Category Archives: Exploitation

Killers of the Flower Moon


Killers of the Flower Moon is an outstanding movie directed, written, and produced by Martin Scorsese.  It is part of a larger story of the Osage Indigenous people in Oklahoma forced to relocate their against their will but it turned out the rocky stony land they got, which everyone thought was worthless  had oil and the Osage became fabulously rich. The richest people on earth with white servants.

At first, the Osage people were discriminated against in Oklahoma. “When they first moved to Oklahoma territory, people put up signs…”read “NO DOGS, NO INDIANS.”   Once they were rich, of course, they were much more welcome. In fact their wealth attracted a lot of hungry predators—white men.  Amazingly, wealth became almost as big a problem as poverty because it pulls in the white predators. I listened to a fascinating interview with Martin Scorsese in which he said, “I have made films about the gangsters, Cape Fear  and things like that, but this movie was about day-to-day evil which may be part of our human nature. How much of that are we capable of?”

We see Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) an unconventional leading man. First of all, he is not that smart. In fact, often he seems pretty stupid. Goofy might be the best way to describe him.  When he arrives on the railway platform, a well-dressed person hands him a flier – he reads it: “Make it Rich.” We instantly know we have arrived in a place where the American fantasies are running amok. People are unhinged. They are living in the Fantasy Land of the American dream. We should not be surprised if reality is kept firmly at bay. We also see 4 or 5 sketchy white men standing around, looking entirely unproductive, tipping over a common misconception, and they are looking hungrily at the well-to-do and well-dressed Osage who are sitting in their beautiful cars. You can just see it, they want them.

William King Hale (Robert De Nero) Ernest’s uncle,  is seen surveying his kingdom with a knowing smile. He knows the score. Nothing can surprise him except innocence.  He greets his nephew:

Times like this people put castles in the air, held aloft by hysteria, rush blind with greed, based on fear, unfounded fear. Fear running all over the place and screaming like animals. This is a cattle ranch. There’s no oil here. So I’m settled with no fear. These Osage have had enough trouble, they’re down to not too many of them left. There’s a way that nature moves and changes direction and that’s happened upon them. Time will run out, this wealth will run dry drier than the seven years of famine that plagued the Pharaohs of old. They’re sick people. Big hearted but sickly.


Hale tells his nephew there is a lot of money in Oklahoma now. More than Texas. He made a fine choice coming there.   Then Ernest makes an astonishing admission: “I love money, sir.” this of course is the problem with Ernest. He is a a good man, we think, but he loves money. Like so many white men he is driven by a lust for money that corrupts him absolutely. It mixes him up. He even hurts those he loves.

 Later Ernest realizes “I just love money! It’s true. It’s true. I damn near love it as much as I love my wife! I can’t help myself once I get thinking on things .” There is the crux. Ernest loves his wife, but maybe he just loves money more!

Hale tells Ernest, “You call me Uncle or King… remember?” Ernest is quick to reply, “King.”  Hale, like so many white men, wants to be king and his nephew is very quick to oblige

Then Hale asks Ernest if he likes women and once more Ernest is quick to reply, not bothering to hide his sins, “Yes, King, course I do, it’s a weakness.” And that is Ernest’s problem. He is a good man, with weaknesses, who is not shy about acknowledging them When asked if he likes women red, Ernest says unabashedly, “Red and white, I don’t mind. I like all of ‘em, I’m greedy. I like heavy ones, pretty ones, soft ones, ones that smell good.” 

King Hale wants to educate his young nephew. He tells him,


“Osage are sharp. They don’t talk much so that might make you run your mouth to fill the space. ‘Specially if you’ve been drinkin,’ but it’s better to be quiet if you don’t have something smart to say. Don’t get caught on that – it’s just what they call “blackbird talk” (imitating) “cheep cheep”. Just because they’re not talking doesn’t mean they don’t know things about everything. Osage are the finest and most beautiful people on God’s earth.


This is one of the great mysteries of the film.  Hale is a predator. He is a top predator, but he respects his prey. He knows they are smart. He likes them. But he wants their money. He thinks he is entitled to their money. To us I hope this seems astonishing, but in his day, it was not surprising. It was ordinary. I was every day evil. Banal.

