By Kim Twatt
The Journey continues….
This is Sturgeon Lake Reserve, Harold announced…..
We passed the store. Acres of bright, waving rape belonged to farmers off the reserve who rent the land. We arrived at Harold’s late parents, Hannah and William Kingfisher’s home. Hannah was William Twatt’s grand-daughter. She had always told her children they were descended from a Scottish man but no-one had really taken her seriously. She had told her children that some day someone would come from Scotland looking for their family. She had been told of my intended visit just before she died. Yvonne presented me with family photos and one of her mother, Hannah’s, favourite books, Two Spirits Soar, The Art of Allen Sapp, a Cree artist. Yvonne told me the book depicts the scenes very similar to her own life at home with her parents. Outside in the sun we ate the most enormous steaks I’ve ever seen. Alistair tumbled on a trampoline with his cousins while we tried to catch up with 200 years of family news.
The William Twatt Band, according to Harold, adhered to the terms of Treaty Six. Through all kinds of obstacles imposed upon them, they changed their lifestyles and farmed on the reserve remaining true to the treaty through generations of difficulties. Harvey Kingfisher and his family at Sturgeon Lake, direct descendants of William Twatt, are still farming even though farming on the reserve became almost non-viable when authorities branded all First Nation people’s cattle. Branded cattle could not be sold off the reserves until they were three years old, and then prices were poor. Harvey had contracted tuberculosis at a young age and had spent two years in hospital. On his release he had been taken to residential school before attending university where he gained a diploma in agriculture. Thirty years driving a bus on the reserve helped subsidise the farm.
We met Carole Kingfisher at the enormous, comfortable trailer which was our home on the reserve for the next three days. Carole, like so many First Nations people, suffers greatly from both arthritis and diabetes. Carole told me that by standards at that time her mother, Hannah, was one of the few people who had been educated. This would have been around the 1920s. She had had to go to the neighbouring province to attain that schooling, leaving home at the age of nine and returning aged eighteen. According to Hannah, she was well treated by the missionaries. It is a miracle, Carole thought, that Hannah did not lose her language or the culture, as the intent of the churches was to assimilate the native people to the mainstream of society. After her return, Hannah never again left the community. No one could leave the reserve without a permit from the Indian Agent and if you did you were jailed. Hannah was a resourceful and ambitious person who provided a good home for her husband and family. Each year a student receives the Hannah Kingfisher Award for outstanding performance in their education.
There was a very tiny school in the community when Carole was a child. Her brothers, Harvey, Harold and Roy, attended this school until grade eight when they were forced by the government to leave. Carole and Yvonne were taken by the Indian Agent to the residential school which became their home for the next thirteen years. Carole explained I would never imagine the horrors of these institutions – the punishment for using their own language. Upon entry to school Carole and Yvonne spoke not one word of English between them. Their spirituality was ridiculed and forbidden, as it was in their community. People who continued to practice these traditions, culture and sacred ceremonies were jailed. There was much physical, emotional and sexual abuse in the institution. Today there are thousands of law suits against the government and the different denominations who operated these schools nationally. Carole says credit goes to her mother for the encouragement to complete her education and graduate with honours. She described the three years at university as heaven and hell. Heaven because she loved to learn, but hell since she was starving in a city with no friends or family around her.
Upon gaining her degree Carole committed her life to serving her people by becoming an agent for change, in her words, an agonising and slow process which has taken over forty years of devotion. She said you need a fine measuring instrument to gauge progress. She pointed out that her people are still living in gut-wrenching poverty, alcoholism, drug and substance abuse, high suicide rates, family break down, 80-90% unemployment running rampant in communities which appears to be never ending. It took Carole and her ex-husband, Sol Sanderson, ten years to establish a First Nations degree granting university. There is also a technical institute which offers vocational and technical training.
Carole had visited London twice during 1982 to lobby the members of Parliament not to allow the patriation of the constitution to Canada unless the treaty and inherent rights were protected. They were successful in that their rights are now recognised in the supreme law of the land. Carole received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and also the Order of Canada which she found ironic – both governments honouring her with the highest recognition given to Canadians in fields of their expertise. She initially turned them down as she felt they were the oppressors and the colonisers who obstructed First Nations development every step of the way. However, after consulting the elders they advised her to accept the medals on behalf of all First Nations people of Saskatchewan.
I found most of the information too overwhelming to absorb and understand at the time and it really took months of thought and recollection to fully understand everything I had been told.
Coming up next – more of the journey exploring family over centuries and culture in Part 9