Category Archives: Exploitation

Raised by Psychopaths


As one of the survivors of Kuper Island Residential school told Duncan McCue of the CBC, “we were raised by psychopaths.”  The children were actually taught by religious leaders in the school to inflict violence on each other. Boys in particular were taught to be bullies against their younger cohorts. They were taught by example and they were separated from their parents (called savages by John A. MacDonald) so no one could teach them that what their religious leaders in the school were teaching them was wicked.

The children were raised in very aggressive and violent places and learned to become aggressive and violent in turn.  In fact, the priests or other religious leaders taught the students how to be aggressive towards other students. The older children were taught to be bullies. That is how they were often raised. And many of those children had been ripped out of their parents’ homes often without genuine consent. Those children were also taught that their parents were incompetent parents who did not deserve respect.

Can you imagine what those students learned in that school? Can you imagine what those children were like when they became parents. Can you imagine what the children of their children were like?


A School they Called Alcatraz


Kuper Island was an island, surrounded by ocean. Yet children tried to escape. And like Alcatraz it was very difficult to escape. One of those children, Emil William escaped in 1907 but drowned in the ocean as a result. This really was a case of ‘sink or swim’.

CBC reporter Duncan McCue reported in his podcast about Kuper Island as follows: “By the 1940s and 50s, school officials were writing about an epidemic of violence. One case threatened to expose the depth of the problem.”

Then there was  the  case involving two  indigenous girls, Patricia and Beverley Joseph who untied a boat and sailed for freedom. Sadly, they never made it. The body of one of the girls was found in the ocean. The other disappeared completely. An inquest was held but the jury did not  ask why girls would try to flee by boat in the night and dead of winter.   What made it so bad there that they would take such a chance? After 15 minutes of deliberation, they ruled the deaths accidental. It was the fault of the young girls. The victims were blamed. Pretty simple right?

The girls were Belvie’s cousins. McCue interviewed her for the series. Belvie, like her cousin,  did not like the food at the school. Now I know students often don’t like the food at their schools.  But the complaints at Residential Schools were in a class of their own. If you don’t believe me  read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. It was eye-opening.  She was fed bowls of raw, sour, lumpy porridge. She said she was always hungry. This was a very common complaint at residential schools. One time when government inspectors were coming they each got 2 pork chops. When the inspectors failed to arrive, they had to give their pork chops back. But did the girls take such dangerous chances because of bad food? Probably not.

Other girls in the school warned Belvie that there were dangerous people in and around the school. When she was 11 years old, she was told to bring the towels down to the laundry room. While there she heard a sound near the laundry that scared her. So, she ran, but fell down and hit her head. When she came to, she was naked lying on the towels and she felt like she had been riding a bike and had fallen down on the bicycle bar. She didn’t know what happened. We can guess what happened. But we don’t know.

Belvie  said pretty well every girl who was more than 10 years old was sent to bring towels to the laundry room. In time they all learned what happened there. She said, “This brother was raping them all.”

Can you blame young girls for trying to escape?  Is it their fault if they drown? Or it perhaps, more complicated than that? The School was called Alcatraz.

Kuper Island Residential School: A School with a Graveyard



On the CBC podcast about Kuper Island, Right off the bat, Duncan McCue had a question for us listeners: “They called it a school, but what sort of school has a graveyard?

The first school I attended in Steinbach after kindergarten was affectionately (or not) called “Miss Kornelsen’s school”. It was named after the longtime spinster principal of many years. Frankly, I always thought Miss Kornelsen was a bit deranged, but she was not sociopathic. That school was in Steinbach for more many years, but it did not have a graveyard. I never heard of any school that had a graveyard. Have your? There were no rumors circulating that it did. Kuper Island Residential School had a graveyard! Why? That is a pretty good question.

160 unmarked graves were found at that school located in a community of about 300 people. Why so many graves?

The school operated from 1889 to 1997. That is 108 years which is a long time, but why 160 graves? Doesn’t that seem like a lot?  How many children died at your elementary school?

Of course, in the last couple of years that many Indian Residential Schools (as they were called) had graveyards.  How many schools with mainly white children had graveyards?

