Former Qualicum First Nations chief Kim Recalma-Clutesi’s great uncle John died at a residential school.

Former Qualicum First Nations chief Kim Recalma-Clutesi’s great uncle John died at a residential school.

Former Qualicum First Nations chief shares the story of her family’s horrific experience with residential schools

This column by Kim Recalma-Clutesi comes in the wake of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report

  • Jun. 9, 2015 7:00 p.m.

KIM RECALMA-CLUTESI

Special to The NEWS

“…Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem, it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us …”  Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair, June 2, 2002.

To mark the tabling of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on June 2, I registered my great uncle John Recalma’s death on the TRC’s Missing Child or Unmarked Graves Report. This was not possible before the TRC process.

My great uncle John died in the Port Alberni Indian Residential School on November 4, 1918. His cause of death was never recorded, his grave was never marked, he was never given a proper burial, his mother, (my great grandmother), Agnes, was never informed of his death. He was only 14 years old.

About 40 years ago, my late father-in-law, George Clutesi, told me of John’s violent death. He was witness to John being beaten and thrown into the root cellar for speaking his language and when the root cellar door was opened a couple days later; John had died from his injuries.

John is only one of an estimated 7,000 residential school students who never made it home. He is one of thousands who were left in unmarked graves on the grounds of 140 residential schools scattered across Canada.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that the Canadian government knew as early as 1907 that the odds of dying in their church-run, government-mandated Indian Residential School was one in 25, even higher than the one in 26 odds of dying in the Second World War. Even knowing these odds, the Indian Residential Schools continued for another 89 years, incarcerating over 150,000 Aboriginal children in conditions void of minimal standards for human life.  Seven generations faced horrific, terrifying and unspeakable abuse across Canada.

The residential school story is not ancient history — five schools operated here, in the Vancouver Island region, within a few hours drive from Parksville Qualiucm Beach, from 1890 to 1983:

• Alberni Residential School (1892-1973) Presbyterian and the United Church of Canada;

• Kuper Island Residential School (1890-1975) Roman Catholic Church;

• Christie (Kakawis) Residential School (1900-1983) Roman Catholic Church;

• Ahousaht Residential School (1895-1940) Presbyterian and the United Church of Canada;

• St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay (1890-1974) Anglican Church.

The grooming and abuse of more than 150,000 Aboriginal children who attended residential schools was so complete that few spoke openly of the horror of their experiences. It was not until the courts mandated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the 2006 settlement for a class action suit brought on by residential school survivors, that the emotional dams broke and the tears flowed.

My late father, Chief Buddy Recalma, spent his entire adult life working within the Native Brotherhood of B.C., the R.A.V.E.N. Society, the Southern Vancouver Island Tribal Federation, the U.B.C.I.C and the Federal Liberal Party of Canada to correct these historic wrongs and to educate prime ministers, federal ministers, MPs, and senators since Pierre Trudeau’s time in office. I was witness to many of these conversations. Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs reminded me last night that Buddy was a main educator to the prime minister over the years.

The Kelowna Accord was in part a result of Martin’s continued education by survivors like my father and his deep conviction that Canada has an obligation to correct this dark part of Canadian history.

What have we done as Canadians with the 20-year plan laid out in the 1996 Dussault, Erasmus Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs? Nothing.

What has been done to replace Martin’s 2005 Kelowna Accord that was the result of an unprecedented consultative process involving the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and five national Aboriginal Organizations. Nothing.

What will be done with the 94 TRC recommendations? Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper shelve this report as he shelved the Kelowna Accord?

It’s been 97 years since my great uncle died. I pray it will not take one more year for Canadian society to understand that his life mattered, his resting place matters and his death needs to be remembered.

— Kim Recalma-Clutesi is a traditional ecological and cultural knowledge holder; educator;  activist; film producer/director and former elected Chief of the Qualicum First Nation. E-mail: kim_recalma-clutesi@shaw.ca.

Just Posted

Hannes Grosse, left, and Iris Steigemann, right, as they prepared for their 'Moments of Silence' exhibit. The father-daughter duo are showing at The Old School House Arts Centre in Qualicum Beach until June 26. (Submitted photo)
Cortes Island artists exhibit at Qualicum Beach’s TOSH in first father-daughter show

Both artists will be present at shows on Friday, June 25 and Saturday, June 26

The Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society will get more funding from the Regional District of Nanaimo. (Submitted Photo)
More PQB communities to fund Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society

RDN to introduce amendment to service bylaw contribution

A slide on best practices when reporting a suspected impaired driver that was presented to Parksville city council on June 7 by Margarita Bernard, a volunteer with MADD. The organization’s Report Impaired Drivers campaign involves the installation of informative signs within the City of Parksville. (Mandy Moraes photo)
MADD brings campaign to report impaired drivers to Parksville

Aim is to raise awareness that 911 should be called

Pam Bottomley (executive director), right and Sandy Hurley (president) of the Parksville Downtown Business Association visit the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: Downtown Parksville gears up for post-pandemic bounce back

Podcast: Hurley, Bottomley chat about what’s ahead for the PDBA

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.’s Indigenous language, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says re-opening B.C.’s border to the U.S. ‘is not in our best interest’ right now. (B.C. Government photo)
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry (B.C. Government photo)
B.C. records 113 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 4 deaths

Vaccination of young people rising quickly, near 75 per cent

Most Read