1581 Resistance and resilience

Tsqelmucwílc: The Kamloops Indian Residential School – Resistance
and a Reckoning
by Celia Haig-Brown, Garry Gottfriedson, Randy Fred, and the KIRS Survivors

Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2022
$22.95 / 9781551529059

Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore


Celia Haig-Brown’s Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School was the first book ever published in Canada about residential schools. The publisher was Randy Fred of Tillicum Library, an imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press. Following its 1988 release, the book went into multiple printings.

Now, with the publication of Tsqelmucwílc: The Kamloops Indian Residential School Resistance and a Reckoning, interviews with thirteen survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) in the original book are included as well as an honouring of the lives they’ve lived.

Some revisions have been made to this new edition with an additional chapter entitled “Tsquelmucwílc” (pronounced cha-CAL-mux-weel), a Secwépemc phrase loosely translated as: “We return to being human.”

Randy Fred “insisted, actually, that we revisit the work,” Haig-Brown says in the preface to this new edition with cover art by Tania Willard, a member of the Secwépemc Nation.

Celia Haig-Brown of York University. Photo by Lindsay Swanson
Nuu-Chah-Nulth Elder and writer Randy Fred. Photo by Teoni Swan via thediscourse.ca

Fred is an Elder of Tseshaht First Nation who survived nine years at the Alberni Indian Residential School. He is currently the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Elder at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.

In the foreword, “The Road Toward Truth and Reconciliation,” Fred writes: “The schools were worse than maximum-security prisons. The abuse was pervasive, as the abused became abusers themselves.” He now dedicates “the remainder of my life to the sharing of stories – my own and those of other survivors.”

Garry Gottfriedson, a KIRS survivor, a Secwépemc poet and the Secwépemc Cultural Advisor to Thompson Rivers University, wrote the prologue. It was Gottfriedson, following weeks of research, who came up with the word “tsqelmucwílc” for the title of the book.

Garry is the son of Mildred Gottfriedson (1918-1989), who attended KIRS from 1927 to 1930. She is quoted throughout the chapters related to home, school life and “the resistance.”

Garry Gottfriedson. Photo by Steve Darby via Canadian Museum of History

Garry recounts that his late mother Mildred learned “Secwépemc songs and dances from members of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc band.” She teamed up with others to teach throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and “in the late 1950s, they created the Paul Creek Tribal Dancers.”

A photo shows Garry, as a boy, dancing with his mother, Mildred, looking on.

Garry attended KIRS for five years as a “day scholar” and says: “I witnessed sexual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual abuse, on every level at KIRS.” His parents removed him and placed him in a public school.

Mildred and her husband, Gus Gottfriedson, “were key figures who fought relentlessly for public education for their children and for all First Nations across Canada.”

When Mildred was interviewed about her time at KIRS , she said “It was evil for us to practise any of our cultural ways….” It even appeared to be “evil” to have curly hair. Heads were shaved as punishment.

Starting in the late 1940s, boys who were part of sports teams got to compete in the community, and girls in school dance troupes performed dances from many European countries as well as Mexico. “No Secwépemc dances were performed. Even up to the final days of the school, the Secwépemc culture was not recognized as a legitimate one worthy of recognition,” Haig-Brown writes.

In the chapter “Setting the Scene,” Haig-Brown notes that, “The Secwépemc, previously referred to as Shuswap, were traditionally a migratory hunting, fishing, and gathering people … they travelled seasonally to traditional food-gathering places.” Language, as is pointed out, “served as an expression of and for the transmission of an ever-evolving culture.”

White Europeans including the Oblates of Mary Immaculate would attempt to dismantle a thriving culture. As Secwépemc leader and author George Manuel wrote, “All areas of our lives which were not occupied by the Indian agent were governed by the priest.”

Kamloops Indian Residential School

A permanent residential school was built on land purchased by the Canadian government “at the edge of what is now the land of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc.” It was taken over by the Oblates in 1893. Until the KIRS closed as a residence in 1978, it was guided by the Oblates, assisted by the Sisters of St. Ann.

Joe Stanley Michel (Cicwelst, 1929-2009) attended KIRS from 1938 to 1950. As a child who spoke Secwepemctsín, he knew very little English. His name and “school number” were written on his wrist in purple pencil to be visible when answering a question regarding his number or name.

Rather than become involved in a clique or a group, “the meanest group of people I ever met in my life,” Joe said of an initial encounter, he chose to immerse himself in his academic studies. Not that there was much time dedicated to academic subjects. For many years, it was “a mere two hours” as Haig-Brown points out.

Joe also received training in agriculture as did the other boys while the girls were trained in “household skills.”

In the “Going Home” chapter, Joe remembered advice from an Elder when he thought about going to university: “there’s nobody there who’s Indian.” The woman Elder added, “You have hands, you have a mind, you have people who lived long before you who had a control of life … that is Indian. That is Shuswap. You have it flowing through your veins…. It is because you are an Indian that you do well, whatever you do.”

The photo of Joseph Stanley Michel with his National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Award for Education, from his daughter’s collection, is heartwarming indeed.

Joe’s wife Anna Michel (Yelqotkwe, born 1931), attended KIRS from 1940-1951. A photo shows her teaching students from Chief Atahm immersion School.

