in the educational work among the Indians, believing that it would afford them an opening for Christian work among these people. The church expects the school to make the Christian work the centre and soul of all the training and teaching of every department. To lose sight of this purpose would be to not only fail In carrying out the plan of our church, but to fail in doing the Indian children any real good.
In 1866 mission work for the Indians was begun by the Presbyterian church among tribes that were untouched by any church, and in 1876 the women of our church were organized for missionary work and since then have supported teachers in the mission-schools for the Indian children.
The spiritual growth is slow as in all pagan lands, but steady advance has been made and present results are largely attributed to the secular and religious training the children have received in our schools. The teaching of the Bible each day and in Sabbath schools, morning and evening family ’ worship and thehourly,- association with Christian workers are no small factors in training our Indian boys and girls for Christian citizenship.
There are 550 children under our care in the day and boarding schools. It is the opinion of our workers among these people that the boarding school is the best adapted to give the boys and girls a thorough education and best results so far have come from these schools.
Some of the day schools are semi boarding schools, for the children to come long distances. The Government has given an allowance that provides them with a mid-day meal which the missionary teachers make ready with the help of the older children.
Two of the boarding schools are in Manitoba, two of them in Saskatchewan, two in British Columbia and one In Ontario, named the “Cecilia Jeffrey” in memory of one of our secretaries in Indian work in the early years.This school is forty-five miles from the town of Kenora. In these schools each child, with the consent of the parents, is signed into the school and remains there until he or she is eighteen years of age.
They study the public school course. The older boys and girls spend only half of each day in the school room, the other half they are being taught to do useful work, and helping to do the work of the institution. The aim is to give them industrial work that will be most useful in after life, the boys to till the ground, and the girls to cook wholesome food and tend to a family.
To be in a position to give this industrial training a few years ago, the Government made a number of new regulations, requiring more accommodation in all boarding schools as well as sufficient land around the school to make such a training possible; it being the wish of the Government that sooner or later all the children be sent to a boarding school where a better industrial training is possible than in the day school. Our Woman’s Missionary Society has made it possible for the children to be kept in school by sending clothing for them every year. This supply work by the women of the Church, has been responded to generously, remembering our Master’s words:
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these ye have done it unto Me.”
But what is being done for the Indians by Church and State is only a just debt and should never be considered in the light of charity.The fruits of our mission work are seen to-day in the second generation of Indian youth who are entering our schools. Misa McGregor, our field secretary, who taught for eight years in an Indian school, urges us to “Go forward doing what we can to further this work,” because of what has been achieved in the past, and because of its possibilities. Our missionaries have had the joy of seeing many of the young accept a Saviour, who is not of the white man’s , alone, but the Indians, too. Their vision in the not far distant future is a rising generation of Christian Indian citizens in a land once theirs now ours and theirs. ■ JESSIE COMRIE, Carleton Place
Jessie Comrie drowned in Sept of 1928– was it accidental or murder most fowl? READ-
Charlie arrived at the Cecilia Jeffrey School, which is run by the Presbyterian Church and paid for by the federal government, in the fall of 1963. Some 150 Indian children live at the school but are integrated into the local school system. Consequently, Cecilia Jeffrey is, for 10 months in the year, really nothing more than an enormous dormitory. And Charlie, who understood hardly any English, spent the first two years in grade one. He spent last year in what is called a junior opportunity class. That means he was a slow learner and had to be given special instruction in English and arithmetic. This fall he wasn’t quite good enough to go back into the grade system, so he was placed in what is called a senior opportunity class. read more here
First Nations children were once living in residential schools under the thumb of priests, nuns and staff charged with purging these children of their culture and traditions and replacing them with their own. Several of the churches were engaged in the management of day and residential schools. This co-operation of the churches in the case of residential schools was as follows: Roman Catholic, 44; Church of England, 21; United Church, 13; Presbyterian Church, 2, making a total of 80. I have never understood why people try to hide history–great nations should never hide their history– but we did.