King is mean, nasty, and ruthless, but he is smart. He recognizes that Osage are good people. Like Ernest, he knows Osage are good smart people but that does not mean he won’t try to cheat them to get money. He will do anything to get their money. That is a predator to be respected. And feared.

Lily Gladstone) Gladstone who plays the role of Mollie who marries Ernest  , is indigenous, though not from the Osage Nation, and she is a central character in the film. She is not just window dressing. Her role is important. Her character is important. This film is not just about white guys.

Mollie asks Ernest if he is scared of his uncle King. Ernest says no, “He’s the King of the Osage Hills. He’s the nicest man in the world but I know if you cross him what he can do. I’m my own man, I do my own work. I’m a businessman.” But Ernest is not very bright. He should be scared of his uncle King! We should be scared of any man who wants to be King.

Yet, like so many indigenous women I know, she tends to be quiet. She does not speak much but when she speaks, she makes sense. She is deeply worthy of respect. But she does not say a lot in the film. She is mainly quiet and listening.  At one point she tells Ernest, “We need to be quiet for awhile. Sit down. A storm is… well it’s powerful. So we need to be quiet now.” They need to respect the power of nature.

When Mollie arrives in town she does so with her guardian. Just like the Indian Act in Canada, the white people in Oklahoma have managed to manipulate the law so that many, but not all, Osage people need white guardians to hold their money in trust for them. When she comes for her monthly check she had to bring her guardian, who is Pitts Beaty—in his 50s, white, and a grand wizard KKK. That should be a reliable guardian!

When Hale suggests to Ernest that he should take an Osage woman for a wife, to get her money, Ernest says he has been driving Mollie around. Hale tells him she would be a good choice, “that Mollie’s easy to like and a full blood Estate at that, that’s something a man could work with…”. The fact she is full blood estate means she will get a full share of the money from her tribe.

 Ernest heeds the advice of his uncle King to read up on the Osage.  You must learn about your victims. One night after playing pool and gambling all night he reads that for the Osage “Dawn was always a sacred time for prayers…”  That explains why Mollie’s mother prays at dawn by the creek near the house.

Mollie’s mother, prays at dawn by a creek near the house. He also learns that they call the sun ‘grandfather.’ The moon ‘mother.’ Fire, ‘Father.’” He sees a sun through the clouds as they are driving. This is a crescent moon. They also see a wildfire burning the prairie. Wild fires were common on the prairies and often deliberately started because it helped new growth which in turn brough bison, a staple of their diet. A Wildfire burning the prairie they called a “flower moon.” The flowers will follow the moon. As the narrator said, “They call it the “flower moon” – when tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and prairies. There are so many, it’s as if a spring festival of the gods left confetti there.” As a wild flower guy myself I loved this idea. The spring flowers are like confetti spread by the gods.

Ernest also learned about the baby naming ceremony where the child is given an  “Osage name – it’s how you will be called to the next world – your Osage name can never be taken away from you.” I understand this because I have an indigenous grandson who was recently given such a name. Ernest also learns the word Wah-Kon-Tah, which means God. The special ones who went ahead in the fog to new places are called, “Travelers in the Mist.”

Unlike her husband Ernest, and even though she needs a white guardian to take care of her money, Mollie is smart.” She is smart and beautiful. Ernest tells her she has a nice color of skin and wants to know what color would she say it is?  She replies, wisely, “my color.” Mollie calls Ernest coyote, the trickster. She wants to know if he wants money. Ernest replies, “Well that money’s real nice, especially if you’re lazy like me… I want to sleep all day and make a party when it’s dark.” She also asks if he likes whiskey. He says, “I don’t like whiskey, I love whiskey.” At least Ernest does not hide his flaws from Mollie. He is completely open about them. He flaunts them.   If she is so smart, why doesn’t she run away? Is love blind?

Mollie has an interesting conversation about white men with her sisters. She tells them about Ernest: “He’s not that smart but he’s handsome.” Her sister Minnie says “he wants our money.”  One sister says that can’t be true for his uncle is rich. He doesn’t need more money. Of course, she completely misunderstands white men. They always want more money.  Mollie understands, this “Of course he wants money, but he wants to be settled. He’s not restless…”  She likes that about him. Another sister says she won’t need her guardian if she has a white husband. But that is still a problem. Even her white husband will want her money! Her sister Reta says he doesn’t want her money because he loves her. Again, that is still a big problem. Even husbands can’t be trusted.

