st. philip’s

A day for remembering today, for truth and reflection and commemoration. On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we honour the survivors of Canada’s residential schools as well as those who never returned home.

From the collection of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, this photograph shows students from the St. Philip’s Residential School in Saskatchewan in 1940. Run by the Catholic Missionary Oblate Sisters, St. Philip’s history dates back to 1902 and the construction of a boarding school on the Keeseekoose First Nation, a Saulteaux reserve near Kamsack. The NCTR page for St. Philip’s (here) tells this story:

Poor conditions in the school led to its closure in 1914. It reopened in 1927 as the St. Philip’s school. In 1957 the school farm ceased operation and the boarding school was increasingly used as a residence for students attending local day schools. During the 1960s, a period when sexual and physical abuse was a widespread problem at the school, a school supervisor was dismissed for mistreatment of students. The school closed in 1969.

As the NCTR also notes, a National Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students. This 24-hour Crisis Line can be accessed at: 1-866-925-4419.

bishop horden

A new number today, 751, to add to the older one, 215, while we wait for next one, as the dreadful toll of Canada’s residential schools, buried for too long, rises, and rises.

The undated photograph above was taken at Bishop Horden Hall Indian Residential School, which was run by the Anglican Church at Moose Factory, Ontario, on the Moose River, at the southern end of James Bay. It operated for 70 years, starting in 1906. In 1964, it was converted from a school to a hostel. It closed in 1976.  

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a detailed history of the school online, here, including harrowing (and surely incomplete) records of cruelty and sickness. An entry registering the 1940 deaths from tuberculosis of two male students notes that the Indian Agent reported that one boy’s family was “not notified of sickness or death of child as there was no way to send word.” 

The NCTR has a memorial page — it’s here — for Bishop Horden. It lists the names of 25 children known to have died as a result of their time at the school. 

old sun

 

Old Sun Indian Residential School had been in operation for more than 40 years by the time this photograph was taken in the 1930s. Established in 1886 by the Anglican Church on what was then the Blackfoot Reserve (Siksika Nation) within the Treaty 7 area, southeast of Calgary, near the town of Gleichen, Alberta, Old Sun lasted another four decades, finally closing in 1971, after 85 years. As the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation notes in its online registry of residential schools, a 1908 report on Old Sun described the school as “unsanitary,” its buildings “unsuitable in every way for such an institution.”   

Setting hockey aside, recommended for your reading today is Andrew Nikiforuk’s feature from The Tyee this week on Dr. Peter Bryce, Canada’s first chief medical officer of health, who (more than a century ago and repeatedly) warned the government he worked for of the all too fatal flaws of their residential schools. He was ignored. That’s here.

Also: watch, if you would, this statement from former Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

215

215.

It’s a horrifying, heartfreezing number, from a shameful, genocidal Canadian legacy. Last Thursday, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said that a survey of the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia’s southern interior had revealed a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children, some of whom were as young as three when they died. 

“It’s a harsh reality, and it’s our truths. It’s our history, and it’s something … we’ve always had to fight to prove,” Chief Casimir said in a news conference via Zoom on Friday afternoon, as reported by The Globe and Mail. “To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history that’s always been, you know, basically denied from government.”

Across the country, Canadians expressed their sorrow and anger, and acknowledged the disgrace of the residential school system by which, for more than a century — until 1996 — the Canadian government made a policy of separating some 150,000 Indigenous children from their families with the express purpose of indoctrinating them into a culture not their own — taking “the Indian out of the child,” in one early insidious formulation of what the schools were all about.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 to 1969, mostly under the authority of a Roman Catholic order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The lives of the children who died there have been honoured over the course of the past several days with vigils and flags at half-mast. Indigenous leaders are calling for gestures to be followed up with action: on Sunday, Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was one who urged the federal government to undertake to identify the remains, return them to their families, as well as to further investigate undocumented deaths and burials at residential schools across Canada. 