Today I discovered my truth in this matter by having a flashback and putting two and two together. Funny how that works- and after I had a good cry- I realized that all truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
Years ago in the 1950s and 1960s I used to help my Grandmother with her Anglican church groups preparing “the bales” to go north as they told me. The bales were actually handmade quilts rolled up with warm mittens and scarves, along with books and treats. We made a lot of them each year, and in my young heart I envisioned they were being transported to the North Pole. Every year I saved up my allowance to buy treats for the families that I thought lived in igloos, wore snowsuits and had big smiles like in the books I read. I was wrong – they were being sent to residential schools.
“As early as 1921, one official report described living conditions in residential schools as “a national crime.” When children wet their beds, the nuns at the Sturgeon Lake residential school would wrap the soiled sheets around their heads. If they tried to run away from the school where they were forced to live until they were 16, their heads were shaved. If they dared to speak Cree, their hands were rapped with a ruler. But the thing that hurts the most is they forced their religion on the children day in and day out.”
As I type the above words I wondered if my grandmother’s church group should have sent boxes of hymn books like they used too. I was always told the children loved getting these books– and now I can see that they did not. We have rules now that the government can’t penalize you because of your religious beliefs– so why were these children forced with this injustice. The residential schools were conducted by church authorities, with financial assistance from the Dominion Government and supervised by the Indian affairs section of the Department of the Interior. Half these schools were under Roman Catholic control and they remain divided among the other denominations. An Anglican bishop in Alberta told the media churches must stop “beating themselves up” over the question of abuse at Indian residential schools and should return to the basics of preaching Christianity. Unfortunately, I can’t tell whether the bishop was being purposefully ironic, or he really couldn’t see the contradictions of his statements.
In the larger residential schools in the 1930s daily duties were allotted to the pupils, who took turns:
Set staff table. Clear away all staff dishes. Wait on the staff table. Dry staff dishes. Help to put dishes away In pantry. Sweep kitchen and dust. Clean kitchen stove and kettles.
Pack up and wash staff dishes while staff girl dries. Wash all pot and tea towel. Help with up school meal. Clean both kitchen table before meal.
Wash all tables. Sweep room after all meals. Dust the dining-room thoroughly. Sweep and tidy the lobby after breakfast and dinner. Take wood to the sitting–room when required. Keep the dining-room shelf tidy. Put all Bible and prayer books away tidily.
Dormitory Girl Every day, clean wash stands In both dormitories. Dust. Clean lamp globe.
Monday, prepare for school wash.
Tuesday, sweep and dust boys’ dormitory.
Wednesday, sort and put away clothes. Fill all lamps, also table lamp.
Thursday, sweep and dust girls’ dormitory.
Friday, sweep and dust top bedrooms.
Saturday, sweep both dormitories. Sweep sewing room. Fill all lamps.
After we packed the bales I went home to loving parents. I had a warm meal, watched television and slept in a cozy bed.The next morning I got up for school without having to do the above chores with a full breakfast in my stomach. I told all my friends how we had sent the bales to happy people in the north, not knowing it was all a lie. One hundred and forty articles knitted by the church group members, as well as cash and other things were being shipped to the residential schools. As well, I remember that our church help donate money for an organ so the children could be forced to sing hymns that were not part of their own religion. Why did this all seem so right to everyone when it was all so wrong?
So what should we do now? In a world of TV soap operas an apology is always followed by acceptance, and the story moves on after the required tears and hugs. But, it just doesn’t work quite that way in real life– and especially in this case. More than one in five former school pupils have applied for compensation for living in residential schools have been turned down. Thousands of children that were taken from their families filed claims stating they were sexually and physically abused and forced to learn English. It’s not like we can just turn a page and everything is good. We have to realize that this is not just a dark chapter in our country’s history, it’s something we as a country need to come to terms with when it comes to making decisions about everyones future. We all are connected in a circle of life that is far deeper than any of us can truly understand– and today my realized participation and ignorance came full circle. Apologies are not just enough– it’s a start– but we have to do more than that.
“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”
To my Mom@Dad—This Residential School news has been really hard on me. And I bet some of you know that.Typing this out it will make it easier for me to tell you what I went through as a kid in the Orphanages I stayed at. If I tell you in person, I will fall apart because it’s so hard. I keep thinking of what those kids went through. It just breaks my heart.