Kuper Island Indian Residential School  was a school that was meant to “kill the Indian in the Child” since that was the deliberate policy of the Canadian government. If you don’t believe, that read the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is eye-opening. You will be confronted with some uncomfortable truths. See how much truth you can stand. But these schools killed more than “the Indian in the child.”

This is CBC series is the story mainly about 3 children from that school. 2 of them were survivors. 1 was not. It is also about a small community that is haunted by what happened there. It is a story about children who were wrenched away from their family, their language and their culture to be raised in an uncaring (by and large) institution. It was done because Canada thought this would be for the good of the children.

One of the survivors was much more blunt. He said “the children there were sent to be raised by psychopaths.” It was a chilling thought. How was that? Waht happened there?

The series of podcasts uncovered truths that had been buried—pun intended—for too long.

The school was burned to the ground in 1980 because the community could not stand having it around after it was closed. It housed too many awful memories.


Canada’s Alcatraz: Kuper Island Residential School


Penelakut Island, formerly known as Kuper Island and renamed in 2010 in honour of the Penelakut First Nation people, is located in the southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada.  The Penelakut First Nation people are part of a larger group called Hul’qumi’num people. The island has a population of about 300 members of the Penelakut Band. It is not a large community, but it has suffered largely. Through no fault of its own.

The island and the Indian Residential School were the subject of a CBC radio series turned into podcasts. It is worth listening to it.


The host of the show, Duncan McCue travelled to Penelakut where the Kuper Island Residential School was located.  Some people called the school “Alcatraz.”  Think about that for a moment. A school supported by a church and the government of Canada was called Alcatraz. Canada’s Alcatraz.


Long after the Kuper Island Residential School was torn down, the survivors are still haunted by what happened there. Investigative reporter Duncan McCue of the CBC  exposed buried police investigations, confronted perpetrators of abuse as well as victims of abuse.  He also witnessed a community trying to rebuild — literally on top of the old school’s ruins and the unmarked graves of Indigenous children. The podcast he helped produce is well worth listening to as long as you can stand uncomfortable truths. I know that many of us can’t while others are tired of hearing about them. Some of these say, ‘Why can’t we get over it?’

That is a good question. Others say that their people also suffered abuse. Mennonites, for example, in some cases make such claims too. And they are right. But I don’t want to get into a suffering Olympics.  The point is not who suffered worse. I just want to point out it is difficult for survivors of residential schools, and even their descendants who have suffered inter-generational trauma, to  “get over it.”  We should learn about what happened to them first. The rest of us should be sympathetic before we become critical. Not many people in Canada had inflicted upon them schools where they had to attend even though they were designed to disparage their parents, inflict physical, emotional, and sexual abuse upon the children.  These schools were part of a Canadian system of oppression. Some even called it genocide. Who knows how we would react to such a situation.


The rest of us are lucky sit didn’t happen to them. Even though this happened for many decades, it was kept secret. I went to school in Canada for 20 years, including 7 years at university, and never heard of it once until after I had left that university. When I first heard about residential schools  found it hard to believe and later I thought it was a case of a few bad apples. It was more than that. More than 130 residential schools operated across Canada. As the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has described them, “The schools were a deliberate attempt to destroy Indigenous communities and ways of life. They were part of a broader process of colonization and genocide.”

I have read the executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. I recommend all Canadians do the same. This history was hidden from us. I want to learn about that history. I think it is important for us to know that history.

Right now, I ust want to look at what happened in one residential school.  1 school out of 130. It was Kuper Island Residential School.


Women Talking (the Movie)



I have already blogged about the book. I loved the book. Now I want to blog about the film. I loved the film too. I know this sounds like I am a homer. But I like Cactus Jack Wells a Winnipeg Blue Bomber football announcer always said, “this is a true and unbiased report.” This is like that. Biased in other words.

I admit it, I am proud that woman from Steinbach, who I know a little bit, wrote a novel that was the basis of a movie nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. As I would have said in my lawyerly days, “I am not in a conflict of interest.”

We also must remember that the film is not the book. It doesn’t have to be. It is an independent nation.  But, of course, they are closely related. They are different interpretations of the same thing. This time I will just talk about the film.