Ernest tells his uncle he really loves Mollie and loves her and thinks she is a lady. King, pleased, tells him, I think you found a wife. After they get married King Hale says,

“I’ve known Mollie and her sisters since they were little girls running around making trouble… I just want to say on behalf of my wife Myrtle and my daughter Willie, I’m just so glad a member of my family is mixin’ with the great Pahsoo-oh-leen. Mollie’s dear departed father, Nah-kah-e-se-y, was my beloved friend of the heart. He used to tell the white men to just call him Jimmy, but I called him by his proper name…”


And Hale is not lying. He loves the Osage. But, of course, that does not stop him from exploiting them. Hale, is a complicated man. He understands what Whites have brought to the Indians. They have brought white man diseases that destroyed them. As he tells Minnie, “So many troubles. What we’ve brought on you… I’m sorry… I hear it in the wind, it screams like a woman who has the evil spirit.Hale even prays to the Spirits to take away her sickness. “Great Mystery Remove the sickness from her Remove the evil spirit from her You bless those who are sick I want you to bless Minnie He even prays in the language of the Osage!

Hales seems genuinely concerned but we suspect her disease is not accidental as so many diseases were brought by white men to Indigenous people. But with the Osage some were deliberate because the white men wanted the money the Osage had.

When Mollie inevitably gets sick too, Hale wants to make sure Ernest does it the right way. And Ernest listens attentively to his uncle. First, Hale asks Ernest how Mollie is feeling.  Ernest says, “Alright. She takes care of the little one…”  Hale understands, “That’s the Osage way. They’ll tolerate anybody – even whites – for their children. That’s their riches.”  Osage women don’t need money. Their riches are their children! Ernest starts to understand too.

What is clear is that the “reign of terror” has begun. That was the time when Osage died in waves and their money went  eventually to their white heirs. It was a mass killing that the FBI failed to investigate. They just blamed a few bad apples. Funny how that happens. In the movie a long list of suspicious deaths is referred to and in each case, there was “No investigation.” And many of these were young people, healthy before they contacted white people and yet they died mysteriously.

As well, some were outright shot. In those cases, no one thought it necessary to camouflage the murders. The white men were killing the flowers of the moon. In other cases, they made the murders look like suicides.

Mollie changes her legal documents so Ernest to replace her current guardian so the money stays in the family. He tells Mollie: “I love you. I love you. I’ve always loved you, Mollie.” That is probably true but did he love money more?

It is sometimes difficult to remember, when watching this film, that it is a love story. A very complex love story. It is not a Hallmark film where everything works out fine in the end. It is complex. The characters are complicated.  For one thing, it is a remarkable story about a man, Ernest, who loves his wife, but has a hard time  stopping from trying to poison her for her money. What is more powerful in him we ask—his love for her or his love for money? And how can be possibly love both?  That is the real question. How is that even possible? These are interesting questions this film addresses, even if it does not provide answers that are obvious.



Oblates were Holy Men


I want to warn people this post contains some difficult details of abuse at Kuper Island Indian Residential School. I don’t want to emphasize the sexual abuse because the abuse at such schools went so much farther than that. But these issues should not be avoided either.

Brother Glenn Doughty was a young Oblate at the school who had been taught (indoctrinated?) to sacrifice himself to God. He would not pursue wealth. But there were things he would pursue—with determination. Doughty was stuck on a remote island where there was little he could do except look after a bunch of kids. Yet Doughty thrived there.

The Oblates at the school were tough. They dominated the children. Now that was not uncommon in schools at the time.  I also attended schools in Steinbach at about the same time  where the teacher tried to dominate the children, but the domination in our schools was on an entirely different plane than Kuper Island.

The Oblates ate relatively lavish meals, at least compared to the less than modest fare of the children. This special treatment for Oblates was of course justified, the brothers universally felt, on account of the sacrifices they made for God. They “deserved” lavish meals.  So at least they thought. As Duncan McCue of the CBC said, “they had a strong sense of entitlement.” That is not uncommon for religious leaders of young children.

