Friday, September 22, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: The Unfairness, Unjustness, and Inhumanity of It All

When I was a girl living in the North,
I keenly felt the unfairness, the injustice, and the inhumanity
in the way aboriginal people were treated by white people.
I observed this treatment, but I primarily absorbed it
through my relationships with my Ojibwa and Métis friends
in Lansdowne House, Lac Seul, and Sioux Lookout.
My girlhood shock and outrage have never left me.

We Five Shortly Before Moving to the North
Roy, Donnie, Louise (Me) with Bertie, and Barbie
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada  Fall 1960
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

When I first moved to Lansdowne House in 1961
and attended its Church of England Indian Day School,
I thought that the government, the church,
the schools, and the Hudson's Bay Company,
were there to help the Ojibwa achieve better lives.
I had no idea of the complex and troubled history
between Canadian institutions and aboriginal people. 

However, I soon sensed that the way white people
interacted with the Ojibwa was paternalistic.
I may not have understood the full meaning of paternalism,
but I was increasingly aware
that the Ojibwa were considered less than whites.

I could see the poverty that the Ojibwa lived in,
and I could hear the way that white adults talked about them.
I grasped that the white adults around me
thought our way of life was superior to that of the Ojibwa,
and that the lives of the Ojibwa would be greatly improved
if they abandoned their primitive ways and adopted our modern ones.
What took me longer to sense was the cost of such a transition for the Ojibwa.

Indian Camps on Shore of Nipigon Lake
Photograph by Joseph Burr Tyrrell, 1906
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, 
Toronto, Ontario Canada, M5S 1A5
Part of: MS. Coll. 26 Tyrrell (Joseph Burr) Papers

At that time I had no knowledge of the 1876 Indian Act,
of the government's intent to subsume indigenous people
by destroying their languages and cultures,
nor of the cruel treatment of indigenous children in Indian schools.

I recognized that my experiences as a white girl
attending an Indian Day School were in no way typical
of an indigenous student's experiences,
but I had no comprehension of how the Indian educational system
had been used to demean and to undermine indigenous cultures.  

I only knew that my father was my best teacher ever
and that he wanted all of his students to learn and to succeed,
not just his offspring, but his Ojibwa children as well.

From the time I was a small child,
I knew that my father believed in the necessity of reading and writing English well.
So it was no surprise to me that in his classroom in Lansdowne House,
my father's primary focus was teaching English to his students.
He didn't care if we were white or copper,
but he did care that we improve our English skills
at whatever level we were at as students.

My father insisted that we four siblings spoke to our classmates in English,
for he believed that his Ojibwa students
would improve their English skills by interacting with us.
That insistence worked with Roy, Donnie, and myself,
but not so much with four-year-old Barbie
who was having fun learning Ojibway from her Ojibwa friends.

My father was not someone who ridiculed or punished a student
for speaking Ojibway in the classroom or on the school grounds.
I doubt at the time he completely understood the insidious nature
of the Canadian government's drive to teach indigenous people English;
although, I think he quickly developed a full understanding of it 
as he gained more experience in the Indian Affairs Branch.

Barbie and Dad
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada  Winter 1962
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don't think many people spend much time thinking about
how fundamental their native language is to their very essence;
I know I certainly didn't. I'm just beginning to grasp its significance now.

A native language shapes who you are, how you relate to others,
and how you understand the world around you.
It connects you to your parents, your grandparents, and your past,
and it encompasses your culture, traditions, and spirituality.

When a government deliberately implements policies
that separate a group of people from its native language, 
what it is actually doing is committing cultural genocide,
particularly if it separates children from their parents
and puts them in government schools
designed to eradicate their language and culture.

By disrupting families a government is preventing
the transmission of language, culture, and identity
from one generation to the next.

Group of students, Indian Industrial School
Brandon, Manitoba, 1946
Library and Archives Canada
Credit / Mention de source :
Canada. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque. 
Library and Archives Canada, PA-048574
Reference No. / Numéro de référence : MIKAN 3381315, 4112011

In Canada, for well over a century,
it was the goal of the Canadian government,
not just to eradicate indigenous languages and cultures,
but to eliminate First Nations peoples 
by ultimately absorbing them
into the mainstream, white, western culture.
Indians were to cease to exist legally, culturally, and racially.  

I think that Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald,
expressed this goal for the new nation of Canada
when he told the House of Commons in 1883:

"When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; 
he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write
his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian.
He is simply a savage who can read and write.

"It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department,
that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence,
and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools
where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men." 

Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future:
Summary  of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada:

Sir John A. Macdonald, 1872

When I lived in Lansdowne House, I didn't know that our first Prime Minister,
a key figure in Canadian Confederation, had uttered such words, 
and I didn't understand that Indian schools were a powerful tool for achieving that goal.

Had I read MacDonald's words at that time,
I would have recognized that, according to him,
I was living among savages and attending school with savages on their reservation.

I would also have known that my Ojibwa friends were not savages
and that our heroic Father of Confederation was very wrong.

Now it's more than fifty years later,
and there have been improvements in the relationships
between Canadian institutions and aboriginal people.

We still have a way to go as white Canadians,
but I think we are finally understanding with our hearts
the unfairness, the unjustness, and the inhumanity
with which aboriginal Canadians were treated in the past. 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Lansdowne House Lies in the Wilderness
West of James and Hudson Bays

Lansdowne House 
Northern Ontario, Canada

Map of the Eastern British Provinces in North America
at the time of Confederation 1867


  1. A powerful, powerful post, Louise. Macdonald's speech should be required reading for every Canadian so all will see the explicit cultural genocide that was official government policy for so many decades.

    1. Thank you so much, Debra. It's a short post, but it took many hours to come together. I absolutely agree that it should be required reading for every Canadian. Macdonald's speech is stunning to read, and it rocks the foundation of what I once thought it was to be Canadian. We can't change the past, but we can learn from it and use that knowledge to build a better future. Have a good one, my friend!

  2. That is truly horrific. That would be like trying to force all of Europe to speak only English, losing so many languages in the process. As it is, most Europeans speak several languages and have not lost their culture. That's a better way to do it.

    1. It is horrific, Alex! This dark side of Canadian history was nowhere to be found in my early history books. It was all about the hardy voyageurs, the brave priests, the noble Company trading out of Hudson Bay bringing enlightenment and our civilizing ways to the primitive Indians. I went North with Romantic ideas and left with outrage and heartache. Have a good one, my friend!

  3. I think it's good that you never lost your shock and outrage. These feelings are necessary to affect a change. I have never lost my shock and outrage over the way African Americans were treated when they fought for their civil rights. The dogs threatening and biting people. The powerful fire hoses spraying them. The murders. The time in jail. The people who spat upon black children when they integrated schools.I hope I never become so complacent about human rights that I lose my shock and outrage for the people who are denied them.


    1. Hi, Janie! I, too, was shocked and outraged over the way African Americans were treated during their struggle for civil rights. I was also very smug as a young Canadian, secure in the thought that we treated our minorities much better than the US. How paternalistic is that!

      Having been born shortly after the end of World War II, my childhood had been filled with the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Understandable, perhaps, because it directly impacted my family. TV brought everything into our living rooms in a powerful and immediate way, from the Holocaust, to the horrors of WWII and Vietnam, to the shocking struggle of African Americans for civil rights.

      When I found myself in front of third graders in the US required to teach them about Martin Luther King Jr. in celebration of his national holiday, I couldn't be cutsy and tickety-boo about it all. I remembered how deceived and lied to I felt when I learned the sordid truth about Canada's history. So I showed my third graders videos with the content you outlined above, especially one video that contained black children slammed against a wall with gushing fire hoses and cowering from threatening dogs. I wanted them to see the reality, and I had faith in their ability to handle it. I think we coddle our children too much in our early elementary grades here in the US. We live in a cruel and inhuman world, and we have to fight against it with truth, knowledge, and love.

      Sending you love and hugs, my friend!

      (I know you think "affected" is more correct ~ LOL ~ but I think it is too tame when referring to injury and death.)

    2. Oops! I forgot I had that partial comment scrolled down at the end. I'm hoping you realized I was referring to the use of "affected" vs "impacted."

  4. It is just down right pathetic how elected leaders can think that way. Yeah, let's force our way upon them. Just a more subtle way than wiping them out in one of the many wars of the past. Language sure does shape us. I realize that as the cat makes fun of the many idioms, which must drive non English speakers nuts. Like that one right there. Driven nuts could be taken many a way lol

    1. Hey, Mr. Hatt! I love how the cat plays with words in his claws like an unfortunate and doomed mouse! His sharp wit eviscerates the inconsistencies in language and in human behavior, much to my delight. You could have made a phenomenal teacher, Pat! And you would have had the cleanest classroom in the country ~ LOL Have a good one, my friend!

    2. I thought about it way back when, but more student loan debt it would have been at our den. Uggg to that. And yep, no germs for the class from Pat Hatt.

    3. Uggg for sure! Student loan debt can be a big burden. The cost of higher education has to be addressed in both of our countries!

