Friday, September 1, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Indian Education ~ A Beginning

For my next few northern posts, I want to share
some of my father's experiences as a teacher
and some of my experiences as a student
in Lansdowne House's Church of England Indian Day School.

The Church of England Indian Day School
The Mainland, Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father applied for the teaching position in Lansdowne House
in the summer of 1960 mainly out of curiosity,
and darned if he didn't land the job.

With the enticement of a good salary, a generous isolation allowance,
and the adventure of teaching Indians in the wilderness,
my father postponed his plans to return to Acadia University
to earn his Bachelor of Education degree and headed North.
I eagerly followed when my family joined him some five months later.

Both of us arrived in the remote community west of James Bay
knowing little about the reality of Indian schools in the Canadian North.
Both of us had experiences we never imagined and never forgot.

The Teacher and the Student
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The history of Indian schools, both day and residential,
in Canada is long, sordid, unconscionable, and tragic.

Much has been written about that dismal history
over the decades since my family was in Lansdowne House.

The Canadian Indian Residential School System primarily operated
from 1876 (with the passage of the Indian Act)
to 1996 (when the last government residential school closed).

What people sometimes forget is that there were also community day schools,
like my father's Church of England school and Uno Manilla's Roman Catholic one.

The main difference between the two was that
residential students were separated from their parents for the school year,
and day school students returned to their homes after school each day.

Both were funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and operated by Christian churches,
like the Church of England and Roman Catholic day schools in Lansdowne House.

The Roman Catholic Indian Day School
The Father's Island, Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The well-documented abuses that occurred in residential schools
also occurred in day schools throughout Canada.

In his unpublished handbook
"The Northern School Teacher" my father wrote:
"The primary purpose or goal of all Indian education
is the ultimate integration of the Indian population with the white population,
and the teacher has to familiarize her charges with the white man's way of doing things."

It sounds innocuous at first glance,
but it was anything but.
It was cultural genocide.

It was a deliberate attempt by government and church
to exterminate indigenous languages, traditions, and spiritual beliefs.

While my father and Uno did not intentionally harm their Indian students,
they were both tasked with teaching their students English,
familiarizing them with the dominant white culture,
and preparing them for assimilation into that culture.

Sadly, some people who were genuinely motivated
to work to improve the lives of Aboriginal people
found themselves operating in a system
initially designed to eliminate them.

"I want to get rid of the Indian problem.
... Our objective is to continue
until there is not a single Indian in Canada
that has not been absorbed into the body politic
and there is no Indian question,
and no Indian Department ... ."

Duncan Campbell Scott
Head of the Department of Indian Affairs 
from 1913 to 1932.  

There were a number of events that altered my father's plans
to pursue a career with the Department of Indian Affairs,
but certainly one important factor was his increasing dissonance
over the purpose of Indian education and the results
he observed throughout his time in northern Ontario.

Lansdowne House's Two Teachers (with Baby Duncan)
Uno Manilla ~ Roman Catholic School
Don MacBeath ~ Church of England School
Photo Probably by Duncan or Maureen McCrae
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Aboriginal children who were educated under this system
often felt they did not belong in Aboriginal or white society.
They were not skilled in their traditional ways,
nor did they receive an adequate education to function in white society.
Their feelings of worthlessness rippled down through the generations,
and it led to alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide.

I didn't have to read any of the vast number of pages
written about Aboriginal history in Canada to know this.

I have been haunted throughout my life
by the stories my Ojibwa friends shared,
by the suicide of one of my young Ojibwa friends,
and by the drawn-out, death-by-alcoholism of a Métis friend.

My father wrote his handbook in an effort to acquaint
the novice white teacher with the real challenges
of teaching in the Indian day schools of the North.

He adopted an "informal, reminiscent, and chatty manner" in his handbook
in an effort to inform the new teacher "without scaring him or her unnecessarily."

Unpublished M. Ed. Project Manuscript
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father wanted to provide new teachers with practical information,
unlike the "so-called introduction" he received
during "a one day indoctrination course" before going North.

He wrote:
"Far from being encouraging and informative,
the introduction that I received during my orientation course
was a veritable nightmare of half-truths, outright falsehoods,
rumors, and misrepresentation of facts."

