Biblitz delivers advise

ASK Biblitz about Indian Residential Schools.

'The main thing was three square meals a day. No junk food. And nobody went hungry. ... Nobody ever got sick.'

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Was the Canadian government's apology and compensation (set out in the 96-page Indian Residential School Settlement, May 8, 2006, beginning at p. 44) satisfactory?

See also Aboriginal Funding in Canada or how Canadian taxpayers subsidize legions of highly-paid federal trustees, who administer more than $10 billion in programs and subsidies in 34 separate federal departments on behalf of fewer than 1.2 million aboriginals.

See also Aboriginal Funding - how public money earmarked for Indians is mysteriously improving the lives of Ottawa lawyers instead, and Gambling Kahnawake - a new proposal in Quebec along with B.C. and four Atlantic provinces to legalize online gambling.

Biblitz replies:

I find it excessive in view of so many affirmative action/social welfare programs available exclusively to aboriginals in Canada today and simply by virtue of their Indian status. Look at the vast new legal infrastructure created specially to adjudicate these claims while the poorest taxpayers, especially people with disabilities, wait months, sometimes a year or more to go without any representation before a secret panel of adversaries, who decide in many cases whether the applicant will be able to eat and buy medicine in the same month!

This is in addition to the legion of attorneys already representing claimants at the Dept. of Indian and Northern Affairs and on top of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, the Aboriginal Courtwork Program and the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program. (From the Dept. of Justice accessed online Feb. 18/10) All of these at a time when taxpayer access to justice continues to be severely curtailed by cuts to provincial Legal Aid!

Consider, too, the tremendous help both financially and academically First Nations students get if they decide to attend post-secondary ed. (see below). They're not required to achieve much or even prove attendance, it seems, to qualify for this extraordinary patronage!

STILL MORE special programs and subsidies available only to aboriginals set out in a whopping 29-paged DIAND report, You Wanted to Know/Federal Programs and Services for Registered Indians, accessed online Feb. 20/10!

Another issue overlooked in the settlement is that average people during the same period everywhere not just in Canada also had one hell of a time in similarly-run residential schools, orphanages and

quite often even at home when Depression and WWII scarcity meant many people starved and/or were orphaned. And yet they do not take recourse to taxpayers for compensation.

The question no one will ask or answer is this: what were the alternatives?

Distinguishing aboriginals as a separate class of persons was an unfortunate decision by colonists but maybe the best one in the circs at the time. Britain had been subsidizing them for years with food, clothing and shelter b/c Her Majesty needed soldiers and fur trappers, but when the war was over and the fur trade finished, Britain was faced with a growing population of aboriginals who knew nothing of agriculture (some did but not many) or of the various industries settlers were bringing and, worst of all for all concerned, they expressed little or no inclination to learn/adapt. First Nations had wildly conflicting views of parenting and social hierarchy and, if the truth be told, they preferred the more familiar, less challenging option, which was to remain on the British gravy train indefinitely. Such dependancies, as we know, never work.

The residential school settlement is the legacy of a failed attempt to force self-sufficiency on an unwilling populace. All of us must come to these things ourselves as individuals if we do at all or face the alternative: extinction. Earnest correspondence from many govt reps of the day suggests they very much feared and were trying to come up with workable strategies to prevent Indians from starving to death, a possibility that became increasingly imminent. Again, while no one would argue in favor of the predictably disastrous results of institutionalizing children in these fifth-rate facilities, what were the alternatives?

The good news for taxpayers, anyway, is that each claimant must still prove his individual claim, so settlement is not a slam-dunk. Also, the decision in each case is final. There are no appeals to keep taxpayers on the hook indefinitely. That's my understanding, anyway. But better even than this is the lesson this nightmare provides to the new generation of taxpayers coming up:

1. Issue a deadline for the settlement of any outstanding land claims after which only Canadians who contribute to the public treasury may compete for programs and subsidies available equally to all qualified applicants, and

2. Never, ever again create, subsidize or participate in ANY program or service intended exclusively to benefit aboriginals. We can't afford the inevitable lawsuits when a recipient/beneficiary is somehow disappointed or injured, and it's clear Canada is incompetent to run any such program effectively. Let's stop trying.

