Mount Elgin Indian Industrial Residential School & Model Farm

September 30, 2021

Boozhoo, Ahnishna everyone, my name is Manitou Bennezeek n’dizhnikaaz, and my English name is Gina McGahey.  I am honoured to be here on this life journey as the Anishinaabe’aadziwin Director in supporting remembering, revitalizing and reclaiming our traditional language and ways for the Deshkan Ziibiing community.   It is at this time, my words come from you in helping to remember this important  Orange Shirt Day regarding the history of the Mount Elgin Indian Industrial Residential School & Model Farm.

  1. It began in the early 19th century- First Nation people was in a place with no land due to increase of settlers wanting land and their traditional life was changing.

2   In 1844, Reverend Peter Jones vision a manual labour school that would educate First Nation children by providing them the skills need to be part of this new and rapid changing world.

  1. So he ventured out to raise funds to build the school in which he was successful in getting funds from Great Britain, the U.S. and the Wesleyan Methodist Society
  2. INAC agreed to pay a per student grant for the students and the Chiefs agreed to pay ¼ of their annual annuities to help run the school. The Church paid for other expenses but it was recouped by the profits of the farm.
  3. The First Nation perspective was the opportunity to bring our people out of poverty and starvation as it became difficult to maintain a traditional way of life of living off the land.
  4. School would provide them the children with the skills needed to adapt and to make a living in this new western world.
  5. Mount Elgin residential school was established in 1849 and opened its doors in 1850 with 13 students in its first year.
  6. First Principal was Reverend Samuel Rose who was not sensitive to native culture and implemented a strict schedule of 7 ½ hours of physical labour and 5 ½ hours of schooling.
  7. The curriculum at that time consisted of reading, scriptures, geography, arithmetic and writing. Students only had one hour of play.
  8. Many students indicated the usefulness of practical skills but at the time students faced harsh experiences of longing for their family, loneliness, hunger, lack of parental nurturing, bullying by older students and abuse at the hands of the school officials.
  9. In order to upkeep the school, children were often put to work on the farm by building the farm infrastructure, keeping up with the fields, caring for the animals and harvesting the milk, eggs and garden. Unfortunately, the children never seen the fruits of their labour and was given limited and staled food.
  10. Other issues arise due to overcrowding of students, disease outbreaks such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever. The class sizes were large and some students remained at the school past the age of 16 to continue their abour on the farm and in the residences.
  11. The school closed in 1946, due to depreciation of the building, shortage of teachers, limited farm income and complaints by parent on the children being malnourished and underweight, as well as an increase in student running away.
  12. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Harper provided a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential School system. In the apology it acknowledged the separation of Indigenous children from their families, the removal and isolation of children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures and to force them into their policy of assimilation which was wrong and has caused great harm.

Children were inadequately fed, clothed and housed, deprived of the care and nurturing of the parents, grandparents and communities., language and cultural practices were prohibited and some children died and others never returned home.

  1. This assimilation policy had lasting effects and damages impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language and many stories were told by survivors of tragic accounts of emotional physical and sexual abuse and neglect and the powerless separation from their families and communities.
  2. This legacy of Indian Residential school has now created intergenerational social problems that continue to exist today with profound impacts that continues to haunt the survivors, their families and their communities resulting in inability to parent their own children, nurturing, trust, loss of language and culture, self confidence & self-worth all leading up to various other social problems Indigenous people are still suffered today.
  3. So as a part of the Prime Minister’s apology, the government asks Indigenous people for forgiveness for failing them and to move forward to begin the healing, reconciliation and resolution by implementing the Indian Residential Schools and Day School Settlements for the survivors, the families and the communities.


So I leave you with this story to think about.


The Lily Root - Ojibway

  1. One day, Mishomis (grandfather) and his grandson were walking in the bush. They came upon a small river with a big pond. Mishomis saw some water lilies in the pond. He asked his grandson to get him a lily root.


  1. Lily roots were important to Mishomis. When he dries the root and ground it into powder, it became medicine. Mishomis would use this medicine to help keep healthy.


  1. His grandson removed his boots and socks. Then, he rolled up his pant legs. When he stepped into the pond, he felt the mud ooze between his toes.


  1. Mishomis stood on shore and pointed to the lily plant he wanted.


  1. When the boy reached the lily plant, his pants and legs were wet and muddy. The oozing muck from the bottom of the pond was smelly and dirty. He reached into the water quickly to pull out the root.


  1. Be careful," Mishomis told him."You must not break the root when you pull it up. The medicine will be spoiled if it is taken from a broken root."


  1. When his fingers were around the root, his grandson gave a hard yank. Nothing happened. He put his other hand around it. "Be careful, now," instructed Mishomis.


  1. When he yanked the second time, the boy's shirt became wet with the muddy water. But the root still did not move. The boy could hear his grandfather on the shore. "Reach deeper with both hands," said Mishomis.


  1. Very slowly, the boy bent over the beautiful white lily flower. He reached with both hands for a better grip around the root. His shirt sleeves were soaked. He pulled hard. The root refused to budge.


  1. Finally, he realized he would have to get all wet with the muddy water. It still smelled. He held his breath. Quickly, his face went under water. He bent right over the plant with both handsdeep around the stubborn root. He pulled and pulled. When the root came free he almost fell over in the water.


  1. He walked back to shore to Mishomis. He was wet from head to toe. His skin was itchy. Mud covered his feet, his pants, and his shirt. He carried the lily in his muddied hands. At one end of the plant was the beautiful white flower. At the other end was the muddy root.


  1. As Mishomis cleaned the mud from the lily root, he hummed softly. Then he cut off the flower.


  1. He looked at his grandson who stood beside him. He was wet and muddy. His clothes smelled like the muddy pond. His toes and feet were still slippery with mud. Mishomis laughed at the sight of his grandson.


  1. Mishomis held the lily root very gently. "This will make me feel strong and healthy," he said to the boy. Next to Mishomis, the beautiful white flower lay discarded on the ground. "The root is more important than the flower," he said. "Many people are interested only in the pretty flower," he said. "Remember the lily root."

Why is this story so important on this Orange Shirt Day

  • To remembering the important connection between our survivors and ancestors of residential school and their stories and where we are today as intergenerational survivors
  • Breaking the root means remembers what the children lost when they went to residential school
  • Why it is important to take the lily plant as a symbol of what we must do today to ensure that we do not break our language & culture ever again.
  • The importance of healing, like cleaning the root and to move forward to be strong and healthy to live a good life
  • To remember that the root is just as important as the flower just life remembering our history is just as important today to live a good life.


Discussion — The Lily Root

After telling the students the story "The Lily Root," ask the students to identify some of the themes of the story. Questions you may want to ask the students are:

  • Why did Mishomis ask his grandson to get the lily root?
  • What was the grandson's reaction when he had to go into the muddy water?
  • Mishomis told him that the root was more important than the flower. Can you think of any time that you found something important in a dirty or unpleasant place?
  • Did you learn something? What did you learn? Why do you think this story should be told?