One day Brother Doughty told Tony Charley, one of the students, that he would be getting his own room. Charley thought this was a special privilege. That wasn’t quite right. In Tony’s first week in the dorm after he stopped being a day student and became a dorm resident, he was invited into Doughty’s room. Doughty told Tony “We should get to know each other.”

When it was time to sleep Doughty told Tony to sleep with him. “he grabbed me inside my pyjamas and started to rub my penis. Then he grabbed my hand and put it over his penis, so I did the same thing. It was very shocking to have that happen.”

Father Doughty was friendly with many boys in the dorm often inviting them to his room for the night for what he called “magic tricks.” Tony encountered Brother Doughty regularly. Tony did not know what to do. He wondered, “This is a holy man. Why is he doing this?” He could not understand it. At the time Tony knew little about sex. There certainly was no sex education in the Catholic school. The abuse lasted from September of 1967 to December of 1967. After that Tony exercised an act of resistance.  Tony moved to the upper bunk bed, and Doughty stopped coming. But of course, he moved on to other boys in the dormitory including Tony’s younger brother James. There are always more victims available in a residential school. There was an endless supply of vulnerable children far away from protection.

That is of course heaven for sexual predators. And hell for the victims.

The Police Investigate Kuper Island


I will give a trigger warn ing here. Some of this post is very graphic and people might find it disturbing.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported about a 1939 police investigation into the Kuper Island residential school that had been sparked by a series of cases involving children running away from school/home. After months of archival requests, the CBC team got a copy of the report. It was a RCMP report about 6 boys who took 2 canoes from indigenous people on the island.

The RCMP officer who was investigating though did not do what officers usually did, namely march the kids back to school. He was actually interested. This officer actually asked the children for a statement. He asked the children why they had run away. 2 students said they did not want to go back because it was “ bad.” Another said a priest, whom he named, tried to commit “unnatural acts” with him. Parents of all 6 boys did not want to send their sons sent back to the school. The fathers were very angry. One threatened to go to the school with a shotgun. The officer suggested follow up was needed. As a result the RCMP gathered more than 50 statements. The officer said, “I am convinced conditions are not as they should be re the school.”

Here is a statement by one student:

“One day just before Christmas [name redacted] took me out on his boat. He told me to take my pants down in the boat as we were going to go to bed. “If I didn’t,” he told me, “I am going to throw you off the boat into the water.” He got into bed beside me. He tried to stick his thing into me. He could not get it in. So he asked me to play with his thing. I had to do it because I could not get away from him.’


There were multiple reports from girls who said the church Fathers were assaulting them in the laundry room. McCue said “the volume of statements here is staggering. This isn’t just one or two kids who are saying this. This is dozens of children.”

Then the Department of Indian Affairs [‘DIA’) got involved. What did they do? They tried to have the officers labelled as insubordinate! But they changed their strategy after reading the statements of the children. The priest who took the boy out in the boat was assigned to another mission in another province, where, of course, he was free to molest again.

A school employee was dismissed.  The Department of Indian Affairs (‘DIA’) arranged for him to leave the province too. As a result, the local Catholic Bishop sent furious letters to Ottawa. Bishop J.C. Cody wrote, “Though quite cognizant of certain breaches of morality, I fail to see any advantage in ruining an institution because of some individuals supposed or even real misdeeds.” He didn’t even care if the allegations were true! Since the suspects were out of the province the case was closed. No further investigations. No charges were laid.

Duncan McCue of the CBC reached what I believe was the right conclusion: “As far as the government and church were concerned, investigating and prosecuting wrong doers took a back seat to protecting the school’s reputation.” After full investigation nothing happened!

So, for Belvie, one of the girls at the school, the abuse continued. One day a father told her that her brother was sick and asked her to follow him to the infirmary. That was unusual because girls usually did not mix with their families or others in the school. There she met another man—one of the priests. He grabbed her and covered her nose and she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she was on the floor naked. She did not know what had happened. She went to the bathroom because semen was running out of her body. She was 11 years old.

Although Belvie did not report it to the authorities it is highly unlikely that anything would ever have happened. As Duncan McCue said, “In the 85-year history of the residential school at Kuper Island, only one person was ever charged—Glen Doughty. But it was clear there were many serial abusers at the school. Not just one bad apple as you so often hear. And it wasn’t only male employees.

