Saturday, 2 November 2013

A Perspective on the "Mush - Hole", the Residential School in Brantford

Updated 27 June 2014.

There appears to be a universal condemnation of the Residental Schools on or off Indian land.  Basically they were bad places where bad things happened, and should be an embarrassment to Canada and all Canadians.  The guilt mongers have been very active in relation to this subject.  Of course, one must know that there is money involved - compensation for the victims of such abuse and atrocities.  Thus it follows that the public must be convinced that in fact it was all a horrid situation and there are no redeeming aspects.  Period.  See here for an example of a former student's recollections.

A good overview of the Residental Schools, the problems, the compensation, the appologies and so on can be found here.  An independent Truth and Reconcilliation Commission was established.  Most of the 1.9 billion dollar compensation package has been dispensed.

I would never wish to minimise the terrible experiences that some had while attending a residential school.  The stories make one cringe.  The question is though, did everyone experience the situations described by those interviewed for the book on the "Mush - Hole" (a name used for the title of a book on the conditions at the residential school at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford).  At this point, most of what I know is what others, who did attend the "Mush - Hole", have told me.

Mohawk Institue - Now Woodland Cultural Centre
One day a couple of years ago a Community meeting was held where a young White woman from east of Toronto came to enquire as to whether anyone knew of persons of a particular surname who might have attended one such school in Eastern Ontario.  She said that she had information from Native informants that there were murders of young people there, and that the bodies are believed to be buried on the grounds of the institute.  No one at the meeting was able to provide any assistance.  However two Native women, elders in the Community, said to the speaker that the "Mush Hole" is a very controversial topic at Six Nations.  One of the women summed it up very succinctly:

At home you were beaten, went hungry and learned nothing.  At school you were beaten, had three meals a day, and learned something.

Generally the public has only heard a litany of woes, and now a different view from those who were students at the Mohawk Institute.  So apparently what everyone had come to believe was true for all who went to the "Mush Hole" was not correct.  The speaker quickly changed the subject.

Locally, this belief of murder, attrocities and rampant abuse has resulted in enlisting the aid of a forensic team with ground penetrating radar to scour the grounds of the Mohawk Institute to look for bodies.  The preliminary findings can be seen here.  Clearly the interpretation of the artifacts is controversial - buttons and cloth would be expected at an old school site, one that was at one time part of the Mohawk Village.  Only an archaeologist, physical anthropologist, coronor, of a DNA tesst can determine whether bone is human or not.  Again, bones from a variety of species are ubiquitous around any residential site.  The lead investigator, Kevin Annett, a person with a shady and radical past, has been called a fraud and con artist - see here for an example, and here for an article even more damaging to the reputation of Annett.  For the video where the members of the Mohawk Nation at Kanata withdraw support of Kevin Annett, even taking back the Mohawk name that was given to him, see here.  Without enlisting a team of professional archaeologists or other scientists, the remains will always remain questionable.

The term "Mush - Hole" without nuances (with or without the hyphen) has captured the imagination of many locally, and is but another reason to hold tight to hatred toward .......................... well, this or that group.  Apparently only the most graphic stories get told, and are then believed to be characteristic of the experiences of all. 

A detailed (over 500 page) published study on the subject of the "Mush - Hole" is available, see, Elizabeth Graham, The Mush Hole: Life at Two Indian Residential Schools, Heffle Publications, 1997.  An earlier publication, see here, was written for children attending Grades 6 to 9.  Whether a book of this nature (see here), with a warning about coarse language, is in fact suitable for young students is an open question.

It is interesting to note that the word has now been co-opted and expanded to mean anyone who is perceived to abuse power.  On page 7 of the 30th of October issue of Turtle Island News, a woman on probation with an aboriginal agency was fired after a few days service - she alleges because she attended the recent Highway 6 blockade.  She gained the sympathy of the Men's Fire, and shut down the establishment.  In a sign on the window of her former employer was written, Executive Director Imposes "Mushole Mentality".  So now the word is being used as a form of weapon.  And the beat goes on.

Update 1:  In an article entitled, Woodlands leading charge to renovate Mohawk Institute school in Turtle Island News, November 13, 2013, p. 7, it was reported that "Executives at the Woodland Cultural Centre" hope to, secure $5 million to renovate and preserve the notorious Mohawk Institute residential school on Six Nations lands adjacent to the City of Brantford.  However, some ambivalence has been reported here, with some former residents wanting the structure demolished, and others who want it preserved.  The Executive Director, Janis Monture, stated, however, that most would prefer the former option.  The article re-iterates across Canada the reports that survivors of residential schools such as the Mohawk Institute, report being beaten, raped and starved at the schools while being denied their language, culture and heritage.

While it appears that among those of the preservationists, some want it to stay because of its historic value, and can foresee tours to the former school.  Others want it to remain because, we should ensure no one ever forgets what happened to our children.  A second "survivor" stated, I want Canada to be reminded of how they 'cared' about Indian children.  The "Mohawk Institute - Mush Hole Survivors group" is, looking at creating a Mohawk Village Park on the grounds aimed at 'Remembering the Children'. 

It seems a bit convenient.  Demonise the school and all of the officials associated with the Mohawk Institute.  After all this is the concept that has been promulgated recently as it was realised that there was "compensation" to the "survivors".  So now all of the good done by the Mohawk Institute over the years since about 1850 is wiped away in the tsunami of political correctness.  The school was on Reserve land!  Children were not forcibly torn from their parent's arms to be molded into little obedient short haired English speaking Canadians - after all that did happen to families up north and out west (of that I do not disagree).  According to Weaver (1978), it was the Mohawk who, persuaded the chiefs to vote their first education grant from band revenue.  In 1877 a school board was formed, where power over education was shared between three Six Nations Chiefs serving on the board, the Anglican clergy, and the Indian superintendent.  It set local educational policy and built and staffed the eight schools under its charge .................. Many Six Nations people, themselves educated at the Mohawk Institute, were employed as teachers (p. 530)So, it was not just a bunch of greedy, cruel Whites bent on acculturating the Six Nations people - it was a School Board, 50% of whose composition was made up of Six Nations Chiefs, who set the agenda here.  Something does not add up, but that will not alter the fact that one can always find those who were abused (at all schools) by today's standards - but I am questioning whether this had anything at all to do with the "Residential Schools" which "necessitated" an apology from Prime Minister Harper for all of the injustices here.

Update 2:  It needs to be emphasized that it is not only at Six Nations where the topic of Residential Schools is controversial and the propaganda that it was a universally horrid experience must be challenged.  A Cree who has done well within the artistic community has boldly stated that the descriptions so often quoted by those with an agenda do not jive with his experience.  In an article in the Globe and Mail, 21 October 2013,Tomson Highaway made the following statements:

First of all, too many people, in my opinion, talk about it as if they were there, as if they actually saw it. Different people had different experiences. There was an awful lot of us who survived and who have beautiful, beautiful lives. I don’t dwell in the past. I dwell in the present and the future. Even if the school system had destroyed me, which it didn’t, you know what happens when something destroys you? You pick yourself up, you brush yourself off, and you move on. Who’s had a perfect school experience? How many kids were you tortured by in the schoolyard when you were six years old? How many 14-year-old white teenage girls are being tortured to death literally on the Internet? There are many, many positive things, and that’s what I like to think about. [Because] of the residential system, by the time I was 12, I was trilingual. Because of the residential system, I learned how to play the piano and I play like a dream.  See here for full article.  Thanks to for bringing this information to my attention.

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