  5. It's a shame elected leaders advocated such policies, as the aborigines lived in their own country! You are right to have your concerns. I have many asian friends who don't speak their native language! A well written piece. You present yourself well.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Andrew! It's sad when people don't speak their native language. I certainly see that among second and third generation Hispanic and Asian people in the US. I consistently encouraged my non-English parents to teach their children their native language and stressed how important and advantageous it was to be bilingual today. Sometimes I had to push back against other teachers and administrators who insisted that parents should only speak to their children in English! Have a good one, my poetic friend!

    2. Thank you. My asian friends are third generation British citizens. Sorry you had your conflicts. It is advantageous to speak another language, and also very clever! I can't remember hardly any French that I learned at school! Shame. My ex-girlfriend spoke French, German and Spanish - as well as her English! I liked the sound of some of the words she spoke! Have a nice Sunday. Blessings to you, my Friend.

      Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  6. I have the utmost confidence in PM Trudeau's intentions to once and fore all get rid of that racist Indian Act and give Indigenous peoples the right to govern themselves and not depend on government handouts any longer. Yes, it will take time but for future generations it will have been worth the wait.

    1. I hope Trudeau does, Jim! The contrast between Trudeau and Trump is stark; Trudeau is a bright light in my world. Mitigating the wrongs of the past will take generations, because they have resulted in dire social consequences such as substance abuse, alcoholism, violence, despair, and suicide. There is no place for the sordid Indian Act in 21st century Canada.

  7. I am surprised that you could find that speech, I thought that maybe it had been obliterated from all records, so damming, and abusive. I hope in time, life will be better for all in the far north, families and friends together, no matter what colour, race or creed. Keep on keeping on, I so enjoy your words, and it gives me a picture of the real life as it was then, and in reality, not all that long ago. Hope all is well with you, Hugh and I are running at about 50% to 75% on better days. The ortho visit yesterday went well, X-Ray showed no separation of his acromion bone, so Hugh thinks he is able to do everything again!!! Invincible is his second name!!!

    1. What is it about men??? LOL! I am really happy to hear that you and Hugh are coming along, Jean! It's got to be so frustrating! That's a pretty astounding speech, isn't it? I'm shocked every time I read it. I wish I had another lifetime just to study history. Life is so short, and there is so much to explore and learn. Terry and I are doing well. He should be finished playing pickleball and back on the bus soon. I've been busy running around Victoria, writing, and visiting the museum. Already we're at the halfway point of our trip. :( Oh well, hopefully there is next year and a return trip. All the better to see Victoria with, after cataract surgery for both of us. Take care, my friend. Love and hugs to you, Hugh, and the kitties!

  8. I'd say Candadians have done quite well getting over racism. Just look who is your head of state

    now our Head of State....ugh

    1. I so agree, Adam! But Canada has a lot to make up for still in its treatment of its aboriginal people. Trudeau has sworn to get rid of the Indian Act, and I hope he does. Have a great weekend with Daisy!

  9. I think you were born with a compassionate nature and that has helped you through your amazing journey. We should respect different cultures not make them conform to a certain set of ideals. I know that elders are trying to bring back some of the old ways, to teach the next generations so their heritage is not forgotten.

    1. I see great hope in what people are doing around the world to preserve their heritages. The light in our world is diminished with each culture that is extinguished. Have a good one, my friend!

  10. Such a powerful post, Louise! I, too, was affected by the Nazis, because my father became their prisoner during WWII and my cousin told me that they pulled out my father's toe nails. I only heard about this a few months ago, my father never told me about it. He did, however, tell his older brother (now deceased), so my cousin heard about it from her father. Love and hugs to you, my cherished friend.

    1. Happy Saturday morning, Linda! I gasped out loud when I read about your father being tortured. What a horrific thing to have endured! Many WW II POWs have not talked about their war experiences with close family members. I'm glad that your father and mother spared you that knowledge when you were growing up. We have been able to live peaceful lives because of the sacrifices made by men and women like your father.

      My father was just young enough to have missed serving during the war, although he was in the Canadian forces shortly after. My mother was a secretary in the air force; part of her job was typing the letters to inform families that their loved one had been killed in the war. She had to type a letter once to a family she knew in her village to inform them that their last son of four had been killed, after having their other three killed previously in the war.

      I grew up among discrimination for those of German descent. I understood it to a certain extent because the war and its cost was still fresh in people's minds, but it always bothered me because these were Canadians of German descent, not Germans. No one comes out of a war unscathed.

      Enjoy your weekend, my dear friend! Sending warm hugs!