The experience left my father so "mixed-up, frustrated, and apprehensive"
that he almost resigned on the spot and returned  to Nova Scotia.

When my father arrived in Lansdowne House,
he walked into a new one-room school with no furniture or desks,
limited supplies, and no school records.

He arrived a week late because of bad weather
that had prevented him from flying into the community.
Some of his students had already disappeared into the bush
headed for the winter traplines with their families,
their parents having concluded there was no school that year.
My father was on his own, or so he thought.
He quickly discovered that the small number of white people
in Lansdowne House would rally to help him.

My Father and Two of His Supportive Friends
Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.

1.  Uno Manilla:
     Uno was the teacher at the Roman Catholic Day School in Lansdowne House.  Prior to our family
     joining my father in the North, my father and Uno had bunked together in a shack or "cottage"
     on the Roman Catholic Mission grounds.   

2.  Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier:
     They were members of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
     a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.

3.  My father's Unpublished Handbook:
     The Northern School Teacher:  A Hand Book To Be Issued To All New Entrants To The Teaching
     Profession In The Indian Schools In The Sioux Lookout Indian Agency, 1966,
     Page 14 (Body) and Page 1 (Introduction).

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited


  1. Figures. Help not to help the aboriginals but to help themselves through assimilation, or some half-arsed version of it. That must have been frustrating indeed. Especially working with your hands tied. That fact that the spiel they gave was a lot of BS makes them sound like car salesmen or politicians, which I guess were the driving force.

    1. Happy Friday, my rhyming friend! When I was a girl growing up, I was guilty of a smug sense of superiority as a Canadian. I thought of "our" institutions as morally better than those of our southern neighbor: We treated "our" Indians and blacks better, we didn't have internment camps, we were Loyalists, we had a system of government more responsive to its people, we didn't have such extremes of poverty and wealth ...

      Oh boy oh boy did I have a lot of hard lessons to learn! And It took a while ~ because the winners do rewrite history in their favor ~ to realize that in the case of Native Americans and Aboriginals, key people in both governments early on decided that the solution to their "Indian problem" was to exterminate them.

      I no longer feel smug or superior, and sometimes my fundamental belief that the good in humankind outweighs the evil wavers.

      One reason I enjoy certain of your blog posts so much is that you expose hypocrisy, inconsistencies, pettiness, and frankly stupidity in human behavior ~ not to suggest that I only enjoy certain posts, but that I especially appreciate those that skewer the uglier side of humankind.

      Besides, you make us laugh, and we need more laughter in this world!
      Have a good one!

  2. Replies
    1. It is Sandi!
      When I first began writing about my family's experiences in the North, my brother remarked on how different our memories of the North were. For him they were times of adventure, exploration, and the pure joy of interacting with the Indians. I realized right away that I was too caught up in the "sordid, unconscionable, and tragic" side of what we experienced and that I had better balance it with the fun and joy we experienced. Because while there was a lot that was sad, there was a lot that was joyful and wonderful. Have a good one!

  3. Sad indeed. Thank you so much for sharing, dear Louise, and I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

    1. Thanks, Linda! The comments that you and others write in response to my northern posts always push me into reflections or clarifications in my thinking. These comments mean more to me than I can express, and I always appreciate them.

      This morning I am marveling at how two young kids, fourteen months apart in age and growing up in the same family, could experience such different things. I can write my story of Lansdowne House, Lac Seul, and Sioux Lookout, but I keep telling my brother Roy that he must write his story of Sachico Lake. He and my father spent many months in isolation there and apart from my mother and sisters and me. Both of us were shaped by our different experiences in the North.

      I hope that you have a fantastic weekend too, Linda! Today is Terry's and my 33rd wedding anniversary. With all that's been going on in the past couple of weeks, and the successful removal yesterday of a colony of bees living in one of our deck columns, I had forgotten! Terry had the pleasure of reminding me of our anniversary this morning. LOL Sending you love and hugs, my special Montreal friend!

  4. Roy definitely needs to write of his memories. That must have been more hardship for them both, and for your mum to manage by herself. I so enjoy the Lansdowne stories. Always. Happy Anniversary.

