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Residential Schools: Today’s students want to know about this hidden history

Posted by FirstNationsWriter on June 29, 2015  |   No Comments »

Larry Loyie is a residential school survivor and award-winning Cree author (www.firstnationswriter.com). He lives in Edmonton, AB, and has visited more than 1,600 classrooms.

Permanent display at Grouard's Native Cultural Arts Museum

Permanent display at Grouard’s Native Cultural Arts Museum

His recent book, Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors (available from Indigenous Education Press) is an accessible national history. It has been called “essential reading” by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, and is Highly Recommended by CM Magazine and elsewhere.

Having visited more than 1600 classrooms in my 22 years as an author, I can attest that the history of the schools is still hidden. Teachers have access to the Internet, but the resources are scattered. Most teachers are non-aboriginal. What can they say and what information can they trust?

My response was to spend more than 20 years researching and three years writing Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors (available from Indigenous Education Press), an accessible history for readers of all backgrounds and ages. I travelled every summer with my partner, co-author Constance Brissenden, interviewing former students from schools across Canada. Co-author Wayne K. Spear (Mohawk), a former communications director at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, rounded out our writing triumvirate.

Looking back on the bad times in residential school, I see they inspire my work.

I grew up in northern Alberta in a log home near the town of Slave Lake. My family lived a traditional Cree life, living off the land. I was in grade three in public school, speaking English, and learning to read and write. At the age of eight, a grain truck arrived to take my siblings and myself to St. Bernard Mission residential school in Grouard, Alberta. I wanted a good education, but I didn’t get it. We were supposed to be in the classroom for a half-day of schooling. Instead we did endless chores, such as polishing the floors, washing dishes, picking potatoes, and piling wood.

My mother died while I was in residential school. With so much hurt inside, I ran away twice. At 13, I quit and started working on farms, logging, and oil camps.

In the late 1980s, I began to pursue my long-time dream of becoming a writer. I wrote about my six years in residential school. I concentrated on the good things. Although not many, they were something to cling too. I did have one trained teacher, Sister Theresa, who opened my horizon on the world. I have always been grateful to her.

One day, a story of mine was discussed in a free creative writing class at the Carnegie Learning Centre in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Someone said, “It must have been good in that school.” It was then I knew I wasn’t facing the bad things.

Encouraged by friends, I talked with others who also experienced residential school. Talking helped me write the truth.

Students asked: What happened when you went to residential school?

Legends and traditional stories from our cultures are often used in children’s books. They don’t tell students about our histories and lifestyles, or how change has influenced our lives over the centuries. Through my books, I determined to educate readers.

My first book, As Long as the Rivers Flow, about my last traditional summer at home, won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction. The sequel, Goodbye Buffalo Bay, answered the students’ question, “What happened to you when you went to that school?”

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors goes beyond these memoirs. It takes a 360-degree view of the history of the residential school system. More than 65 survivors are quoted in the book. We didn’t censor their memories or observations. If they said something positive, we included it. We added biographies to show the accomplishments of each survivor. Their presence give the book’s seven chapters both humanity and veracity.

“It wasn’t fair.”

The subject of residential school brings out different emotional responses. As one grade four student told us, “As Long as the Rivers Flow is my favorite book. It made my teacher cry.”

Children respond to the history of residential schools by simply stating: “It wasn’t fair.”

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors provides an informed framework for memoirs like mine and other authors.

Student get creative about residential schools

Students read Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors to understand the history of the schools, and also learn from primary (first-person) sources (the survivors), see their faces, and learn about the many facets of the schools through descriptions and images.

Students read and discuss the Canadian government’s June 11, 2008 apology, available online.

They watch videos such as Where are the Children?

They write first-person short stories.

In the role of residential school students, they write letters home to their parents.

They write and perform their own plays about the schools.

One student in Durham District County devised and mapped out an escape plan from a school.

Others share their thoughts in literature circles and in presentations to their classroom’s version of the United Nations.

“Is it true?”

I no longer worry that people who read my books or hear me speak about residential schools will ask, “Is it true? Was it really that bad in school?”

In the 1980s, survivors began to speak about their experiences. Their courage and determination over the decades made the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report possible. Now the truth is out, and I am hopeful about the future. The children are being remembered and honoured at last.

NOTE: You are free to use this essay. Please let Larry Loyie know if you use the essay in the classroom or elsewhere (firstnationswriter@gmail.com)

TO ORDER Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors by Larry Loyie with Wayne K. Spear and Constance Brissenden: 1 877 862 8483 EXT 1 or online: www.goodminds.com

Lack of education resources inspired Larry Loyie to write Residential Schools With the Words and Images of Survivors. Readers weigh in.

Posted by FirstNationsWriter on June 3, 2015  |   No Comments »

If you have listened to or read about the final days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools, you will have heard the word “education” many times. Larry Loyie is one of thousands of survivors who courageously shared their stories before the TRC was established. They were denied a good education in school. Larry repeatedly thanks the one good teacher he had, Sister Theresa, at St. Bernard Mission residential school. Although she was only at the school for half a year, she encouraged him to learn. “I learned more from her than all the other teachers put together,” he remembers.

