*The blue, underlined texts are hyperlinks with associated sources. Please explore.
St. Mary’s IRS, also known as Wauzhushk Onigum Nation (WON), was located on Rat Portage First Nation , treaty 3 territory. We happened upon the memorial site when we were exiting WON and were able to take some time to pray for the spirits of those who attended the school. The memorial was a beautiful tribute.
Opened on May 15th, 1897, St. Mary’s was run by the Roman Catholic Church. The school closed in 1972.
The National Residential School Survivors’ Society (NRSSS) has some very informative documents that are now available online. There are several lengthy scanned documents regarding St. Mary’s IRS. They have much to offer. The link includes photos and scanned documents about the deaths of some of the children and the process’ taken, and about the school’s establishment.
The documents highlighted that the school received $72.00 per student per year. I read that the Indian Agent expressed concerns about a specific principal who was rather punitive but the issues seemed to have eventually resolved. I read about the illness’, treatment, and eventual deaths of a few children; notably, there was an outbreak of small-pox in 1913, though it was not clear how many students were affected and how many died. I did not have a chance to read all the documents, and due to the old age of the print and the handwriting the document was difficult to read at times.
Scanning the internet, news articles arose about the students at St. Mary’s as subjects to a flour-vitamin experiment. During the five year study, students were denied dental treatment. St. Mary’s survivors have also brought attention to the poor conditions of the school. Leonard Skye highlights the extensive physical abuse and punishment in varying forms and from various people. Leonard also attended St. Joseph’s IRS. There are also reports of the school being overcrowded, with two times as many students as the space was built for. In addition, the water was unfit to drink as they drank from the lake, where the sewage originally ran into.
I noticed a large difference in the tone found in the documents from the St. Mary’s IRS officials when compared to articles written by Indigenous people and those looking to the Indigenous perspective. I am taking this opportunity to point out my understanding of the aspect of Truth as part of Truth and Reconciliation. A critical lens is necessary to understanding who the writer is, their privilege and perspective, what papers were left available to scan/ made public, and likely many more factors I am missing. I spent hours yesterday reading through and deciphering the documents on NRSSS. I read through while feeling calm and unaffected about the events at the school, thinking that at that time, many Canadian/European students may be experiencing the same thing – namely tuberculosis, small-pox, learning to farm, scuffles with principals… but, while reading, I knew who the writer was. And I knew the historical context (#stolenland). I knew the writer was someone of white skin and/or some privilege or power beyond that of the Indigenous children. I also know that, having written essays, a different tone is needed to persuade your reader of your position. Reading that funding was very poor for the schools (prompting students being forced to do half days of labour), I imagine that one had to be fairly well-worded to maintain or increase funding. My point being, truth is still being sought after. Learning the truth is a difficult project: its painful, its convoluted, it has been hidden. Reading these documents and reading the vulnerability and hardship from individuals such as Leonard, I begin to feel more intense frustration, sadness, anger, and helplessness. My hope, through researching, discussing, and sharing resources and information, is that one more person, even if that is just me, is able to learn about the truth of Indian Residential Schools and their lasting impact.
The last part of all of my posts is adding pictures. Today, I pulled open The Shingwauk Project and Residential School Research, Archive, and Visitors’ Centre link about St. Mary’s IRS and was stunned (most photos were taken from here). We were unable to discern with confidence the exact layout and grounds of the school lands. It’s another large building and I just can’t help but think of the suffering. Yes – some students had a good time, learned, and were able to find peace at the schools… but often this was not true. On the memorial site there were dozens of broken glass bottles, and I felt pain. I felt sorrow. Writing this I still do. Please take a moment and browse some of the photos from The Shingwauk Project link, and remember the many faces of the students of St. Mary’s.