In my view, the residential school settlements, which have already pretty much taken out organized religion in Canada, must signal the end of a miserable relationship of enforced dependance created by an ancient document, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, whose drafters could not possibly have contemplated the obligations it's created for successive generations of taxpayers. Surely there was a reasonable expectation that after a brief period of post-war reparation, recipients would become self-sufficient as settlers did or did not, as the case may be.

No doubt the legion of attorneys who also ride the Indian Affairs gravy train will be sad to see the empire toppled, but the cost of maintaining a growing population of dependants is simply unsustainable. We can't afford it. Let this settlement be a signal that the giving tree has been shaken down for the last time. Amen.

More about post-secondary education subsidies available only to First Nations:

The PSSSP offers students three types of support. Tuition support is provided to part-time and full-time students. It may include fees for registration, tuition and the cost of books and supplies required for courses. Travel support is available to students who must leave their permanent place of residence to attend college or university. Students may qualify for a grant to return home once every semester. This grant also covers any dependants who live with the student. Living expenses is provided to full-time students to help cover the costs of food, shelter, transportation and day care. INAC also provides financial support to status Indian and Inuit students enrolled in University and College Entrance Preparations (UCEP) Programs. UCEPs enables students to attain the academic level required to enter degree and diploma programs. ... Who is eligible? Inuit and Status Indian students (residing on or off reserve) and ordinarily resident in Canada. (From Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, accessed online Feb. 8/10) Even students from the supposedly independent, self-governed Tsawwassen First Nation in B.C. would qualify for the boost!

'Give blood! You can give it all and still you're asked for more!'

A new, consolidated Canada Student Grant will be available to students in the fall 2009. The new program will provide $250 each month in grants for students from low-income families and $100 a month for students from middle-income families. The new grant will be paid through all years of a university undergraduate, college or trade school program. (From the eight-page The Future of the Post Secondary Student Support Program Issue paper by the GRPSEO Director for submission to the Council rep on the GRPSEO Board and the elected Chief's office, a complaint about recent program funding cuts, accessed online Feb. 8/10) Check out something called the Aboriginal Funding Tool accessed online March 2/10 - ka-ching$

Why all Canadians should be concerned:
The on-reserve Status Indian population is young, with a median age of 22, compared with a median age of 36 for all Canadians. Over 50 percent of the on-reserve population is under 23 years old. The on-reserve Status Indian population is growing at a rate of 2.3 percent per year, nearly three times the overall Canadian rate. It is expected to increase by 49 percent between 2005 and 2021, compared with 11 percent for the Canadian population as a whole. (emphasis added) (From First Nations Population Fact Sheet, Assembly of First Nations, accessed online Feb. 8/10)

The residential school program's auspicious beginnings:

Shingwauk's Vision

A History of Native Residential Schools

By J.R. Miller

A radically different view of the same educational opportunity by the celebrated literary McCourts from another marginalized demographic who were also facing starvation and extinction.

It's not as if similar horrors weren't visited on students even at Britain's posh public schools attended by celebrated authors Robert Graves, Roald Dahl and John Mortimer.

The French effort in the 17th c. failed for reasons that would become depressingly familiar to generations of assimilators from the early 19th c. onward. First and foremost was parental resistance to separation from their children, an attitude that the French thought was unusually strong among the Indians of North America because of their excessive love of offsping. As the Recollet Gabriel Sagard noted, 'they love their children dearly,' even though 'they are for the most part very naughty children, paying little respect and hardly more obedience.' To a European Christian it seemed that 'unhappily in these lands the young have no respect for the old, nor are children obedient to their parents, and moreover there is no punishment for any fault. ' And Nicholas Denys agreed, contending that Indian 'children are not obstinate, since they give them everything they ask for, without ever letting them cry for that which they want. The greatest persons give way to the little ones. The father and the mother draw the morsel from the mouth if the child asks for it. They love their children greatly.' (For their part, Indians regarded French mothers as 'porcupines' because of their stern attitudes towards the young and to child-rearing.) In fact, Europeans usually failed to note that, among Indians, discipline was applied to children, although it was administered in ways unfamiliar to the intruders. Usually, discipline and social control were exercised through praise, ridicule, rewards, and privilege - a subtlety that the Europeans missed. In any event, the Europeans' censoriousness about Indian children, and their proclivity to employ corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes, made it very difficult to secure children ... Indian children were also repelled by the competitive pedagogical techniques that the missionaries, especially the Jesuits, employed. The use of prizes, examinations, and public exercises to create competition and bring about higher levels of achievement was utterly foreign to Indian ways, including the indigenous peoples' methods of educating their young. ...

