Native journalist writes gripping account of residential school

Published September 1, 2005

Not again, you might be thinking. We have heard this story before, many times.

What redeeming benefit is there in another reminder of the Indian residential school tragedies? The churches in Canada have spent more than a decade struggling with the pain and guilt of it all. The media have covered it thoroughly.

The primate formally apologized and a special healing fund, well supported across the church, has been established. Many healing projects have already been initiated. We might all be feeling quite satisfied with a job well done.

However, this calamity needs continued attention because not all come simultaneously to a moment of truth about the gravity of the matter and the need for healing from it.

For some, the facts are all out. A resolution has been developed and implemented. For others, it seems that only now has the full impact of the nightmare surfaced into consciousness.

That seems to be the case with Enos (Bud) Whiteye, a native Canadian living on Walpole Island in southwestern Ontario. Mr. Whiteye, a member of the Bkejwanong First Nation was recently recognized by the Ontario Newspapers Association for articles written on a broad range of native issues. He was judged best columnist in the opinion and analysis category.

A graduate of the University of Western Ontario’s specialized program in journalism for native people, Whiteye wrote A Dark Legacy as a cross-cultural primer for readers. He writes sparingly, poignantly and pointedly to prompt questions, concerns and a greater awareness of what happened to him and others like him at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ont., while he was a residential student there. For years, the government of Canada appointed an Anglican clergyman principal of the school; the bishop of the Huron diocese nominated candidates for the position.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that, in light of various abuses suffered at the hands of the school’s authorities, former students of the Institute can proceed with a class action suit against the federal government, the diocese of Huron and the New England Company, an English charity.

While financial settlements are usually the main business of the courts, the church seeks to promote alternative dispute resolution procedures as a preferable way to settle with victims fairly and with sensitivity. Rather than merely dispensing cash, the church prefers to engage in a holistic approach leading to long-term justice and healing.

In the meantime, Mr. Whiteye is not waiting passively for what he might gain monetarily from the case. He has undertaken his own healing process through the writing of gripping accounts like A Dark Legacy wherein he challenges us all.

Studies about the residential schools, written mainly by whites, have poured from Canadian presses for two decades. What makes Mr. Whiteye’s work unique is that he is a native journalist with a general readership, not an academic with an exclusive audience.

The author presents three snapshots from his own story to help readers identify with an unsuspecting young boy who was kidnapped and taken to the school by authorities; who attempted an escape but failed; and who was repeatedly raped by a staff member.

The violence and shame he felt for years was so overwhelming that he repressed the feelings. This resulted in blurry bouts with depression, alcoholism and a deep sense of worthlessness.

Only now can he tell his story with total recall.

The author has chosen to write using a journalistic rather than a book format so that more people can experience with him his trauma and emergence from it.

A Dark Legacy represents more than one man’s experience. It reflects the cumulative pain of many in his extended family and community.

Mr. Whiteye shares his story with any who are willing to learn with him and are determined not to forget. Wayne A. Holst is an adult educator at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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