New publisher Indigenous Education Press of Brantford is telling one of the darkest stories of Aboriginal peoples for its first project.
The history book - Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors - by award-winning Cree writer and residential school survivor Larry Loyie, co-authors Wayne K. Spear and Constance Brissenden, debuts at the end of the month.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were removed from their families to attend the church-run schools, including the Mohawk Institute in Brantford.
Indigenous Education Press is housed in the Mohawk Street offices of GoodMinds.com, an Aboriginal book wholesaler, next door to the former Mohawk Institute, which is now part of the Woodland Cultural Centre, a museum showcasing Aboriginal art.
GoodMinds founder Jeff Burnham said he formed the non-profit publishing company to further native culture contributions and history.
"We want to entice all Canadians to continue reading and learning about the vibrancy and value of our cultural teachings and stories," he said.
"Indigenous people continue to have enormous impact on Canada's history and development. It's vital that this become part of everyone's learning and something of which we should all be proud.
"This will be the first book of hopefully many," said Burnham, an Oneida.
Loyie and Brissenden visited Indigenous Education Press the other day to talk about the book.
"It was very hard, the content of the book. It had to be friendly with everybody, which it was not friendly when I went through it at residential school," said the 81-year-old Loyie. "When you pile wood for four to six weeks during school hours it's not good because you're not going to school."
The author said he wanted to tell the truth but still have the book appropriate for children. It's written for Grade 7 to adult.
Before it became the Mohawk Institute the residential school in Brantford was known as the Mohawk Indian Industrial School. It opened in 1828 and began taking in boarders from Six Nations three years later.
The institution was the ignominious model for residential schools across North America, whose objective was the assimilation and elimination of Aboriginal cultures and language. The schools operated from 1828 to 1996.
Loyie, Brissenden and Spear, a Mohawk, interviewed more than 100 residential school survivors over two decades of research.
"Larry's being a survivor - that's the key to this book," said Brissenden. "You can't have an outsider, you can't have a person who was not a student writing this book."
The book quotes several survivors of the Mohawk Institute, which was nicknamed the "mush hole" by the students for the sticky porridge they were served every morning.
"There was never enough to eat. We got oatmeal, toast, maybe soup at lunch. Supper was made with potatoes or whatever was left over at lunchtime. Meat was mostly on holidays, on Sundays. Us fellows who worked in the greenhouse stole potatoes from the root cellar. We roasted them in the furnace. We stole a small pig and took it down to the Grand River and cooked it. Everyone stole something to eat. As long as you didn't get caught, you were all right," said Ron Styres (Cayuga), who attended the Mohawk Institute from 1939 to 1948.
Brissenden said Geronimo Henry was one of the first survivors interviewed because of his activism. He helped kick start a lawsuit for Six Nations. He would later lead tours at Woodland.
The hardcover, full-colour Residential Schools has seven chapters on the importance of culture and traditions, family, stories of abuse, friendships, laughter and the power of healing and education. It includes first-person accounts from survivors along with more than 125 photos documenting their experiences.
One photo shows wampum belts confiscated at Ohsweken in Six Nations in October 1924 by the local Indian Agent with an armed escort of RCMP officers. The belts were used as official records of law and agreements at the Six Nations of the Grand River Confederacy Council. On May 8, 1988, 11 of the belts were finally returned to the confederacy chiefs.
Loyie attended St. Bernard Mission residential school in Grouard, Alta., 73 years ago. He was inspired to become a writer during a hospital stay at age 12, when he read a Look magazine article about Ernest Hemingway. Four decades later he went back to school in his mid-50s to study creative writing and English grammar and learn to type.
"I got tired of reading books about our culture written wrongly," he said. "I thought I'm going to start writing about my culture the way it was actually lived. The Hollywoodized part of our way of life is not fact."
Loyie has written nine best-selling Aboriginal children's and youth books. In 2001, he received the Canada Post Literacy Award for Individual Achievement for his work as a learner and community literacy advocate.
A launch for Residential Schools is being held Thursday, Jan. 29, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the GoodMinds.com booth at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
The book, co-published with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre at Algoma University, is available through www.goodminds.com or by calling 1-877-862-8483.