    1. Thanks for the anniversary wishes, Jean! I'm sitting here wondering where the heck 33 years went! It was just a heartbeat ago that Terry and I got married.

      I've been working on Roy. I've got the Sachico letters, but he has the incredible memories. Of we five siblings, only Donnie is not a writer; but then, she is the only one who can play classical piano ~ well any piano!

      Yes, more hardship and separation for my mother and father, and even more to follow; but throughout it all they loved each other and couldn't imagine having been happy with anyone else. Like countless other couples, they tried to do their best and provide their children with better lives than they had experienced.

      Wishing you and Hugh a relaxing weekend. I do hope that Hugh is improving every day. Sending you both love and hugs!

  5. Happy anniversary to you and your beloved husband! I have seen one or two movies about the residential schools. They were sad, but it was a different time. Most people thought that assimilating people into the dominant culture was good and the right thing to do. I think only a few of the decision makers were intentionally cruel. The world wasn't as "culturally aware" as it is now. As for different views of the same events, Jeannette Walls, who wrote the huge bestselling memoir "The Glass Castle," recalled visiting a zoo where her father helped her reach through the bars of a cage to pet a magnificent panther. They stopped only when a crowd gathered to shout at them to stop and a security guard came. After she wrote about that incident, her brother said that he remembered the panther as small and mangy and not even being in a cage. He thought it roamed about the zoo as it pleased. They asked their mother what she remembered. Her response was that the description of the panther was a bit of both of their recollections. I know my sisters have extremely different views of things that I remember from childhood. After all these years, one of my sisters is still angry that as the youngest child in the family, I got to have new furniture in my bedroom. As I recall it, my mother gave away the bunk beds that another sister and I slept in so that my oldest nephew (my mother's oldest grandchild) could have them. The sister who shared the bunk beds with me moved out to an apartment she shared with friends. For quite some time, I slept on a roll-away bed that we had owned for more years than I had been alive. When I was about thirteen, my mother bought a mattress for me. I slept on the mattress on the floor. Eventually, I did get a brand-spanking-new headboard and box springs for my mattress and a matching chest of drawers. The older kids took their beds and some other furniture with them when they left home. Because I was the youngest, there wasn't any furniture left for me when my nephew got the bunk beds. So to me, I waited a long time to have bedroom furniture, but to my sister, those two pieces of furniture were cause for great jealousy. That's why eye witness accounts of crimes should be met with a great deal of skepticism in court. We all see things so differently.


    1. Hi, Janie! Thanks for sharing your memories and perspective! We all do see things so differently, and perhaps nothing is more complicated than the lifelong connection among siblings! I often say that family cross-currents are the roughest to swim. Many people did think that life would be much better for the First Nations peoples if they assimilated, but no one bothered to ask them what they thought, and the dominate culture did not appreciate the wisdom and knowledge of the First Nations people. It is my great hope that humankind will overcome its differences and come to appreciate one another for the amazing unique individuals we are! Just call me a dreamer like John Lennon! Have a great weekend, my friend! Hugs and love to you!

    2. The people who made those decisions for the First Nations people saw things in a different way, just like my sister who thinks that I got to have new furniture.

    3. I forgot to say that I'm a dreamer, too.

    4. Laughing at your sister ~ Terry and I went without new living room furniture for the first 17 years of our marriage. In a couple of places our living room was empty. LOL I'd rather spend money on other things.

  6. What a horrible position that your father was put in. He's a much better person than I because I would have headed for the hills instead of trying to assimilate the indigenous people to white culture.

    Have a great weekend Fundy Blue!

    1. Thanks, Theresa! The hopeful news is that the First Nations peoples began rebelling against the system in the 1960s and found their political power to fight for change. It going to take generations to undo the legacy of despair, suicides, violence, and substance abuse plaguing First Nations peoples, but they are making progress.

  7. So sorry for all of the suffering. Poverty must have been rife amongst the Indians as well. I admire anyone that teaches, you have so much to put up with! Gladly we live in better times in our respective countries. Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed reading. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed reading this, Andrew! Poverty is still rampant among the First Nation communities, but things have improved. Two of the major problems in northern Ontario are the lack of clean water to drink and resources to deal with the suicide crisis among young Aboriginals. Teaching is a challenging career, but working with young people is so rewarding. Have a great weekend, my poetic friend!

