Month: June 2021

“For Whom The Bell Tolls”

”It must 50 years since I talked to George Clutesi in his neat cottage home on Somass River Road in Port Alberni. I was a newcomer in the Albernis having been transferred to the Valley to open a news bureau for the Nanaimo Free Press.

The newspaper had ambitions way back then to spread its new daily wings beyond the Hub City. The Free Press no longer exists; its expansion plans in the Alberni Valley and later Courtenay wrecked by the Internet and other electronic marvels.

My new home with four children and a fifth due in a few months was on Stirling Arm on Sproat Lake not far from the old and famous water bombers, which provided wonderful entertainment during pre-fire season practice and during high fire years when local forest fires kept the flyers busy.

It was a great spot for raising children and a short drive to and from work, shops and schools, and George Clutesi – artist, actor, movie star, and a treasure chest on Tseshaht Nation’s legends and history – was a new-in-town-newsman’s dream. I was not a frequent visitor nor could I ever boast I was a close friend. I was one of those annoying acquaintances who dropped in unannounced occasionally, made myself at home – and was always made to feel welcome.

I’ve been calling George to mind in recent days as I have ploughed through the thousands of pages comprising the report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, published a couple of years ago.

It contains a lot of George Clutesi’s thinking, although he died in 1988, sometime before the Commission report was published and morphed into the permanent National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

One of the themes echoing Clutesi thinking has to do with revenge for the evils perpetrated (and placidly accepted as valid by the people) imposed by white governors as they tried to whip the aboriginal tribes of Canada into sub-servant replicas of their proclaimed masters’ society.

I asked George why young aboriginal Canadians were so hang-dog submissive; why they tended to step to one side on a downtown sidewalk to give white folk clear passage. He politely saidI was misreading their feeling. He said it was sometimes a serious challenge holding the young bloods in check. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report echoes that warning with the oft-repeated theme that its emphasis is, and will always be, on reconciliation, not revenge.

And I’m wondering if the majority of white people feel that way. John Donne (1572-1631) once wrote: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Next time you hear them, ringing “from sea to shining sea” in Canada, remember the answer.

Reconciliation Is Never Easy

“Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”

The words are part of the introduction to the voluminous report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published in December 2015 and still producing shudders of embarrassment in Canada as details of years of practiced cultural genocide continue to be revealed.


The latest shock wave came a few days ago when it was revealed that the graves of 215 children have been located on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School for indigenous children.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, made public after several years of cross-country study and thousands of interviews with former students arbitrarily confined to the schools, defined cultural genocide as: “The destruction of those structures and practices that allow a group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.

“IN ITS DEALING WITH ABORIGINAL PEOPLE, CANADA DID ALL OF THESE THINGS.” (The emphasis is mine)

During many months of listening to testimony from more than 6,000 witnesses the Commission said it was often difficult to believe that what they were hearing had happened “in a country such as Canada which has so long prided itself on being a bastion of democracy, peace and kindness …”

TypicaI of hard-to-believe-but-horribly-true was the story I wrote in June 2014 about an inquest into the deaths of four children from Lejac Indian Residential School back in 1937.

The four lads were runaways who had decided New Year’s Day would be a good time to be home with their family on the Nautley Indian Reserve some six or seven miles away. It was nine o’clock in the evening of January 1 before the boys – Alan Wylie, 9, Andrew Paul and Justa Maurice, 8, and John Michael Jack, 7, were reported missing. The temperature was below zero and falling.

At the subsequent inquest into their deaths BC Police Constable H.J. Jennings testified he had found the four bodies roughly three quarters of mile short of the Nautley Reserve where their families lived. He estimated they had been walking for about six hours before they fell and froze to death.

Const. Jennings testified they were wearing “underwear, blue denim shirts, overalls, heavy woolen socks, low rubbers, no hats. One boy had lost a rubber and a sock. His foot was bare. Three were lying huddled together; the fourth, some 80-feet away, died alone.”

But the most telling and disturbing testimony came from School Principal Father Patrick MacGrath who, according to press reports, “expressed surprise that the four dead children had fled the school unprepared” and added that “they could and should have helped themselves to more clothing.”

Father MacGrath was also reported to have filed a signed a statement saying: “Ninety per cent of our children are present at the school against their parents’ wishes and are not disciplined by their parents when they do run away so that it is hard (for us) to prevent them.”

The coroner’s jury was not impressed. It found: “More definite action by the school authorities might or should have been taken … and that more cooperation between authorities and parents would lessen the incidence of runaways.” It also decried the use of excessive corporal punishment and strongly recommended there would better understanding between disciplinarians and pupils “if the latter were English speaking.”

The Inquest had revealed that the teaching staff strictly enforced the “no native language rule” for students even though they had only limited knowledge of English.

Truth and reconciliation still lie just beyond our reach. But, not without hope.