At this one I really don’t remember much. But I can see the floor plan of this place in my mind. It was a small one. There weren’t many kids at this one. I can remember that kids were crying and the people that ran the place wanted to calm the kids down. I can remember myself playing with toys in this place. The bedrooms were along the right side. There was a hallway where we played. And on the other side of that was the kitchen and the place where we sat and ate our breakfast, lunch, and dinners. They moved me out of that place to the next Orphanage.
Now the painful memories – the hardest to write, but I will do it because I would like you to know the stories. Several times I needed a kleenex to write this, it is just so painful. One of the memories that I have was– I was dragged on the floor into the bedroom where I was locked up. I could remember myself banging on the door screaming because I was scared. So, then I heard the door unlock and it was the person that had a belt. She hit me several times, really hard. And I can remember is standing up to her and yelling at her and she continued with the belt 20-30 times. She left the room and locked it after she finished hitting me. I went back to the door and I could hear the kids screaming. I had no idea what was going on in the hallway. I can remember that night I cried myself to sleep after I had been beaten with the belt.
One night I sleep walked to the living room area. I don’t know how I got there. I woke up on one of the couches. It was still middle of the night. One of the other memories I have was they also knew how to push you if you didn’t behave during the day. I did something during that day that I don’t remember, but the teacher was selfish. We were going to go have our dinner and when I got up there to get my plate, she gave it to me. I had to walk with her to a table. She sat me down and she sat at the other end of the table eating my plate of dinner. In my mind I was just so angry with her and she was so proud of what she was doing.
This one brings back a lot of painful memories that I endured during my stay as a kid. I can see the floor plan of this placed still in my mind. The way it was set up. It was a bigger one with more kids in it. The main floor was where the bedrooms were and the sitting area, but it only had two couches at each end of it, and a big wide space where we would gather together to play. Keep going down the stairs and this was where we ate our meals. Go back up to the main floor and go up the stairs there was a gym and place where they did concerts. Go back down the stairs back on to the main floor. Go toward the rooms where we sleep, but before you get to that part there was a hallway where the classrooms were. I can remember me and my friends running down those hallways up and down till we got so tired. We were having so much fun!
At this orphanage, we went outside the next day after we had breakfast. I was hungry that I picked up rocks and ate them just so I could fill my stomach. They also used a long stick to discipline. I watched one of my friends being beaten with this big stick. He was trying to cover himself up so it would hurt as much, but they would pull the blanket off him so he would feel the pain. I wanted to do something to help him but I knew that, if I did, I would be also be beaten with this long stick. And then one day a person came and got me out of that orphanage and we drove and I had absolutely no clue where I was going. We went on a bus, a taxi, and a truck, I couldn’t understand why this person was taking me to all of these places. She bought me candy and we got back into a taxi, driving again. I had no clue where or why we were going. I sat in the back of the taxi and ate the candy that she bought me – and I ate every single one. We got to a spot there was a bus waiting she was putting me on this bus but I still had no clue about where we were going on this bus with all of these kids. We drove for a very long time. I got sick and we had to keep pulling over – and all the kids would go to one side of the bus to watch it which I didn’t like.
We finally pulled over to the side of the road and the bus driver said, “Ok, we are taking a rest for the night.” The next morning, we drove up to the airport and at that point I couldn’t believe that we were going to go flying! I looked at the person who was responsible for all of the kids and I said to her, “Where are we going?” She didn’t really explain to me where were going. We got on the plane. It was a long flight and then we landed in Canada, in Montreal. Then from there we got on to another bus I still had no idea to where we were going! It felt like forever on this bus. And then we got to the place where the kids were getting off the bus.
I still didn’t understand what was happening. After spending the summer in Canada, it didn’t hit me until we got back to Moscow that I was going back to the worst place of my life to deal with the same garbage. The way they treated kids was sickening. I watched one of the kids being thrown around like a rag doll. It just made me sick and I was scared of what was coming next. In that Orphanage, we got to go to a church to be baptized. And all I can remember is that when we got back to the orphanage, they took our crosses and they put them in our files still don’t understand to this day why they did that.