The film is about oppression and what to do about it. If that is not a universal theme there are no universal themes. And it is a big and important theme.  It is worth our attention. Not because it deals with Mennonites.  That is irrelevant. It could have dealt with the Taliban. Or Roman Catholics. Or your place of employment. Or your home.

The film involves discussion among the Mennonite women in a South America where they have discovered that they have been sexually assaulted by the men of the colony. the men accomplish this by drugging the women so they don’t realized what was happening. After it is discovered the women must decided if they should leave the colony, stay and submit, or leave. Each choice involves terrible risks.

One of the women in the film says:

“Boys have learned from their father how to oppress.

And women have learned from their mother how to submit.

Both have learned well.”



There is another element I can’t resist talking about. The religious element. After all the central characters are Mennonites in a strict conservative Mennonite colony. As a result, here is a conversation between Ona and Scarface:

ONA Are we asking ourselves what our priority is? To protect our children or to enter the kingdom of heaven?

SCARFACE JANZ  Does entering the kingdom of heaven mean nothing to any of you? After all we have suffered? ANNA Are you really willing to give up what we have always lived for?

ONA Surely there is something in this life worth living for, not only in the next.


That is an issue worth wrestling. Is it more important to save your child’s life than it is to save your immortal soul?

The women are told by the men of the colony that they are mistaken about their allegations of sexual abuse. The allegations are the product of the wild imaginations of women or of Satan. They can’t be true.

Later there is another interesting conversation (there are many):

SALOME … The only certainty we’ll know is uncertainty, no matter where we are.

ONA Other than the certainty of the power of love.

Yup, but is that enough to save the conundrum at the heart of the film?


Ona also asks an incredible question: “How would you feel if in your entire lifetime it had never mattered what you thought?”  This is the ultimate question. The women want to think! And that is not permitted.  

The women have been taught that they have a religious duty to always forgive. So they must forgive the men, they think, or risk going to hell. But as Agata said, “Perhaps forgiveness can, in some instances, be confused with permission…”

There is much worth talking about in this film. Watch and participate in the conversation. That’s what we all should do.

I am giving a true and unbiased report here. Therefore I say, this is the best film of the year and it will win the Academy Award for Best Picture because the academy will do the right think. But perhaps like the women in the film, I am just a dreamer. But sometimes a dream is all you get.

Deep Freedom


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book about freedom.  It is about the freedom of young boys who are smothered by demands that they conform to narrow constraints of maiden aunts and Sunday schools. And that is important. Revolting from such constraints is the freedom Huck seeks. That is the freedom that Huck seeks and is willing to pay the ultimate price when he lights out for the territory. He wants it even if means hell.


But it also about freedom that a large portion of Americans didn’t enjoy, namely the indigenous and black people of America. The freedom extolled by Americans since the time of the Puritans that for some reason was not for them. Some of them in fact were enslaved—i.e., as unfree as they possibly could be in this land lauded as being the land of the free.  It was free only for some. Most them were white and most of them were men.

The novel is also about freeing humans like Huck from the ideas that enslave him. These are the ideas—like making humans into property—that Huck must learn to renounce. And it is hard to renounce ideas with which we have grown up.

How can anyone who believes in and relishes freedom as so many Americans and Canadians do, ever think that slavery is acceptable? Canadians have to remember that slavery was also prevalent in Canadian society. Canada was much more than the underground railway inviting in slaves to sanctuary.

When charlatans, murderers, and thieves join the “God-fearing” white folks of the community to chase down en mass Jim the runaway slave, Huck says, aptly, “It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race.”

Mark Twain once said, “Lincoln’s proclamation…not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.” I believe that is profoundly true.

This is beautifully materialized in the character of Jim the black slave. Jim frees Huck. In pursuing freedom for Jim, Huck is also freed from the chains of the Sunday school marms.

Ousting Inhabitants




The newcomers to Canada had a different attitude to the land than the indigenous people they met had.

As Doug Williams, elder and former Chief of Kitiga Migisi, saidimn the documentary Spirit to Soar, “I think the early, early settlers had a real difficult time  with what they called the wilderness. Of course, we did not have a wilderness. We had a home.” The newcomers needed the Indigenous people to survive. Doug Williams put it this way in the film Colonization Road:


“When the land grants were starting to happen, they were giving away our old camps, and our shorelines, and our islands, and the river mouths, and all of this. We had to move. In fact, we were being shot at. It’s a history which started with conflict, so we had to move.”