Larry’s goal is to write about, speak about, and educate people of all ages and backgrounds about residential schools. He achieved his goal of writing an accessible history, Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors, A National History, after more than 21 years of research, 10 years of planning, and three years of writing. His co-authors, Wayne K. Spear (Mohawk) and Constance Brissenden, poured many more years experience into writng the book.

The words of one reader, a Vancouver mother and librarian, encourages everyone to read the book. She wrote,

“If you can only look at one thing about residential schools in Canada, this is the book. A hundred experiences gathered lovingly and transmitted in a way that hit me like a thousand candles lighting up the darkness.”

Larry Loyie wanted to tell the true story of residential schools in honour of the survivors, to put the issue into an accessible historical framework, and to offer hope in the present and future.

As a Toronto reader expressed it, “Larry lowered the shield of accusation to lovingly introduce his friends, the survivors, to meet his other friends, the readers. He does not show bitterness, only the humanity of the survivors, set against a dark, century-old hidden history.”

When visiting schools between 1997 and June 11, 2008 (the date of the Canadian government’s apology), Larry Loyie was sometimes challenged by teachers. “Was it really that bad in the schools?” he was asked more than once. After the apology, it was a better situation. “I could now talk openly and I would be believed,” he says.

Larry’s national history, Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors, accomplishes a 25-year goal. “I wanted an accessible history for readers of all backgrounds and ages to be able to read and understand the many dimensions of the residential school experience.” He has accomplished this in this new full-colour, dynamic book, co-published by Indigenous Education Press/Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

As one reader from Winnipeg commented in a letter to the author:

“Being a devout Catholic, I always feel a bit defensive when the topic of residential schools is mentioned. It’s not of course that I dismissed the enormous suffering that the children felt and continue to feel, but it seems to be an automatic gut reaction to the issue. I’m glad to relate to you having read Larry’s book, that feeling has disappeared. The photos spoke powerfully to me and it was like seeing my own grandchildren in the photos. Those children really did try to be accomodating and do their best. I know some were brave enough to run away but I’m sure most of them suffered silently and waited for it to be over… The tone of the book (non-condemning) enabled me to look at the issue more honestly and peacefully.”

Please share the knowledge of this book’s existence with others. To order, contact www.goodminds.com, or call 1-877-862-8483, ext 1.

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors

Larry Loyie memories of residential school

Posted by FirstNationsWriter on May 31, 2015  |   No Comments »

More than 25 years ago, I took a free creative writing class at the Carnegie Community Centre in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. I wrote about my six years in residential school in Alberta in the 1940s. Another student commented, “It must have been good in that school.” I knew then that I wasn’t writing the truth. I promised myself to only write the truth about residential schools from that time on.

As the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering begins in Ottawa, I am watching from Edmonton. At 81 years of age, I celebrate the survivors who are there, and the younger people supporting them.

Last year, my fourth book about residential schools was published. Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors (co-published by Indigenous Education Press/Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre) is the culmination of a goal I made more than two decades ago. I wanted to write a national history of the residential school system in an accessible, readable format. Included in this history to support the narrative are the memories and comments of more than 65 survivors and many of their images as well (25 images from their personal collections of 125 in the book).

I am grateful to all the survivors I met along the way. I estimate my partner and co-author Constance Brissenden and I have heard more than 750 personal stories. Some experiences date back to the early 1990s; others were shared in 2014 at the Truth And Reconciliation Commission’s last gathering in Edmonton in late March, and are included in Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors. Co-author Wayne K. Spear, formerly of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, brought many more experiences to the book.

I have included some images from my life writing about residential schools. I am honoured that you are reading this blog and my books. Thank you, from Larry Loyie — Edmonton, Alberta

Permanent display at Grouard's Native Cultural Arts Museum

Permanent display at Grouard’s Native Cultural Arts Museum

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors

As Long as the Rivers Flow

As Long as the Rivers Flow

Tant que couleront les rivières (Les Editions des Plaines), texte de Larry Loyie avec la participation de Constance Brissenden; illustrations de Heather D. Holmlund. En 1944, Larry Loyie, alors connu sous le nom de Lawrence, avait dix ans et vivait avec sa famille crie près de Slave Lake, dans le nord de l’Alberta (Canada). Tant que couleront les rivières s’inspire de son dernier été avec ses proches, avant son départ obligatoire pour le pensionnat indien. L’histoire d’un été qui se révèle plein d’aventures, de découvertes et de partage, la peinture d’un quotidien qui recrée la relation privilégiée avec la nature. Il faut profiter de la belle saison pour faire des réserves de nourriture pour l’hiver : cueillette, pêche et chasse, Lawrence a beaucoup à apprendre de ses aînés. Mais il y a certaines aventures qu’on n’ose imaginer, de celles qui vous méritent le nom d’Oskiniko, jeune homme en cri.

Tant que couleront les rivières

Larry Loyie, altar boy on left, St. Bernard Mission residential school, Grouard, AB

Larry Loyie, altar boy on left, St. Bernard Mission residential
school, Grouard, AB

Two Plays About Residential School
Goodbye Buffalo Bay

Goodbye Buffalo Bay