Orphanage Minsk 3
There was a person who came to the Orphanage to pick me up. They put me into a van. I was scared because I had no clue where I was going this time either. They never told me where they were taking me. I got to Minsk 3. That’s where I met Vladimir Alexanderavich. He took he into his office and explained to me that he was going to look out for me and protect me. I can still see the Orphanage layout. I know where everything is. Vladimir told me, “If anything happens, come and tell me. I will deal with them.” In my mind I thought that finally I came to a good Orphanage. It’s great and it won’t be as bad. Well, I was wrong.
Here are some memories From Orphanage Minsk 3:
We sat in a classroom and the teacher asked me to go to the board and answer a math question. I stood there thinking of the answer. The teacher lost her patience. She took my head and drilled it against the blackboard and I fell to the ground. Then she kicked me to get up off the floor. When we did our reading, we had to have a ruler to follow on the page and if you didn’t do that you would be punished. I got to see the way one kid was punished for not following. It was pretty ugly.
We started school at 8 am till noon and we did homework from 5-9 pm. I can remember one night. We went to do our homework. I have no idea how this started. I must not have done something right. The person at night told me to go stand in the corner of the class and turn around. From there it didn’t go very well. She pulled out the belt and started hitting me with it hard. Well, I stood up to her in front of my classmates as they all watched it. It went on for 20 mins and I ended up with marks for couple of weeks. Another time, I didn’t answer the question right. She took the ruler and broke the big ruler over my head. Then she told me I had to buy her a new one. I looked at her and said, “Give me the money if you want me to buy you the ruler.”
I can remember one morning I wasn’t feeling very good. I felt like someone had lit a match. I was on fire. I went into the room were we all sat before we went to have breakfast. I looked at the person that was in charge of us and said to her, “I don’t feel very good.” She just looked at me like I was a stupid kid making it up so I didn’t have to go to class. I collapsed. The last thing I could remember is that I was put in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital. I stayed for couple of days in hospital and came back to the Orphanage when I felt better.
In gym class, we were standing in a long row of all the students and the gym teacher was walking back and forth, giving students a task of an exercise. I didn’t do it right, so the gym teacher grabbed me. We wore our school uniform in gym class. He grabbed me by the top of the dress shirt, nearly choking me. Then he threw me on the ground and all the buttons on my shirt were gone. I can still see my classmates looking scared. Some of them were in tears because it just scared the crap out of them what they had just seen.
At night time when we had to get ready to go to bed, we had to wash our socks to have them ready for the next day. We also had to iron our dress shirts and pants. And then we would head to bed. I can remember that we were not allowed to talk. If you did, there was going to be punishment. My best friend, Igor, said something and the person that was walking the hallway heard him. She came in, turned on the light and it started. She had a belt. She told Igor to get out of bed and stand there. Igor refused a couple of times. She grabbed him, threw him to the ground and hit him with the belt several times. All I can remember is that I was so scared for him. Imagine watching one of your best friends being thrown around. He was crying and he went to bed crying himself to sleep. I felt horrible for him.
We only got to go out once a week to a movie, usually on Sunday. We got to go on the underground train and I always wanted to be on the last car. That’s the one where we could watch the train move at the back door as we went through dark tunnel. Me and Igor always loved doing that.
We had friends come from Germany with 2 big trucks and a small van. This happened around Christmas time. The two big trucks were full of shoe boxes – a gift for each kid in Orphanage Minsk 3. The kids’ faces lit up because it was something very special! They gave out these shoe boxes to all the kids and the smiles on kids’ faces were some cool. After that we went back to our area where we hung out as a class and the person who was looking after us went through all the boxes and took the stuff that she wanted and took it home to her kids. I could hear kids crying because they were not happy someone was stealing their things. They didn’t belong to these people who were supposed to be looking after us!I got so mad I stood up and said, “This is not right to take things out of people’s boxes!” I still remember her saying to me, “Give me your box!” I kept refusing. Well, she thought I would give in but I kept holding it. She got angry and went to get the belt and started beating me with it thinking that would give her leverage and grabbed the box out of my hand. She went through it and gave me back an empty box. She took everything that was in there. I got to go to places with Vladimir when the German friends came. I can remember very well Vladimir asking me if I wanted to go with him on a trip. I said, “Sure!” We went to McDonalds for dinner with our German friends and after dinner we got to go to A CIRCUS! I was so amazed that Vladimir took me with him that night with the German friends.