In 2018, in looking at the history Indigenous players in the NHL, I wrote in passing of how hockey is knotted into the story of residential schools. From a New York Times feature I filed that July:   

The government has apologized and compensated survivors. Between 2008 and 2015, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission crossed Canada to hear their stories and investigate abuses. Among the findings in the commission’s final 2015 report is ample evidence of how sports, including hockey, could be a refuge for many children. But the report also explains how, especially in early years, some in authority looked to sports as an instrument of forced assimilation, just another means of “civilizing” students.

The comfort and freedom that hockey offered only went so far. That’s a story told in Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese’s powerful 2012 novel of hockey and residential-school abuse that director Stephen Campanelli and executive producer Clint Eastwood brought to movie screens in the spring of 2018. The pain and the rage deriving from what the central character, Saul, calls the “scorched earth” of his residential-school boyhood — “it corroded everything, even the game.”

Indian Horse is a good place to start — or to revisit — if you want to learn more about the corrosion and hockey’s part in it. 

The memoir that Fred Sasakamoose completed just before his death at 86 in November last year, should also be required reading. Published earlier this month, Call Me Indian is in many ways an inspiring story, of perseverance and dedication — but it is, also, a thoroughly harrowing testament of Canadian racism and the neglect and abuse that Sasakamoose suffered at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

All Canadians should educate themselves by reading the TRC report, I’ll also submit. It’s not hard to find — here you go. I went back today to re-read some of the discussion of how sports were integrated into the insidious system: 

The Canadian residential schools were established at the same time as the rules were being standardized for games such as football, baseball, and hockey, and agreement was being reached on what constituted a standard playing field and the length of play. In the late nineteenth century, such sports spread throughout the country. As with band music, the promoters of these games argued that organized sports would help reduce conflict between the classes. And, while manliness and sportsmanship were supposed to reflect the values of the empire, Canadians not only played British games such as cricket, with its associations with the private schools of the elite; they also played sports popular in the United States such as baseball, and uniquely Canadian games such as lacrosse and ice hockey. These games also were played at the residential schools. 

It was hoped that these sports would contribute to “civilizing” residential school students. In his 1889 report, Indian Affairs inspector J. A. Macrae wrote of the Battleford school: 

“A noticeable feature of this school is its games. They are all thoroughly and distinctly ‘white.’ The boys use the boxing gloves with no little science, and excellent temper and play good games of cricket and football with great interest and truly Anglo-Saxon vigor. The girls dress dolls, make fancy articles of dress, and play such games as white children do. From all their recreation Indianism is excluded.”

Macrae seemed to believe that “Indianism” was a static phenomenon and that to play a European game well, a boy became less of an “Indian.” “Indianism” was, by definition, undesirable: an 1895 report on the Middlechurch, Manitoba, school noted approvingly, “The manly games of cricket and football, introduced and practised by the principal, have done much to take ‘the sneak’ out of the boys.” Some school officials also said that the role that sports played in the schools had to be closely controlled. If this were not done, instead of spreading the values of manly Christianity, sports would simply delay the process of assimilation. 

(Image: Students rally around a puck at Washakada Industrial School in Elkhorn, Manitoba, northwest of Brandon, near the Saskatchewan border, circa 1911-15. Established by the Anglican Church in 1888, the Washakada Indian Home originally had room for 16 boarders. Fire destroyed most of the school’s buildings in 1895; the new, relocated Industrial School opened in 1899. At its peak, the residential school had an enrolment of 122. It closed in 1949. Glenbow Archives, NA-4101-40)

stories that get told and stories that don’t: tracing hockey’s indigenous histories

(A version of this post appeared on page SP4 of The New York Times on July 1, 2018, under the headline “Writing the Twisting History of Indigenous Players.”)

At some point during Fred Sasakamoose’s first visit to New York in the fall of 1953, he found himself in a radio station studio. At 19, Sasakamoose was a junior hockey star from Saskatchewan. Speedy and ambidextrous, he was about to make his NHL debut at center for the Chicago Black Hawks. He was also a novelty: one of the first Indigenous players in the league.

He remembers the gifts he was given at the studio, cigars and a transistor radio. And he remembers being asked, for broadcast, to say something in Cree.

“They wanted me to talk Indian,” he said.

He obliged, thanking the interviewer and saying he had never been to New York before.

