Where in Canada: Walpole Island First Nation, Ontario, Canada

This edition of Where in Canada takes us to Ontario’s Walpole Island—home to 150 residential school survivors, 13 of whom share their stories within author Theresa Turmel’s new book Mnidoo Bemaasing Bemaadiziwin: Reclaiming, Reconnecting, and Demystifying Resiliency as Life Force Energy for Residential School Survivors (ARP). Through Turmel’s deep listening studies, the life experiences of these survivors are brought to light, revealing a positive life force energy so strong in its endurance that it cannot be extinguished.


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from Mnidoo Bemaasing Bemaadiziwin: Reclaiming, Reconnecting, and Demystifying Resiliency as Life Force Energy for Residential School Survivors by Theresa Turmel

Chapter 2, The Work Process, “Listening to the Survivors” pg 72,

“Giving Back: Miigweyan neyaab”: pg 78

Deep listening to survivors is important as they view it as an opportunity to have their voice heard, and hearing from the survivors is taken very seriously in Anishinaabe country. For me, listening to the survivors whereby one goes to the very people affected, and asks questions, was a natural process for gathering information. In order to achieve the most effectiveness of listening, the survivor has to experience a level of comfort with me and the environment. Throughout my years, I have come to understand the limits and strengths of listening. There are factors occurring in the background involving residential school issues and impacts. I listened to 13 individuals of the 150 survivors living on Walpole Island as they came forward (volunteered) to tell about their life experiences. Most of the survivors were listened to in the comfort of their own home. The survivors all lived at Walpole Island except for two. The survivors had attended Shingwauk (Anglican), Mount Elgin (Methodist) or the Mohawk Institute (Anglican). All of the survivors knew the language, Anishinaabemowin, prior to being sent to residential school. Of the 13 survivors, only two were fluent in their language after leaving residential school. Four of the survivors were five years old or under when entering residential school. Eight of the 13 survivors attended residential school for six or more years. Of the 13 survivors, at least 50 percent are second and third generation, as either mother, father or both, or a grandparent went to residential school.

My approach was very much a family approach. When I went to listen to a survivor, I brought a teapot (as a gift) with several different kinds of tea so that they could make a selection. I also brought a box of tissues (just in case). Before we started, I asked them about their family, grandchildren and inquired about their definition of resiliency. If they were not too sure I read them two definitions; two survivors requested the definition of resiliency. As this work is intended to give voice to the 13 survivors and my understanding of their resiliency, there are specific protocols that must be followed. First, as I have learned from the survivors, my paramount responsibility is to remain respectful and keep the survivors safe. In doing this, I recognized that the boundaries included not to do harm by asking probing questions. I also must be observant in understanding and knowing what information can be shared and what can be put in writing. In December 2010, I returned to Walpole Island and met with each survivor so that they could re-check his/her transcript to verify their words. Although all the survivors consented to using their full name, I decided that I would use only their first names to distinguish them from other survivors I had conversations with; they are: Eric, Geraldine, Gladys, Leonard, Louis, Mary, Patrick, Ronald, Susie, Sylvia, Una, Vernon and William. I had conversations with other survivors about their residential school and life experiences prior to and while doing this work. Their voices are also included. Those survivors include: Garnet Angeconeb, Mike Cachagee, the late Dorothy Cunningham, Geronimo Henry, Shirley Horn, the late Ron Howard, Sr., and especially the late Susie Jones who drew me into in-depth discussions and ongoing guidance until she passed into the spirit world. I will forever be eternally grateful for her trust in me and my work.

My knowledge is through experiential learning in hearing the voices of the Elders and truth from the 13 survivors, including teachings and learnings as first-hand knowledge in my lived experiences. Throughout this narrative not only do I use my own words which are a manifestation of my twenty plus years of learning from many residential school survivors, including their teachings about role modeling, but also personal communications with Elders and survivors all of whom have been reviewed and approved by the source. While deeply listening to their life experiences and through revealed knowledge, I found that there is a positive energy, an endearing and enduring legacy that springs from within the survivors—their life force energy or mnidoo bemaasing bemaadiziwin. This life force energy is innate, holistic and within each of us. It manifests itself through all of our relations; land, animals, plants, ancestors and  other people. The life force energy cannot be extinguished but can be severely dampened. The residential school system was an attempt to severely dampen the students’ life force energy.

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Dr. Theresa Turmel (Biidaaban Ntam bi yaad) is an Anishinaabe-kwe from Michipicoten First Nation. She completed her Ph.D. in Indigenous Studies from Trent University in 2013. Her doctoral dissertation, Forever We Will Remain: Reflections and Memories: ‘Resiliency’ Concerning the Walpole Island Residential School Survivors Group, was the product of twenty plus years of a participatory, community-based partnership with the residential school survivors from Walpole Island. Her most significant research work has been working with Indian residential school survivors in a special project capacity with a critical analysis of resiliency theory.