What made the alien nature of European schooling harder to accept was the fact that indigenous peoples were unimpressed by the newcomers and their strange ways. Few among the Native peoples in the 17th and 18th c.s could see much reason to want to become like these bizarre strangers. After initial awe at Europeans' technological superiority had ebbed, North American Indians were usually not impressed by the intruders. By and large they regarded the French as ugly, feeble and ill-prepared to flourish in the North American environment. Many of their ways, especially the outlandish practices and customs of the celibate clergy, were so weird as to convince Indians that there was an unbridgeable gulf between them and the intruders. (From PART ONE Establishing the Residential School System, pg. 55-57) (footnotes omitted)

What was the Depression like for most Canadians:

The Hungry Thirties

By Max Braithwaite

Some of the greatest hardships of the Depression were borne by the Canadian farmers. Nothing they raised was worth much. In 1933, Wallace Gallagher took a truckload of cattle from Laurel to Toronto and got 4 cents a pound for the best of them, 3.5 cents for the rest. Gallagher had a bumper potato crop that same year and considered himself lucky to get 15 cents for a ninety-pound bag. Some of his neighbors weren't so lucky - they hauled their potatoes to the swamp to keep them from rotting in the bins. In British Columbia, 8,000 tons of tomatoes were ploughed under.

Of all the farmers, however, the hardest hit were the wheat farmers on the prairies. While those in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and the Maritimes had a diversity of crops and often some market for the fruit and vegetables close at hand, the prairie farmer was strictly a grower of grain, principally wheat, and with world markets gone he had no place to sell it.

In addition, the West had a "debt" economy. Each spring the farmer risked everything he had or could borrow on the chance of having a good crop. He bought more land and mortgaged it; he bought new implements on credit; he borrowed cash from the benevolent banker to see him through the long summer when there was no income. After harvesting his crop in the fall, he paid off most of his debts.

When the Depression hit, credit dried up like the slough behind the barn. Nobody had any money to lend, and creditors demanded their due. The bank manager's smile turned to a worried frown and then to an accusing grimace. The genial salesmen did not come around any more, and the implement companies sent crisp letters demanding payment or the return of their machinery. ...
In some muncipalities 90 per cent of the farmers were on relief that year (1937). There was not even any hay or coarse grain to feed starving livestock. ...

Many southern Saskatchewan farmers finally gave up. They left the farms that they had spent years building up from homesteads, loaded their belongings onto hayracks and drove away. ...

... Some went back to Ontario; 5,000 settled in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia; and others even went back to Britain. Between 1931 and 1937, Alberta lost 21,000 people, Manitoba almost 34,000 and Saskatchewan 66,000. (Note that homesteaders on arrival did not 'take over' working farms. Each was required to clear the stubble and begin the great experiment of planting and raising crops. When drought forced them to leave, neither the farmers nor their hungry, dispossessed families sought recourse against the public treasury!) (From Chapter Two, The Land Dries to Dust, p. 29-31)


Biblitz! What are you playing at, sir? Your forebears may have been noble sons of the soil, but you're no performer and certainly not musical unlike these talented actors with Saskatchewan's excellent 25th Street House Theatre, bless them, pictured here in a scene from Paper Wheat, one of the greatest, most original theatrical performances ever, as audiences worldwide resoundingly agreed when the company compelled by unexpected success took the show on the road!