It was just a few simple sentences, but Sasakamoose struggled, on air, to summon his own language. Home, then and now, was Ahtahkakoop First Nation, in Saskatchewan, but in 1953 it had been years since he had lived there.

Hockey had planted him in Moose Jaw, and before that he’d spent a decade 60 miles from home at St. Michael’s in Duck Lake. one of Canada’s notorious residential schools where the mandate was to erase Indigenous language and culture.

“They don’t allow you to talk your language,” Sasakamoose, now 84, recalled earlier this year from Ahtahkakoop. “Either you talk French or English — and then you go to church, and you’ve got to talk Latin.”

In May, Governor-General Julie Payette inducted Sasakamoose as a Member of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Revered as a hockey trailblazer, he has worked tirelessly over the years with youth in his community and across the country. Sasakamoose said he was humbled by the honor.

“There’s so much pride,” he added. “It’s just marvelous.”

Proud as the moment is, it is impossible to consider Sasakamoose’s life and career without reflecting on the historical scarcity of Indigenous players at the top levels of the game that Canadians so fervently claim as their own. First Nations peoples, Métis and Inuit make up 4.9 percent of Canada’s population. But of the more than 7,600 players, some 5,100 from Canada, to have skated in the NHL in the 100 years of its history, only about 80 have been of Indigenous heritage.

Canada’s reckoning with its history with Indigenous peoples has been underway for years, reaching not just into the justice system and the resource sector, but across society.

Within hockey, this has been both a season for celebrating the achievements of Indigenous players and one filled with reminders of the ongoing struggles they face — against racism, and for opportunity and recognition.

Recent NHL success stories include Ethan Bear, 20, from Saskatchewan’s Ochapowace Cree Nation, who made his debut with the Edmonton Oilers in March. At the Winter Olympics in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Canada’s women’s hockey team featured two Indigenous players, Jocelyne Larocque, who’s Métis from Manitoba, and Brigette Lacquette, a member of the Cote Saulteaux First Nation in Saskatchewan.

The game is thriving in Indigenous communities across the country, at the pond and pick-up level and through organized events like the annual National Aboriginal Hockey Championships for elite teenage players. In March, about 3,000 Indigenous youth players took part in the Little Native Hockey League in Mississauga, Ontario.

“I think we as First Nations people are probably some of the biggest supporters of hockey across Canada,” said Reggie Leach, the NHL’s first Indigenous superstar who continues to work with young players on hockey and life skills. Leach, who is Ojibwe, spent 13 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the Philadelphia Flyers, winning a Stanley Cup in 1975.

Still, the story of Indigenous hockey in Canada is one that has been shaped by familiar themes of geographical isolation and social marginalization. It also continues to be poisoned by racism. In May, a team of 13- and 14-year-old First Nations boys faced racial slurs at a tournament in Quebec City.

“Reading this story made me sad,” Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s Minister of Justice and a member of the We Wai Kai Nation in British Columbia, wrote on Twitter. “Be proud of who you are and always remember where you come from!”

Residential schools are knotted into the history, too. For more than a century through to 1996, the Canadian government made a policy of separating some 150,000 children from their families with the express purpose of indoctrinating them into a culture not their own — taking “the Indian out of the child,” in one early insidious formulation of what the schools were all about.

The government has apologized and compensated survivors. Between 2008 and 2015, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission crossed Canada to hear their stories and investigate abuses. Among the findings in the commission’s final 2015 report is ample evidence of how sports, including hockey, could be a refuge for many children. But the report also explains how, especially in early years, some in authority looked to sports as an instrument of forced assimilation, just another means of “civilizing” students.

The comfort and freedom that hockey offered only went so far. That’s a story told in Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese’s powerful 2012 novel of hockey and residential-school abuse that director Stephen Campanelli and executive producer Clint Eastwood brought to movie screens in the spring of 2018. The pain and the rage deriving from what the central character, Saul, calls the “scorched earth” of his residential-school boyhood — “it corroded everything, even the game.”