  8. Oh, and have a happy anniversary, 33 years is testament to your love for each-other.

    1. Thanks, Andrew! I am so lucky to have found such a wonderful guy! I love him even more now than when I married him 33 years ago. He is my rock!

  9. This is the post that you accidently published before completing and I commented on, isn't it?
    You should think of writing a book about all of this, Louise, or maybe you plan to!
    Waiting to hear how others will rally around to help your Dad!
    Happy Anniversary to you! Richard and I are 34 years married!

    1. Hi, Kay! Yes this is the post I accidentally published before completing it! LOL I am working on a book, but it's a slow process. This blog has helped me find my way. I've been able to process a lot emotionally and mentally, and I think I've found the balance between my father's voice and mine, and between the light and the dark. My book is a personal memoir, but I am also going to address what happened after we left: religious conflict, Aboriginal rights, the Ring of Fire chromium controversy, the violence and suicide crisis, the end of the Hudson Bay fur trade, and environmental issues ~ It's almost overwhelming, but I believe I was born to write this. Also, I need to return to Lansdowne House and see it again. I have not contacted any Ojibwa in the community yet, because it's important for me to work through my memories and records without any new knowledge that might impact those memories. I have to live a long time to pull all this together ~ LOL

      You, too, have been fortunate in finding Richard! When we find the right person, our lives are made! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  10. How timely for this post, Louise. this past week the Federal Government in Canada is making definite plans for the dismantlement of that horrid and racist 'Indian Act' of 1876. It is a gigantic task to the government has taken on. They are also taking definite steps in giving Indigenous Peoples (each community) their own self-determining governments. They would run all aspects of their lives.
    Yes, it will take a while but the process is about to begin. I am wondering what your parents would be thinking about this.
    Oh, on a lighter note....I LOVE that photo of you to the right of your father's photo.
    You were/are 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed' in your approach to living your life. May you always have this energy, Louise.

    1. Yes!!! That horrid and racist Indian Act needs to go. It's taken fifty years to reach this point, because First Nations people were beginning to push back when we were in the North. My parents would be excited!!!!! I love that photo of me too! I was thrilled because Mom let me borrow her necklace to wear for the school photo. Wait till you see my bee post! Don't hold your breath ~ I've got to get to Victoria first, but I've got some cool photos! Have an awesome rest of the week!

  11. It is tragic and sad indeed, cultural genocide has long reaching consequences, even all these generations later. My relatives that still live on the Rez are not much better off than they ever have been in the past... it makes me thankful my Dad refused to go back or the outcome of myself and my brother could have been very much different and much more bleak. It is good you write the Truths about such things, they don't teach it at all in our Schools here in America, what was done to the indigenous people of North America... it is the Secret Shame even Today.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Bohemian! I am hopeful that things will improve as Aboriginal people speak out and use their political power. Take care!

  12. Hello dear Louise,
    Unfortunately this a story that applies everywhere white communities established themselves.
    Truly sad, a loss for the world and a great deal of unnecessary suffering.
    Your father was courageous to make stand against it, certainly a pioneer in the respect of other cultures.
    Warm hugs and enjoy the coming week :)

    1. It is the story everywhere and throughout history! Wishing you a happy week and sending you big hugs, Noushka!

  13. That is a great post Fundy Blue and I really look forward to the next one. How wonderful that you have such a great part of history in your family. The abuses in Indian schools were sad indeed. I can't wait to read what your dad does next! :)

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Rain! They'll help me keep going as I write! Take care!

  14. what sad an interesting post dear when I was reading I noticed I dont have idea about some things.
    Sad for your dad too.Send you love !

    1. Thanks, Gloria! I appreciate your kind comment! Love and hugs to you!

  15. So tragic! So sad!!! It's just horrible!!
    Thank you again, for sharing so much with us Louise!
    Big Hugs!

    1. Hi, Stacy! I just came in from our Sunday night dinner and drinks at our favorite bar and grill, and I said I've got to check in with Magic Crow Love, and here you are! (I've had two glasses of wine!!). Thanks for your encouragement! Have a great week!