Tell us your your story!
Are you tired, as Biblitz is, of apologizing for enterprising forebears, who succeeded with little or no farming experience at growing food in unyielding soil in the middle of lonely nowhere - forebears who had little or nothing to do with the disastrous Indian Residential School program, strangers who came at the behest of Dominion central control, whose friendship dried up in the dirty '30s along with the land?

Will the Indian residential school compensation leave anything for the survivors of Canadian institutions like Woodlands?

Do First Nations seem to command a disproportionate share of federal funds at a time when so many other Canadians are also in need? How did your family fare during the the period when native children were forcibly taken to residential schools? What about the scarcity of the war years? How many of your family were taken as Irish musician Danny Ellis was to an orphanage because of poverty? Blast away. We'd love to hear from you!

What was life like for Prairie homesteaders, who were actively sought by the Dominion?

Between 1869 and the 1940s, about 150,000 British children - mostly those from poor families or orphans - were sent to Canada, Australia, South Africa and other former colonies. At least 100,000 came to Canada - 70,000 landed in Ontario - until the practice ended (thanks to advocates like Charlotte Whitton). It's been estimated that 10 per cent of Canadians have ancestors that worked as farm hands and servants in the early decades of the new dominion. (From An apology for the home children by Robert Sibley and Louisa Taylor, The Ottawa Citizen, Feb. 24/10)

Paper Wheat

The Book

Created by the 25th Street House Theatre

Includes the play, Paper Wheat, by Andras Tahn as well as the play's musical score and an abundance of photos courtesy of Patrick Close and the Saskatchewan Archives.

... In the euphoria of the moment, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier would publicly declare that the 20th c. belonged to Canada.

The people responsible for this triumph were the homesteaders, those unsung thousands who settled the frontier. Early on, the Dominion government had set up immigration offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in key locations in continental Europe. Together with the Canadian Pacific Railway, the government sent out information and propaganda designed to attract immigrants with the offer of cheap passage and free land. The immigration sheds in Canada received these would-be pioneers as they landed, processed them, and directed them to waiting trains, which in turn trundled them across forest land, Shield country, and miles of wilderness to Winnipeg, the gateway to the West. There officials sorted the newcomers by regional destination and directed them to land offices in Yorkton, Saskatoon, Battleford, Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Regina. This meant another train journey in the meager comfort of the colonist cars. There was then a long wait in lineups outside the land office before one could file on a homestead. Then came that last trek by wagon to the chosen quarter section, 160 acres of virgin prairie (so, clearly, aboriginals had not been farming) that was to be home. A long, wearing journey with spirits roiled by hopes, expectations, fears, challenges. ...

The odds against instant success on the western frontier were prohibitive, though the chances of ultimate victory were somewhat better. Many homesteaders fell victims to inexperience, drought, debt, or accident. Certainly natural causes brought about many trials and hardships. (Settlers and their families, like aboriginals, were not immune to the ravages of nature's scourges, such as smallpox and influenza, despite charges that they somehow deliberately imported same). But these were not the only obstacles. There were others devised by men, both in distant places and close at hand. ... the more lasting hurts were inflicted by organized commercial and financial interests determined to exploit the opportunity for gain that was presented by the western boom. ...
'Of all the farmers, however, the hardest hit were the wheat farmers on the prairies. While those in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and the Maritimes had a diversity of crops and often some market for the fruit and vegetables close at hand, the prairie farmer was strictly a grower of grain, principally wheat, and with world markets gone he had no place to sell it.'

Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a dark cloud of dust and depression settled over the West. There had been economic setbacks before the market crash of late 1929, but the thirties brought economic disaster to the prairies. It was unrelenting, a series of misfortunes beyond the comprehension or control of political or economic man. Saskatchewan suffered a more severe blow than any other province in Canada. Thousands of farmers in the arid Palliser triangle were uprooted, blown out, forced to seek a new rooting in the north. Taxes went unpaid. Mortgages on farm land and farm implements were foreclosed. The Wheat Pool, the greatest co-operative enterprise yet built, suffered a staggering blow. It was forced to turn to governments for guarantees to cover loans that had been incurred in making initial payments on the 1929 crop. The price for such guarantees was the abandonment of its wheat-marketing activities to the federal government. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool reverted to being a grain-handling enterprise. ... From A Short History of the Co-operative Movement in Saskatchewan by John Archer, pgs. 3- 13)

Here's what happened when aboriginals asked to be educated:


No such thing as a free lunch

For generations, the students at Red Cloud Indian School raised their own food - then the federal government got into the act. Ever hear of a road paved with good intentions?