Premier Brian Pallister of Manitoba was wrong. The settlers were not only builders. They built alright, but first they also  pushed out the inhabitants. Sometimes not directly, but through the governments that represented them and did not represent the indigenous people, the indigenous people were ousted. Settlers accepted this. They did not question their privilege. They saw it as natural. They thought they were entitled to this privilege.  That is the way privilege works. It sees anything that undermines that privilege as irrational.

I recently watched a limited television series call The English. It is well worth seeing.  It dealt with the settlement of North America by Europeans.  In it I was struck by a group of Mennonites who had come to Kansas to settle the land. The English woman in the series came up to the Mennonites and challenged them. “What are you doing here,” she asked. “Why are you here? Don’t you know people live here? Why don’t you go home?”  The Mennonites were dumb struck by these perplexing questions.  They seemed to never have thought of this. After all, the reason they were there, they said, was that God had called them to come. How could they possibly question that?  In a sense, the Mennonites were villains of the series [along with a wide assortment of other villains].  I had never before seen Mennonites painted as villains. Is this an unfair portraiture? I wonder what my friends think?

Recently, a friend of mine, told me about a Canadian farmer who is a descendant of settlers. He felt the injustice of this ouster so keenly, that he met with his family and together they decided to give the land back to indigenous people! Just like that after a few generations of farming the land they gave it back while acknowledging the injustice of the original displacement of the indigenous people.  That is an impressive expression of conscience and, I dare say, in this case, true Christian spirit.

That settler demonstrated a new attitude to the land and its inhabitants.


Fear and Trembling


I love autumn and in particular the maple leaves of autumn.  What is more beautiful?

The Canadian federal government in 1876 introduced the Indian Act. It has been amended a number of times since then, but is still on the books. That statute gave the federal government authority over indigenous people. Indigenous people were shocked by the introduction of that statute, since many of them had recently entered into treaties which they thought guaranteed them sovereignty over their own lands and peoples while agreeing to share (but not cede) the land with non-indigenous Canadians. That law actually gave the federal government the authority to completely control the lives of indigenous people in Canada. That statute gave the federal government the power to take away indigenous children from their homes and send them to church run government funded Indian Residential Schools. There were eventually more than 140 residential schools across Canada. 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to these schools often at considerable distance from their home communities and far away from their families. The last school closed in 1996. Again, this is not ancient history. This is yesterday. And the ill-effects of those schools live on in the lives of descendants of the survivors.


The Indian Act is a piece of legislation that amounts to the extreme use of colonial power and paved the way for exploitation of indigenous people. It is based on the false notion that whites were superior to indigenous people. I will have more to say about that legislation in future posts.


Children are still leaving their homes and families and communities just to get an education.  Now they do it by “choice.” Many go to places like Thunder Bay where they are the objects of powerful and deep racism. Of course, indigenous people are compelled to go there by economic circumstances. Many of these modern students report that they feel unsafe in places like Thunder Bay. One said, “I feel like I have to look over my shoulder every second, or I’m going to, you know, get hurt.” Many are scared because they know of others who have gone missing.

Of course, the 7 deaths of indigenous students in the Thunder Bay area brought painful recollections of Indian Residential Schools where often young children were sent to schools far away and never came home. Was this not comparable to that? Were we living through another heinous event like that?





I really like to photograph churches. I loved the little St. Jerome Church nestled in colourful trees beside the Pays Platt River in northwest Ontario on the land of the Plays Platt First Nation. I also loved the little river nearby and I stopped to photograph the church and the river.

The beauty of the church and the scene though belies some uncomfortable truths. Religion among First Nations peoples has been fraught, at least ever since they had contact with Europeans who believed that Indigenous religions were heathenish and unworthy of serious consideration. The newcomers were quick to try to convert them to the “superior” religions of the western nations. It was all part of the colonial attitudes. In many cases conversions were very “successful” in that the First Nations people in many cases because staunch members of the new faith. Many of the indigenous people were always willing to try something new when it came to spirituality. For some members of First Nations peoples however they never lost their indigenous religion.  In my view there was much in the Indigenous religion that was very worthy of respect, notwithstanding the lack of respect from many Christians.