  16. I am glad to see that there was cooperation between the two church schools. We certainly ddin't know we were destroying a culture, which is sad, but cultures change, also, and none of us are the same as we were in 1960

    1. Very true, Sage. Governments, people, things have changed, improved somewhat, since 1960. It gives me hope for the future. Have a great week, mt friend!

  17. Glad it worked out. Change is inevitable. Interesting post, thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi, Nasreen! Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a kind comment. I've been traveling, so I fell behind on replying to comments. So sorry! I enjoyed reading about your childhood beach Tuncurry. It looks divine. Have a good one!

  18. The government does not always make the best decisions for the native people as we have witnessed time and time again. Your kind father knew that those coming into a situation like his would need more guidance than he got. It wasn't an accident that your father ended up in that situation. AS a teacher I know that he was put there for a reason. He touched their lives.

    1. Thanks, Peggy! You are always kind and encouraging. I'm up in Victoria now. I've been traveling, and I didn't realize I had comments unanswered, until I went back to past posts and checked. I'll be catching up, now that we're settled into our little hotel. I hope all is well with you, Don, and Sadie!

  19. thank you so much for sharing this dear Louise!!!

    your father looks to have very strong personality and same strength i realized in your beautiful smile in the photos you showed above .

    he seemed like a great man with vision and selflessness who dived in worst ocean just to save others.

    he was man of virtues indeed and i can see the graceful shine of his devotion and sincerity as human for others.

    In my 47 years of life observation i never saw any government loyal to it's people .
    First of all my heart aches for calling the locals as aboriginals ,how rude and how sick!

    power often make people selfish and that is what governments are usually .
    i am thoroughly enjoying reading the story of common man with extra ordinary will power and self confidence .
    Lots and lots of best wishes for you my dear friend

    1. Hi, Baili! Thanks you for your kind words, as always. Terry and I have traveled to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and will be here for a while. I didn't realize I had comments to reply to on this post until now. And of course I have a lot of catching up to do!

      In the past Canada's indigenous people were referred to as Indians. The word "Indians" is considered incorrect by some people now. The descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada prefer to be called "First Nations people." More precisely, they prefer to be called by the nation they belong to, like Ojibwa or Cree.

      Aboriginals is a term that includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. As far as I know, it is not considered incorrect or rude in Canada, although it may be thought so in other places.

      How to refer to people who have been discriminated against so badly in the past is difficult. First Nations people in Canada make me think of black people in the US ~ Do you refer to them as blacks, African Americans ~ definitely not negroes or colored people? I try to be sensitive and correct, but I know that inevitably I will make an unintended mistake.

      You've hit on a problem with government and power. We have a saying here, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Powerful people usually don't want to share that power or give it up. Another saying is, "It's good to be king!" I'm sure there are a lot of benefits that come with being powerful, but I am very happy to be a regular person.

      Take care, my dear friend! I'll be by very soon!

  20. Wow! What a fascinating post! I'm so glad that you're writing about these experiences and I can't wait to read more! Being schooled in an American midwest public school, we were never taught how the Native populations were continuously mistreated and like you say culturally assassinated so they wouldn't pose a "problem". It wasn't until much later that I learned only a part of the dark reality. I'm glad you're shining an even bigger light on the subject. Happy Writing!

    1. Hi, Kathryn! Thanks for your kind comments and sharing your experiences in school. I could use a clone just to explore history for me. It's a fascinating subject, and it has often been written by those who conquered or won. I, too, was misled in school, and there was a lot that I didn't learn in university. I'll never forget how betrayed and shocked I felt when I learned that Canadian Japanese were interred in the interior of British Columbia. I knew that had happened in the US, but in Canada? I'm all for shining a light on the dark realities of history! Have a great week!

  21. It was definitely cultural genocide, Louise, but during those times it was considered normal to behave this way. And of course, these actions have had a crippling effect to future generations socially, emotionally and psychologically. I feel so sorry for all that has happened and I dream about the day when we will embrace and celebrate differences. Wishful thinking, I know, but still.

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