  11. I live ten mile from the Seneca reservation in New York State and I'm so aware of how the white people wanted to obliterate the Indian culture. The government broke a treaty with the Senecas signed by George Washington which established the boundary of their reservation. In the sixties they forcefully took back their land to build Kinzua Dam to control the water flow to Pittsburgh. The day the Supreme Court ruled it legal white men went to the Indians home and drove them out burning their house behind them. The cruelty of that makes me cry today. I am not proud of the way our government treats others. We have a sad history.

    1. You written before about what happened on the Seneca reservation,Peggy, and the cruelty always makes me sick at heart. The Canadian government made treaties it never thought it would have to keep, because those in government believed the "savages" would die out. The Beothuk did in Newfoundland. Our countries have had sad histories. It takes a long time to climb out of the primal slime; my hope is that our countries continue to evolve into a better future.

      Good people must speak out and stand up against wrongdoing. My father spoke out and stood up when he saw things that were wrong, as did my mother. They paid with the loss of their jobs more than once; and even though that impacted me as a teenager, I was proud of them. I will always be proud of them. My parents weren't perfect by any means, but they taught we five important values like compassion, empathy, and respect for the dignity of others.

      Have a lovely weekend, my friend! "Hi" to Don, and gentle pats to Sadie!

  12. Your posts are so important. I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone if I tell you that I STILL hear the word "savage" today. We have an Indian neighbour (don't know her full heritage)...but the local Quebecois call her a "savage" because she keeps to herself and steers clear of the village drama. It's enraging, but I've learned that you can't change people, only your reaction to them. She knows what they call her. I find it ignorant.

    I have my own opinions and thoughts relating to why our country tried to erase the language of the Ojibwa and other native people. It's not popular but I feel it has everything to do with the church...anyway, I hate talking religion, I always ruffle feathers...good post. :)

    1. Thanks for sharing, Rain! Your sharing reminds me so much of a family that lived next to us in Sioux Lookout. The father was white and was away a lot for his job. I don't remember what he did, but it was likely something in the bush. His common-law wife was either Cree or Ojibwa. They had two children about the age of seven and nine. The wife and children were doubly-damned because they were Indian, the mother not married and the children illegitimate half-breeds. Never once did I see the children come out to play, and I only saw the mother a handful of times. They were afraid. I certainly heard words around the neighborhood, like "whore," "bastards," and "savages." I'll never forget the faces of that boy and his younger sister peeking out the front window when the neighborhood kids and us were out playing, dark hair, dark eyes, solemn and longing faces.

      Of course, women who keep to themselves and stay clear of the drama, especially when they live alone, are often demeaned. I remember living in the countryside near Alymer, Ontario, when I was in grade two. There we called them "witches."

      The church was a powerful presence in the North, but I won't say anything more. I'm betting we would agree on a lot of points!

    2. Count me in, ladies, on the subject that we will not speak of. I have my own opinions of this, too. And I'm sure the three of us would have one heck of an interesting conversation!

  13. A very powerful and meaningful post Louise! I thank you for writing it! I truly hope Trudeau will do everything he says! In my heart, I do think he will! Big Hugs!

    1. I think Trudeau will, too, Stacy. Trudeau is a bright light shining on an increasingly darker world stage. I am very proud for all that he stands for as a leader. Your books/bags questions gave me a mental workout, because it was so hard for me to choose favorites and articulate why I had chosen them. Take care and have an awesome week! Sending big hugs to you!

    2. Hey Beautiful Soul! I want to thank you for the amazing response on my bags and books! Funny you said that about my logo, on those two designs, because I was thinking the same thing! The "pattern" for making these, have very strict rules for placement, so I might try to do my logo in maybe the same colour, but a shade darker and have it a little smaller. The sizes were there, but you had to press the button for more information. What I am trying to do, is to get some in my Etsy shop. That's why I was asking for everyone's opinion. The only struggle I am having now, is, the size of my notebooks. There are two different sizes. One larger and one smaller. The larger one's front cover is, 7.5" x 10.25" and the spine is .25" or the smaller one's front cover is, 5.25" x 8.5" and the spine is .25". Which size do you like? I like the larger one! Sorry to ask so many questions! LOL!
      I agree Trudeau is a bright light shining! I am proud of him!
      Big Hugs and thanks again!

    3. Hi, Stacy! Thank you! I definitely would prefer the larger size of notebook myself. I missed the button to press on for more info ~ LOL I'll have to go back and look again. Let me know when you get things set up with etsy. I would definitely like to buy one of your beautiful creations! Take care, and big hugs to you!

    4. Lord, if that "more info" button had teeth, it could have bitten my nose off front and center. LOL

    5. LOL! You are too cute! Thank you!!!

  14. wow, wow, wow! so much information and depth - thank you for sharing this important historical knowledge that so many more should hear and learn from. your entries are amazing.