By Sam Hurst
April, 2009

In the 1880s, the Lakota chief Red Cloud turned away from the buffalo hunt. He turned his back on the militant resistance of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull that would lead both warrior chiefs to violent deaths. He settled on the arid, harsh Pine Ridge Reservation in the Badlands of western South Dakota and began the painful process of assimilation.

One of the first decisions Red Cloud made was to invite Jesuit "Black Robes" to set up a boarding school to teach Lakota children and their families how to farm. The school would be a bridge to a new way of life, a refuge from the radical change that was destroying traditional Lakota culture and diet.

The idea that the gumbo-soil grasslands that sustained small migratory herds of elk, deer, and buffalo could be transformed into prosperous family farms now seems absurd. But on the narrow floodplain of little White Clay Creek, in the shadow of native corn patches and thickets of chokecherries and wild plums, the Jesuits built a school and, for more than a century, nurtured a self-sustaining community. As the decades rolled by and the reservation sank into the nation s worst poverty, Red Cloud Indian School survived as a sanctuary for the best and brightest college-bound Lakota students. At the center of its identity was its ability to feed its people.

Cecelia Fire Thunder is the former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She enrolled at Red Cloud in 1952 and stayed there until 1963. "We would go back to school in September," she says, "and the boys would immediately start with the harvest of potatoes and cabbage. They made enough sauerkraut to last for years. The girls would can and cook. I became a good cook at Red Cloud. Some of the priests were dairy farmers, and the boys milked the cows every day. We always had fresh milk, and we would skim the cream right off the top. I remember wringing the necks of chickens and dipping them in boiling water to make it easier to pick the feathers. The main thing was three square meals a day. No junk food. And nobody went hungry."

Henrietta Cross Dog started at Red Cloud in 1953. I ask her what she remembers most about the school farm. She thinks for a while, and then laughs quietly to herself. "Nobody ever got sick."

The history of American Indian boarding schools is extremely conflicted, and horror stories about the abuse of the children are legendary. Schools like Red Cloud that have survived into the 21st century have been forced to undergo painful soul-searching and reconciliation. But as today's students and faculty struggle with the related epidemics of obesity and diabetes, there are aspects of the troubled past that hold positive lessons for the future.

Brother Mike Zimmerman stands on a concrete landing outside the cafeteria and points. "All that land where the football field is now used to be the garden." "Ten acres, twenty?" I ask. He chuckles. "Oh, no. Much bigger." He turns, indicating an area behind the machine shop. "Over there was a huge potato field and a chicken coop. We kept hundreds of chickens. We also had a cattle ranch."

Students took classes in home economics, farming, carpentry, and outdoor survival. They also worked hard in the fields, the bakery, and the kitchen. The ovens and dough mixers, bread slicers, ten-gallon milk cans, even coffee grinders gather cobwebs in the basement of the 19th-century brick building. Grappling hooks still hang from the iron rails of the meat locker. Brother Mike crabwalks under the new heating ducts suspended from the low ceiling and gestures to the wide, cool floors where apples were stored. Fifty years ago, this basement was a busy place.

There was never a final decision to dispense with Red Cloud's commitment to self-sufficiency. It just fell victim to a hundred small decisions and a cascade of unintended consequences. In 1910, for example, when the Great Sioux Nation was broken up and the best fields were sold to white farmers, parts of the Red Cloud farm were dispersed. When the worst stories of abuse at boarding schools surfaced, many liberal supporters of the school found the idea of children working to grow food an offensive echo of forced child labor. In the 1960s, when the school stopped boarding students, there was a natural expectation that they would eat at home. As farm bill after farm bill promoted formalized school lunch programs, regulatory standards became stricter and the rhythms of the school's food system broke down. As sanitary regulations were tightened, students could no longer wash the dishes. Perhaps most importantly, knowledge slipped away. The Jesuit farmer-priests retired and died. No one replaced them. Idealistic young teachers arrived, but they taught history and chemistry, English composition and physics. No one was a farmer.