This was as I was being adopted by you Mom and Dad. One of the tests I had to have was the scope that went down my throat with a camera That just traumatized me in a big way! I can still remember the doctor telling me to breathe. All I wanted was this stupid thing out of me. I can remember that I took my hand and started pulling the tube, and then there was another doctor that had to hold my hands so I couldn’t that again. I had several different tests I had to do every couple of weeks and I can still remember every test. I was scared every time we had to go to the hospital to do the tests.
A couple of weeks went by and I was sitting in class. Vladimir knocked on the door of the classroom the teacher walked over they had chat and Vladimir look at me and said, “Come with me.” He had a doctor with him. We went down the stairs there was an ambulance at the front waiting for me. They told me to go in it. I was just so scared! I had no idea what was happening. Vladimir went with me to the hospital and he tried to explain to me what was going on. I just couldn’t understand why I was going there. He left me at the hospital and told me he would come back and get me. I spent a month and a half in the hospital.
I can remember the letter you guys sent me from Canada. I can remember it said, “We are coming to get you soon!” It said Katie’s 18th birthday was coming up. I kept that letter near me during my hospital stay. I just had no idea what was happening. I was scared that I wouldn’t get out of that hospital. For the first couple of weeks, I stayed in a room with about 8 patients. We had so much fun. I hated needles at first. I needed them 3 times a day. I sure didn’t look forward to that at all! Every morning I never knew what was coming so I just did what I was told.
Eventually I was moved into my own private room. I couldn’t understand why. It was a small room with a bed, a window, and a bathroom. I sure didn’t like it at all. Then there was another kid that got moved into the room I was in. It was very tight. I kept telling myself, “Soon I will be out of this hospital.” At one point I went and asked the doctors “How much longer will I be in this hospital?” The doctor said one more week. Well, that was a lie. I spent another 4 weeks there. I spent Christmas in the hospital. The entire Hospital only had 2 kids in it – me and another kid – while every other patient got to go home for Christmas. But the nurses were very nice. One nurse spent her own money to buy gifts for me and the other kid what was on the same floor as me and gave us a Christmas that I will never forget.
I remember I had to go down to the basement of the hospital to do some kind of treatment and I didn’t like the smell of the chemical of medicine that I needed to take, but I did it anyways because the doctor said “You need this.” I still remember asking one doctor if I needed surgery and the doctor said no. I said “Phew!” in my mind. Well again the doctor lied to me. I needed surgery. It had something to do with my liver. They were taking a piece of it for examination. I can still remember that one kid who was in that operating room looked at me and said, “I got to see what they did to you.” In my mind I was shocked that someone was watching me get this surgery done. When I was young, I was frightened about going to the hospital because I was never sure what was happening.
I hope you find this helpful to both of you. Mom and Dad, I have kept this in me for a long time and I thought finally maybe it is time I tell my side of the story to you both so you can see for yourself what I went through before you guys adopted me.
This was not easy to write. It was hard so I thought it would be better to type it out. It would be really hard to tell you this in person.
You are amazing parents to me I am sorry that I have kept this from you. I kept it hidden in me for a long time. So why now tell you this? Because the Residential School thing finally got me. The first week was so hard for me. I just kept it to myself that week. If you want you can definitely share this story with people. You don’t need to ask me I am giving my permission.Love you both I hope you understand this.
Your son Petya Lowes
The night when we went to see the movie Indian Horse, after the movie you guys started asking me questions. I was saddened by what I saw. It was really hard on me. I can still remember both of you being very quiet. I knew you guys were feeling my pain.