•••

Tracing the history of hockey’s Indigenous players, you can’t help but reflect on the ways in which narratives form, shift and settle, and on the stories that get told or don’t. While Indigenous players are scarcely seen in the annals of early hockey history, it’s also true that those in the business of recording the sport’s history have simply neglected or overlooked some of those who did make it to hockey’s highest levels.

Henry Maracle is one of those whose story has been erased, one way and another. While Fred Sasakamoose is still often described as having been the NHL’s first Indigenous player — including by the league itself and in his Order-of-Canada citation — the evidence seems to increasingly contradict that distinction.

Hockey teams in Canada started vying for the Stanley Cup in 1893, well before the NHL came into being in 1917. In 1901 and again in 1902, the Winnipeg Victorias won the Cup with a roster featuring three Métis stars, Tony Gingras and the brothers Rod and Magnus Flett.

Toronto’s NHL lineup in 1918-19 may have included a Mohawk defenseman, Paul Jacobs. While league records show him playing a game in the league’s second season, it’s unclear whether he actually made it onto the ice. Taffy Abel, who had Chippewa background, was a member of the 1924 United States Olympic team and one of the earliest Americans to flourish in the N.H.L. Could he be counted as the league’s first Indigenous player?

New York got its first N.H.L. team in 1925, the Americans, a year before the Rangers hit the ice. With an idea of adding an exotic accent to the Americans’ lineup, manager Tommy Gorman briefly pretended that a non-Indigenous Montreal-born center, Rene Boileau, was a Mohawk star by the name of Rainy Drinkwater.

Tidings of Maracle’s 1931 call-up to the NHL caught the eye of newspaper editors across North America.

While the N.H.L. seems strangely loath to acknowledge him, Maracle is slowly gaining wider recognition as the first Indigenous player in the league. Maracle, who died in 1958, was honoured this past June at a community ceremony in Ayr, Ontario, the small town where he was born.

Midway through the 1930-31 season, the Rangers summoned Maracle, a 27-year-old Mohawk left winger, from their affiliate in Springfield, Mass. That the Springfield team was nicknamed the Indians was not lost on headline writers and reporters narrating the scoring exploits of the “Springfield Injun” and “Redskin Icer.”

Maracle, who went by Buddy, was often, inevitably, called “Chief.” His NHL career lasted 15 games, yielding a goal and three assists. While he would thrive as a minor leaguer for years to come, that was all for Maracle in the NHL.

In 1944, the Rangers called up an Indigenous defenseman, Jim Jamieson, whose background was Cayuga, from Six Nations First Nation in southwestern Ontario. He played a single game.

Maracle and Jamieson were already forgotten when Sasakamoose made his NHL debut in 1953. “Chief Running Deer,” the papers dubbed him; when he first skated out at Chicago Stadium, organist Al Melgard broke into “Indian Love Call.” Sasakamoose played 11 games that season and looked like he was in the league to stay. Until he decided he wasn’t.

Years later, Sasakamoose recalls, Hall-of-Fame goaltender and fellow Chicago alumnus Glenn Hall told him he should write a book. “He said, ‘You know what you call it?’ I said, ‘What?’ He said: ‘I Want To Go Home.’”

He laughs now, but the memory of homesickness remains raw. “For me,” Sasakamoose said, “I wanted to come home all the time.

“Because, 10 years of residential school. Ten years when you’re small. And you live in that place, in that big huge building, and you don’t see mom and dad. You don’t know them anymore.”

Sasakamoose has spoken over the years about the physical abuse he suffered at Duck Lake, and he testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Of his school years, the commission report noted, “He left as soon as he could.”

At the same time, Sasakamoose’s memory of those distant school years in the 1940s can still brighten as he describes learning to stickhandle, or recalls the team with which he won a provincial championship.

Also: Saturday nights in wintertime. One of the presiding priests at Duck Lake would rig up a speaker in time for the weekly broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada from Toronto, 1,300 miles away. “We’d sit there, about 30 or 40 of us, and we’d listen to the Foster Hewitt. Everybody wanted to be a Charlie Conacher.”

For many Canadians, Hewitt, the broadcaster whose signature phrase was a strident “He shoots, he scores!,” remains the original and eternal voice of hockey.

