How to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Good Morning!
To read parts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2016 report is to start to understand the full bureaucratic nature of the residential schools. The report is so long because of the huge scale of the system that kept residential schools operating. That system, the report makes clear, failed Indigenous people wholly and continuously for decades. It also shows how that system was made up of people: adults who themselves failed the children entrusted to their care. For all those who need to know more, click through to the actual report. I also found this 2018 documentary by Mission Public Schools to be particularly impactful. Take care. —Tyler Olsen, managing editor

Today’s main story is about residential schools. A 24/7 crisis line available for residential school survivors and their families who need counselling support: 1-866-925-4419.

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St. Mary's in Mission was one of 2 residential schools in the Fraser Valley. 📸  National Centre For Truth And Reconciliation
‘I absolutely refuse to assume responsibility’

The Fraser Valley’s 2 residential schools operated for a combined 168 years and inflicted the same horrors endemic to a nationwide system that had a fatality rate for children that exceeded that of soldiers in the Second World War.

The 2016 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report lays out how the failings of the schools and the harm they exacted on Indigenous people both nationally and on a local level, with upsetting details about St. Mary’s in Mission and Coqualeetza Institute in Chilliwack. The report also made it clear that Canadians need to learn more about the impact of a system specifically designed to “get rid of the Indian problem.”

It shows how government and church officials here, in the Fraser Valley, took children from their parents, hired sexual abusers to supervise children, disregarded accounts of staff violence and poor food, crowded boys and girls into unsafe facilities, and intimidated those who raised concerns. The report is a damning account of racism, neglect, parsimony, and the abdication of personal and societal responsibility.

Coercion was fundamental to the system. In 1900, a school employee went to the home of an absent Chilliwack student (page 641; all page numbers referred to in this story are for the PDF page numbers that appear at the top of most web browsers). The parents said the man “entered their home without warning and tried to run off with their daughter as if she were ‘a dog.’” After the mother and 2 other men intervened, the man left, only to return the next day with more help to take the girl away.

Across the system, there were continuous complaints of insufficient and rotten food at schools. Such complaints were made about both Fraser Valley schools, though many parents were unable to check the schools themselves; in 1939, half of all students came from villages in Northern BC or on Haida Gwaii. Mary Eaglund, a student at St. Mary’s, later remembered: “There was... never much of knives because you didn’t get no butter and you didn’t get no meat to cut up, everything was grounded up. And green tea. We never got milk except skim milk to put in your tea.”

In Chilliwack, in June 1940, a school farmer attempted to punch a boy who was slow to assemble for evening prayers (page 401). If the punch had connected, it would have seriously injured the boy. The boy dodged, and tried to hide. But the farmer tracked him down and used a piece of harness to thrash the boy—a common form of punishment employed by the school. The former employee who raised concerns about the event was warned that when others had done the same they had “only made more trouble for themselves.”

Complaints from Indigenous people were frequently met by racist incredulity. In 1959, members of the shíshálh (Sechelt) First Nation raised concerns with Indian Affairs about a staff member who may have been “making improper advances to the boys.” The concerns about a supposedly “well-mannered man” were dismissed out of hand, the band members were condemned, and in 1966 the man moved to Mission to work as a supervisor.

At approximately the same time, a man named Keavin Amyot (page 459) was convicted of “committing an act of gross indecency on a child.” Soon after, he was hired as a supervisor at St. Mary’s as well. Amyot stayed at the school for at least 2 years. Former students in Mission say they were abused by Amyot, but no charges were laid before his 2003 death. Another former St. Mary’s employee, Gerald Moran, was also later convicted of 12 charges of sexual abuse.

The entire report documents a range of systemic and personal failings that failed to adequately feed, house, and protect generations of boys and girls.

In 1928, conditions were so bad (page 500) at St. Mary’s that the government deputy minister recommended its closure until a new school could be built. The Catholic Church that ran the school objected, and only temporary classrooms were built. The building was a fire trap; an inspector suggested “rope fire escapes” as one potential stop-gap measure. The next spring, an Indian agent said the school needed to be replaced. He laid the blame on the feet of the federal government, which had promised to build a new school but hadn’t.

The man, who promised to stop complaining, wrote: “I absolutely refuse to assume responsibility for anything that may happen to the school and pupils in the future.”

—By Tyler Olsen

MAP: Where did children at Coqualeetza Institution come from?
Need to Know
💔 A Chilliwack man died last year after trying to light a fire to keep warm, a coroners report says [Chilliwack Progress]

✍ Abbotsford has taken another step in trying to find an operator for Tradex  [Abbotsford News]

🟠 Mission Indigenous Elders will hold a fire burning ceremony Thursday at Fraser River Heritage Park. [Mission Record]

🚨 A man drowned while rafting on the Chilliwack River Saturday [Chilliwack Progress]

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HOV lanes may be coming to Highway 1. 📸  Tyler Olsen
The Agenda
The province is now soliciting feedback on what residents would like to see when Highway 1 is widened to Whatcom Road in Abbotsford. The province says they are considering adding HOV lanes, reconfiguring or replacing various interchanges, and adding truck climbing lanes and truck parking and staging areas. The survey is open until July 6 and a “discussion guide” is available online.

The Floor Is Yours: Should new lanes on Highway 1 be designated for HOV or trucks?

Agriteks Industrial Ltd. is one step closer to opening a cannabis facility in Langley. The company aims to analyze pharmaceutical and recreational pot for quality control, and will not be growing or selling marijuana on-site. It needed a zoning amendment to do that work, which the Township council approved Monday. The company isn’t the first for the area: Glen Valley Cannabis is hoping to start up sometime this year as a “boutique” grower.
COVID latest
Areas once considered “high-transmission neighbourhoods” are no longer, the province has said. The province had designated such hot spots by looking at new case rates, hospital rates, and vaccination rates. In the Fraser Valley, all of Abbotsford, South Mission, Willoughby, and South Langley Township were considered hot spots. The ministry has now said case numbers have dropped beneath the threshold in all communities, and there are no longer any designated hot spots. [BCCDC COVID data]

Fraser Health
  • New cases: 113 / 138 average (down 39% from last week)
  • No active outbreaks at hospitals / 2 active outbreaks in long-term care
  • School exposures: Abbotsford: 13 / Chilliwack: 5 / Langley: 9 / Mission: 2 / Fraser Cascade: 0
  • No new workplace closures
  • New cases: 184 / 262 average (down 28% from last week)
  • 254 hospitalizations (down 16% from last week)
  • No new deaths / 1,703 total
Around Town
🎤 Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun will give an online speech about the city’s progress today at 10am on YouTube. He will also take questions via the comments section.
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