Belvie made a startling remark about the nuns: “They had no time for us, unless they were sexually abusing us.” Belvie endured 5 years of abuse at Kuper Island, until she left in 1962. But her brother Richard had to stay. More about him later


Propaganda Canadian style


There are not many photographs of school children at Kuper Island Residential School, but there were many formal portraits of the school bands. Children stood ramrod straight posing for the photographs. The schools showed off the bands as a way of showing the general public the good works at the schools. It was part of the program of propaganda. Propaganda Canadian style. The media ate it up and fed it to the Canadian public without any critical thought to what was happening. The media like the rest of us were blissfully ignorant. But they helped spread the government’s message about how lucky the young Indian children were to be going to Montreal from Kuper Island British Columbia on a trip with their band.

As Duncan McCue the host of the CBC podcast pointed out,

“The media was complicit in helping to manufacture support for residential schools. In one feature the missionaries are portrayed as fighting an uphill battle in their efforts  to educate children because ‘as soon as a boy or girl returns to a home environment they lose all ambition, and initiative, reverting to the reserve to become drunks.’ Though the reporter does acknowledge there was a certain prison atmosphere to Kuper Island.”


This propaganda showed the public what great things the churches and government were doing for the benefit of Indians. Who could not be impressed? Especially when young children who had often never been away from their home reserves went to big cities like Montreal. Imagine that! What a thrill that must have been for the Indigenous kids.

The bands from Kuper Island residential school played all over Vancouver Island and even the mainland. Every Remembrance Day and many other events throughout the region had a band from that school. Canadians responded enthusiastically to those bands.

Remarkably, Father Brian Dufour, an Oblate brother from Kuper Island Residential school,  hatched a plan to take the band to perform at Expo 67. I remember as a young lad recently graduated from High School I drove to Montreal for that festival with a bunch of friends. We were also incredibly excited by that. I sadly, don’t remember if I heard that band or not. We did hear musical performances. The only band I remember was a group called Three’s a Crowd. My friends and I were much more interested in drinking at bars and looking for young ladies. The bars were illegal for us, but that did not stop us. The girls largely and sensibly  ignored us rubes from the prairies.  We had a lot of fun. We were not concerned about “Indians”. We were pitifully ignorant.

Tony Charley was invited to join the band and got to go on this exciting trip to Montreal, the largest city in Canada at the time. For the big trip to Expo the children were dressed up in Hollywood “Indian” garb-buckskin and feathers. It did not matter to anyone that it looked nothing at all like traditional west coast regalia. After all, it was all a show wasn’t it?

But the kids were a hit at Expo, led by the charismatic Father Brian Dufour. The school raised more than $10,000.

Everyone was happy. Well, most were happy. Mayor Drapeau welcomed them to Montreal. It was a place for mutual understanding and peace Drapeau said.

Tony and his brother James were invited by Brother Dufour to stay an extra month. What lucky guys. It was a surprise and they jumped at the chance. They had no parents to ask for permission. In other words they were the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They just agreed to stay with Brother Dufour into August. August was when I arrived with my buddies in Montreal. I often wonder if we somehow crossed paths.

Brother Dufour asked James to sleep with him one night and Tony the next. They were very inexperienced young boys. Tony was about 15 years old. His brother James was younger. Each of the boys confided to the other that Brother Dufour did “funny things to them at night.”  They did not know what they meant, but both were very uncomfortable with what happened.

Brian Dufour was actually pretty young at the time as well. He was well thought of as a devoted young Christian working hard to better “Indian” children.  According to the CBC podcast, Dufour’s parents were very proud of their son and his work, but they did not know that he would visit boys in their bedrooms during the night to sexually abuse them. After all his parents were good Catholics and thought their son was as well.

Dufour was grooming the boys. That expression was not known in 1967. At the end of the summer, Brian Dufour was transferred to another residential schools and wrote a public letter saying how much he would miss the children of Kuper Island.

Of course, the troubles for Tony and James did not end there. Dufour was gone, but there were other predators in the residential school and they were vulnerable. The propaganda paved the way for the abuse.

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.