Then, in the 1990s, the Lakota Nation woke up to the fact that diabetes was sweeping through every family. (Today, the Indian Health Service reports that nearly a quarter of the adults on the reservation are diabetic.) Great numbers of children were obese and suffering from symptoms of diabetes. Red Cloud students were eating meals at the Pizza Hut in Pine Ridge or at Big Bat's gas station and convenience store, which features deep-fried fast food and 44-ounce soda pop "specials." ...

I ask Brave Heart if there is any interest in reviving the school garden. He looks at me as if I have parachuted in from another planet. "Who would do it?" he asks. "It would require machinery and staff to make it work. Someone would have to water it and pull weeds all summer when the students are gone. (emphasis added) Right now, I'd say a garden isn't on anyone's radar screen." These days, with the economy collapsing around him and federal funding for Harkin's garden program unlikely, Brave Heart has no choice but to chase cheap food, and cheap food is commodity food. ... (-- pgs. 46-48)

Why Shoot the Teacher


By Max Braithwaite

... This slightly rolling, treeless, curly-grass country should never have been broken up for farmland. No prosperous farmsteads with large, white L-shaped houses and big red barns are seen from the road. Rather the flat-roofed, unpainted barns and shack-like houses. And everywhere Russian thistle poking spiny twigs through the snow.

The people who lived here were the usual pioneers from Ontario, the United States, Britain, and central Europe. They had come, filled with hope and vigour, to the "Golden West" to make a home and a future. They remained in a gritty dustbowl, their souls scarred by a smouldering resentment and a keen sense of betrayal. They stayed on for the least attractive of all reasons - because they couldn't get out. In those days before family allowances there was often no cash money in a house for months at a time. This accounted for the gunny sacks on Dave McDougall's feet. He literally didn't have the $3.98 to send to Eaton's for a pair of overshoes. ...

Biblitz leads the parade! 'The Young Communist League of Vancouver, dramatically dressed in prison stripes, parades through the streets protesting relief camp conditions.' The placard reads, 'We want jobs not prison bars.' Another photo shows other Vancouver protesters carrying a sign, '145 Chinese workers killed by Soup Kitchen/Starved by Anglican Church on Contract.' (From Different Drummers, pgs. 40-41) Clearly, aboriginal children in residential schools did not then or today hold the patent on privation!

The desperation for jobs passes belief. Occupations such as being a fireman, delivering milk or bread, clerking at the Hudson's Bay Store, had a very high priority, because they were steady. They told a joke in Saskatoon about the man who fell into the Saskatchewan River and five men, leaning over the bridge, shouted questions to him concerning his name and place of employment. On learning this, they raced off in an attempt to get his job, leaving the poor fellow to drown. (From Run or Freeze, pgs. 5-7)
Biblitz forebears prepare to try their luck further west. Unlike his predecessors and successors, Biblitz senior did not have much of a way with manure, I'm afraid.

... On the plains, at least during the dirty thirties, spring was a mess. ...

... before you've forgotten the white blizzards of winter, you are into the balck blizzards of spring. Dust storms.

In an earlier chapter I said there was nothing meaner, crueller, or more relentless than a prairie blizzard. There is, of course. A prairie dust storm. Warm winds blow over the tilled fields turning the soil to powder, then pick up the powder and incorporate it into the atmosphere. Wherever air can go, so goes dust. Under window sills and doors, into milk and water and food and lungs. It clogs the nose, smarts the eyes, grits the teeth, and plugs the ears. It covers the surface of floors, desks, and tables with a grey film, gets between the pages of books, into the furtherst corners of desk drawers, and onto the dishes on the shelves. Against driving snow you can bundle up. Against dust there is no defence. ...

Along with the dust came those two other hateful children of the drought - grasshoppers and Russian thistle. (From The Hot Dust of Spring, pgs. 122-3)