    Tara Tyler Talks

    1. Thanks, Tara. I'm glad that you found my post informative!!! Have a good one!

  15. This frustrates me so much I can't comment on it. And I'm not even Canadian! (Of course we have more than our share of shameful history in the States.)
    Thank you for posting it. A sober lesson for all of us.

    1. Hi, Sue! It's good to see you! It is sad that there is a lot of shameful history to go around. Dig into the history of any country, and you're going to find shameful things. It was very hard for me growing up and realizing that, although the US and Canada were "heroic" countries to me, they had things in their pasts that were horrific. Hopefully, things will improve into the future. Have a good one!

  16. It's crazy to read this, to try to even fathom what this is like. It seems like such a long ago thing, and yet it really wasn't. And as you mentioned above, this is a dark side of Canadian history that they really don't teach about in schools. And you know what they say about those ignoring the past being doomed to repeat it.

    1. I know it's crazy! I'm glad that things are improving at last. As for how long ago it was, I can't believe I was alive way back then ~ LOL!

  17. Your post is quite grave deat Louise,

    I found tears in my eyes while reading about injustice planted by a political leader as aspected .

    Word "savage "gave me shrink ,it is painful to see such ignorance around when your soul was so delicate and heart so sensitive.

    I remember my non stop sadness and gloom over the porvty ,homelessness, injustice and cruelties of powerful upon weak which was seemed to licken away all my blood for years (almost 30 years old) as being human i couldn't find myself at ease while eating, smiling and having other blessings that many did not had.

    I feel your spiritual strength so deep and so high when you point out flaws of your own leadership and that requires highly strong and deeply sensitive heart my dear friend!

    I live in Pakistan where English ruled for years and though they left in mid nintees but English language was applied in all offices .

    Each provence school started education in national language Urdu along with the one subject in local language.

    Each government school was asked to add in curriculum baisic alphabetical book of English from grade 6.
    I found first English book of alphabets in grade six.

    Later Government allowed private schools which have all subjects in English but still they keep one subject of local and one of national language.

    This is horrible that sometimes we see that Education doesn't make any difference in the way of thinking of many people and they "who are actual ignorant and savage " think in such mean way for other.

    Keep writing my pure beautiful friend!

    First pic is great treasure

    1. Thank you for your deeply thoughtful and heartfelt comment, Baili! I was teary-eyed at your response and at the thought of all that you have experienced in your lifetime. It is very difficult to understand why some people have so much and others have so little in our increasingly-troubled world. Equally, I wonder why I should be among the fortunate and others not.

      I am constantly amazed at your courage and ability to write stories, poetry, and blog posts in English, which is a language so different from Urdu. You put me to shame, dear friend! And to think you didn't have an English language alphabet book until the 6th grade! People who speak more than one language have a richer understanding of what it is to be human. I'm really glad that we connected, Baili! You are a bright light in this world, and I am blessed that you are my friend! And, yes, I consider that first picture a great treasure! Hugs to you!

  18. Sadly, we still have people today that think the white race is superior. Savage is such a nasty term to describe someone. Sometimes you have to wonder if the aboriginal people would have been much better off without the interference in their culture and trying to snuff out their native language. I think shedding light on the struggles of the Indian peoples is so important. This is a part of Canada's history that I had never learned about until coming here and reading your posts.

  19. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Theresa! The main reason I am writing a memoir about our family's time in the North is because it illuminates a period in Canadian history many people know little about. I had an unusual opportunity to live among the Ojibwa in a tiny and remote community in Northern Ontario, and I want to share that experience because it occurred at a major turning point for First Nations peoples in the North. I might have given up writing my memoir were it not for this blog. My blog has enabled me to tackle my memoir in manageable pieces and to process my feelings from that time which have impacted whole my life. Comments like yours encourage me to keep working on what often feels like an overwhelming task. Have a good one!

  20. Amazing post, Louise! It was very difficult to read. My heart is aching. This was definitely cultural genocide. I think what upsets me the most is that never in all my years of schooling were we taught any of this. I was just telling my husband recently that this should be taught in every single school, so we know the truth. We should not be cherry picking what happened. I've gone through most of my life being ignorant of what these people suffered. Only in the last 10 years, and if that, have I discovered this side of history, mostly through my own research. I was stunned and quite angered. Thank you for sharing these thoughts! This is an important message.

    1. Thanks, Martha! It is a tragic story in Canadian history, and it should not be forgotten. I am glad that conditions for the First Nations peoples have improved, but it's going to take time to mitigate the consequences. It should be required in school here, and it's equivalent in schools across the border in the US.


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.