Jay Miller in that wonderful book edited by Betty Ballantine and Ian Ballantine, The Native Americans an Illustrated History, described the relationship between the Jesuits and indigenous people of the northeast of North America this way:

“At the same time that the growth of the fur trade was making its inroads into native lifeways, the Christian religion, with the Jesuits at the forefront, was making its self-righteous, moral attack on the Indians. Indeed, of all the events transpired to affect the natives of Canada, none was more climactic than the Jesuit mission. Although natives responded genuinely and openly to this religious Jesuit message, they did so from an innate respect for each person’s religious beliefs. Yet they were utterly baffled by the initial insensitivity with which it was conveyed.”


In time the Jesuits got smarter. After all they were often intelligent and well-educated men. They did their best to learn from their mistakes. They even tried, to some extent,  to learn from the people they were trying to convert. It is unfortunate that more Christians were not able to realize that there was a lot to be learned from the indigenous people of Canada. The history of Canada might have been very different than it was.

Pays Plat 51 Reserve: Where the water is shallow

Pays Plat River Northwest Ontario

There are an amazing number of First Nations in this region of Northwest Ontario through which I traveled. One I had never heard of before was the Pays Plat First Nation. It is a small first nation near Rossport, my final destination on this trip. According to the First Nation’s website, The Pays Plat 51 reserve is in the boundary of the territory described in Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850. The community is now found alongside the Trans-Canada highway.  I stopped because it had a lovely little river with a church beside it. How could I resist photographing it?

The ancestors of the current first nation survived by hunting, fishing, and trapping. It was deeply involved in the fur trade. The name “Pays Plat”  comes from the French and means flat land. It is between 2 mountains. Modest sized mountains of course, as befits Ontario.

In the Anishinaabemowin language, the community is known as Baagwaashiing which means “Where the water is shallow.” To me the little village was a delight.

The Robinson Treaties, of 1850 also known as the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior Treaties saw Canada secure almost all of northwest Ontario for settlement and resource development. New in these agreements were provisions made for reserves based on sites chosen by Indigenous leaders. These Robinson Treaties  are credited with laying the foundation for what later became known as Western Canada’s Numbered Treaties. Treaty making during this period was not just confined to the eastern and central areas of what would become Canada.



A treaty is a legally binding agreement outlining the rights and duties of its signatories and is protected by international law. Negotiated and agreed to by two or more sovereign nations, treaties are formal agreements used to reinforce and protect relations between those parties.

In North America, Indigenous societies and colonial powers often held divergent traditions and understandings on the composition and structure of these agreements. These understandings were informed by their own social, political and economic norms. Far from homogenous, pre-colonial laws, customs, and practices informed Indigenous treaty agreements, like that in Gusweñta. Many of these principles were shared among Indigenous nations, ensuring that all parties upheld their obligations. Many Indigenous nations recognize this treaty legacy and continue to advocate that the original intent of these agreements with the Crown, and then Canada, be honoured.


Conflict between competing empires often made its way to North America, and almost always involved Indigenous peoples. The French and British each had their supporting allies among the indigenous people. The Great Peace of Montreal serves as but one example of an agreement that brought to a close prolonged periods of conflict. Signed in 1701 between New France and forty (40) Indigenous groups of Central and Eastern North America. This treaty ushered in several years of peace. Treaties such as this lay the groundwork for peace and cooperation between colonial powers and the areas Indigenous populations, and were tested and fractured time and again when European rivals clashed overseas and brought their conflict to the Americas.

Key differences in treaty making during each of these phases is a direct result of the economic, political, and social dynamics that emerged as colonial and later state powers competed for control of the continent. As trade relations, wartime diplomacy, increasing land settlement pressures, and resource development increased, so too did the need for officials to deal with the question of Indigenous land title. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson said, treaties were always about land.


And what struck me most on this jaunt through God’s country was that the land was beautiful. Unbelievably beautiful. Worth cherishing. I am not always sure that Canada appreciated how the land should be cherished. Canadians by and large wanted to exploit the land, not cherish it. I am not sure that was always the right approach. Often I think we need a new attitude to nature. I have blogged about that. I want to blog a lot more about that. I think it is a crucial concept.