In 1953, when Sasakamoose played his first game at Toronto’s Maple Leafs Gardens, Hewitt descended from his broadcast booth: he wanted to meet the Chicago rookie — and to find out how to pronounce his name.

“I said, ‘Foster, my name is Sa-SA-ka-moose.’”

He laughs now. When the time came to call the action, Hewitt never quite got it right.

“That was okay,” Sasakamoose said. “I was there. I wanted to get there and I did get there.”

maliotenam

The Roman Catholic Church ran the Sept-Îles Indian Residential School at Maliotenam, Quebec, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, from 1952 through 1967. This photograph of the school’s hockey team isn’t dated, but it looks to have been taken at some point in the ’60s. Appearing in the back row, from left to right: Père Laurent, Thaddeus André, Omer Rock, Jules Bacon, Donald St-Onge, Mathias Malec, unidentified boy, unidentified boy, Frère Trudel. Front row, left to right: Valentin Jourdain, Louis Georges Prépeau, unidentified boy, Charles St-Onge, Sylvester Rock. (Image: Library and Archives Canada / PA-212964)

we were on the same side, cheering for the same team

“National Pastimes” (1991) by Jim Logan, Acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 183.2 cm

National Aboriginal Day today, in Canada, for one last time. This morning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that from here on in, the name will change to National Indigenous Peoples Day. Either way (on any day), Jim Logan’s work deserves your attention. If you’re in Ottawa or Gatineau any time this summer, his powerful 1991 suite of seven “National Pastimes” paintings are on display as part of the Canadian Museum of History’s “Hockey” exhibition. The largest of the canvasses (above) depicts an ostensibly serene and all-Canadian winter scene in an interior British Columbia reserve town while the six smaller works that accompany it frame a series of close-ups. Attention to detail is worth paying: off the ice in the main canvas, away from the heedless joy of the afternoon’s shinny, it’s a panorama of pain and danger. A couple brawls in the snow. A suicide hangs from a swing-set. In “Father Image 1,” a stern-faced white priest makes his claim on a trio of grim, stoical boys. It’s also personal: in the window at the bottom of the (main) frame, a father and son watch TV together.

Logan, whose background is Cree, Sioux, and Scottish, was born in 1955 in New Westminster, B.C. In an essay for Indigena: Contemporary Native Perspectives (1992), he talked about the paintings and the role hockey has played in his own life as well as its significance as a symbol and metaphor in Indigenous culture. “I realized,” he wrote,

I had grown up watching a lot of hockey, and I realized the one I watched a lot of hockey with was my dad. However, my relationship with my dad was never as close as I wanted it to be. His rough upbringing, war nightmares, and alcoholism all contributed to the distance between us. However silent as our relationship may have been, we loved each other.

My dad’s interest in hockey naturally drew my interest and hockey became the dominant link between us. But our reasons for watching were so different. He dreamed of being somebody important, somebody respected. He wanted to be a winner, but fate wouldn’t allow it.

I watched hockey because it brought me closer to my dad. Hockey to me was togetherness. On Saturday night, for three whole periods, we were on the same side, cheering for the same team (Montreal) and the same players (Jean Béliveau and John Ferguson), and his past, and our reality didn’t threaten us. We were as close as we could ever get.

Today watching hockey or painting about it brings back those warm memories, but it also brings back the distant relationship my dad and I had. The paintings in this series are an extension of my personal experience. The social statement I am expressing here is that for many kids, Aboriginal or not, hockey is often more than just a sport, it’s an escape. In these paintings you will find evidence of the tragic realities of life that are temporarily forgotten by those involved with the game that has been titled Our National Pastime.

For more of Jim Logan’s work, visit his website. The Canadian Museum of History’s “Hockey” exhibition continues until October 9. After that — from November 24 through to April 29, 2018 — it will be at Montreal’s Pointe-à-Callière Museum.

“Defensive Pair” (1991) by Jim Logan, Acylic on canvas, 50.80 cm x 60.96 cm

“Father Image I” (1991) by Jim Logan “Defensive Pair” by Jim Logan, Acylic on canvas, 50.80 cm x 60.96 cm

(Images courtesy of Jim Logan. Used with permission.)