Paul F. Michel and Dr. Kathryn A. Michel say about their parents Joe and Anna: “We had heard enough stories to sense the magnitude of the traumas and abuses experienced [at KIRS].”

Haig-Brown, Resistance and Renewal (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1988)

They had also read Celia Haig-Brown’s Resistance and Renewal. “When we read their stories, we knew that they had only told the parts they were able or willing to share.”

Their father didn’t discuss “the abuse he suffered,” and their mother’s memories “were often sanitized as a form of self-preservation.” And they add that, “In many respects, their silence was in fact resilience.”

Julie Antoine (b. 1948), who attended KIRS from 1953 to 1962, recalls being “chased down” to be taken to school in a truck people now refer to as the “cattle truck.” Her father and mother were crying as were all the kids on the truck. Antoine’s mother “was really heartbroken.”

Antoine was a member of a dance group for which there was rigorous training. Her toenails are permanently damaged from having to stand on her toes. If she didn’t she was whacked “damn hard” on her legs as well as called “dumb and stupid.”

Alcohol became a problem for Antoine until she became a Drug/Alcohol Counsellor, went for Sexual Abuse Counselling training and “decided to round it out with Employment Counselling. That was 1984.” That was the year sobriety “came” for her and it was in 1986 for her husband Archie (b.1944).

Archie, of the Bonaparte First Nation, attended KIRS from 1952 to 1959. He is a “third-generation cowboy” who was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2013.

Maria Myers (b.1957) attended KIRS from 1965-1966 and in her comments recalls being so hungry during morning Mass that she would shake from not eating. “I thought my shaking was because I was a sinner,” she said.

“Despite all efforts by the Canadian government and the churches, our culture is still intact,” Myers, who is a member of the Yuneŝit’in Band, one of the six Tsilhqut’in Bands, says.

She has made it her life’s work to teach the Tsilhqut’in language. “I am still at it now, for more than forty years.”

The speeches made to Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, on October 18, 2021 are especially moving as they were by three generations of Secwépemc women.

Charlotte Manuel (b. 1942) who attended KIRS in 1959 and later worked in the kitchen there, offered tobacco “to break the cycles of abuse that come from the residential school.”

“But the biggest gift is the gift of forgiveness to ourselves, and everything else will fall into place for others who need to be forgiven. That is the gift that the Creator of all gave to us: the gift of forgiveness.”

Vicki W. Manuel, Charlotte’s daughter, “an intergenerational survivor,” spoke to Mr. Trudeau about what was lost to her mother, siblings and other family members outlining parenting and family, childhood, emotions, alcohol and addictions, sexual abuse, death and grief, sense of self, shame, with an honouring of her mother: “My mom has taught me that it is okay to have and experience all feelings and emotions . . . and that I am safe.”

Ashley N. Michel, daughter of Vicki and granddaughter of Charlotte, addressed the Prime Minister by saying, “Listen and learn from our Elders and survivors while they are still here. Ask for their knowledge and advice to move us on a path forward. Use your power and privilege for good. And make this visit count.”

A photo shows the three generations of women plus a fourth who is the great-granddaughter of Charlotte, Aveah.

The original edition of Resistance and Renewal began as a master’s thesis by Celia Haig-Brown, a non-Indigenous woman (as am I), and has resulted in this new edition. Haig-Brown had worked with Indigenous people in the Kamloops area as a teacher in two of the secondary schools, in her involvement in rodeo production through Grasslands Rodeo Company and as coordinator of the Kamloops site of the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) for prospective elementary teachers. Haig-Brown feels it is through “direct involvement” with the words of the people, that “a non-Indigenous person [can] do justice to Indigenous perspectives.”

A valuable aspect of the book is an appendix, “Study Notes,” which describes Haig-Brown’s approaches to her research and interviews.

With the publication of this new book, readers will recognize the name of the school that has been in the news due to the detection of 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. (The buildings are now owned by Tk’emlúps te Sewépemc.)

As Paul and Kathryn Michel, children of two survivors attest: “Resistance is a continuous process and that renewal is not only possible, but imperative. The [original] book foreshadowed the tragedy of the unmarked graves, which exposed decades of abuses. It is within such tragedies that we need to find our strength to move forward as a way of honouring the innocent lives lost.”

Tsqelmucwílc is dedicated “to the 215 + | Le Estcwicwéy̓” [“the missing”] and all those who did not survive. May they live on in our hearts and minds, and may their truths continue to teach.”

May they be remembered in the stories, the dancing, the languages of the Sewépemc, Nlaka’pamux and Tsilhqut’in people. (These are the Nations of which the thirteen survivors were or are members.)

Now that we’ve heard the stories, it is our responsibility to pass them on.


Mary Ann Moore. Photo by Wendy Morisseau

Mary Ann Moore is a poet, writer and writing mentor who lives on the unceded lands of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Nanaimo. The author of a book of poetry, Fishing for Mermaids (Leaf Press, 2014), Moore also leads writing circles and has published two writing resources: Writing to Map Your Spiritual Journey and Writing Home: A Whole Life Practice (Flying Mermaids Studio). Visit her blog here.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

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