My mother, Tina Fox, had the privilege of presenting to Cochrane Ideas last fall and I write this column with her permission. Those in attendance learned directly from a residential school survivor in Elder Tina Fox. She spoke about her first day at residential school.
Her mother, Mary, had made her a brand new pair of moccasins for the occasion and braided her hair. Wearing her best dress, Fox was excited. Always curious, she did not anticipate what would happen next.
At Morley Indian Residential School, which was run by the United Church, Fox was met by a woman so uncaring that she felt scared. The school matron chopped off her braids, ordered her to undress, doused her with kerosene and coldly shoved her into the shower. Fox had never seen a shower in her life. She was frightened.
Fox was then issued a school uniform and new shoes. She never saw her treasured moccasins again and life was now devoid of kindness and compassion. Her innocence lost, she was in an institution in 1948 at a time when hatred was widely accepted.
The curriculum at the Morley Indian Residential School was typical of residential schools. Children were in school for half a day. The other half was spent at gender-based workstations. Children at this school were not being prepared for success. They were being indoctrinated, their identities destroyed.
Identity is a key factor when considering how residential school has affected First Nations people. The federal government’s policies on assimilation focused on destroying First Nations identities.
First Nations children were taught that their ways of life were heathen, that their beliefs were evil. A child’s first teachers are his or her parents. They were being conditioned to question their parent’s teachings. They were taught to question their beliefs and ultimately their own identities.
Fox recalls trying to act white in her youth. She and friend recall wearing long white gloves, proper dresses and hats in an effort to look white. However society would remind her that she was “Indian” when she entered places of business or tried to get employment.
Society rejected the products of residential schools just as many now do the result.
Fox, who experienced physical abuse, did go on to train as a certified nursing aide at the Calgary School of Nursing. It was a career that led her to Nova Scotia when she was 20 years old and one that led to different opportunities.
However, her father, Noah, did not have the same opportunities nor did his peers. They attended school during a darker period.
The reality is that an estimated 6,000 children died in residential schools in Canada. Horrific abuses took place in those institutions, identities were destroyed, languages lost.
Those who deny the effects of residential school will never truly appreciate just how survivors were affected. To walk a mile in their moccasins is to understand that cognitive imperialism has had devastating effects. It is to imagine being that scared child on her first day of school.