Mount Elgin Indian Industrial School Monument Unveiling
Speech by Nancy Deleary, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation Councilor, Culture, Language and Heritage Portfolio Councilor June 20, 2012
Boozhoo, Ahnishna. Nancy Deleary n’dizhnikaaz.
On behalf of the Residential School Committee of the Mount Elgin Industrial Indian School, I want to welcome everyone here to our First Nation of the Chippewa of the Thames. I hope you enjoy the beauty and serenity of the land that we have here on our territory of Chippewa.
I am very honored to have been appointed this important role of assisting our Residential School Survivors and Chippewa First Nation Staff in the commemoration of the children of Mount Elgin Industrial Indian School and for the Survivors Residential School of my community of Chippewa, Munsee-Delaware and Oneida.
For the past two years I worked with Former and Retired Chippewa First Nation Councillor Martha Albert who became my friend and mentor. Together we organized the Mount Elgin Residential School committee and officiated for this commemoration.
Martha was a student and survivor of the Mohawk Indian Institute of Brantford. I learned about how she was like a sister to my uncles, my father’s younger brothers, who had also went to the Mohawk Institute. I learned that she spent many hours on the phone with my uncles throughout their lives. I think that the bond that they had and still have is one that was formed in that school. A relationship of comradery was formed, as was many such relationships that were developed of the children of residential school, because it was needed in order to survive in such a violent and cruel establishment. This relationship extended into the lives of Martha and my uncles well after the residential school era, because they were essentially all each other had, the only ones who could understand what they all had went through. They were able to understand each other’s frustrations in dealing with a society that stole their childhood and forgot and ignored them. Their family structures were shattered. They were angry when they were released, and the ones that they lashed out against the most were their very own parents and siblings. As the daughter, niece and a child growing up in this community I witnessed and was affected by the repercussions of this anger.
But that is human nature don’t you think? Can you blame someone for being angry? I cannot explain here the crimes against humanity that were inflicted upon the children of residential school. Those stories are for another time and place. What I will say is, is that this pain and sorrow of relationships still resonates within our people and our communities.
It is also important to point out that our community of Chippewa withstood a high concentrated assault of the residential school system because our reserve was host to the Mount Elgin Industrial Indian School for 100 years, first opening its doors in 1849 and shutting down in 1948.
Late in 2010 the Mount Elgin Residential School committee was formed and comprised of the hard work and dedication by the following Residential School Survivors:
Martha Albert, Mohawk Institute
Arnold Henry, Mount Elgin
Frieda Henry, (Arnold’s wife) Mohawk Institute
Ron aka Buster Deleary, Mount Elgin
Sylvia Deleary, (Buster’s wife) Mohawk Institute
Sophia Albert-Jamison, Mount Elgin
Ina Henry, Mount Elgin who represented the Munsee-Delaware Nation
George Beeswax, Mount Elgin
Jim Sickles, Mount Elgin who represented the Oneida Nation
Geraldine Robertson, Mount Elgin from Aamjinaang First Nation
Susie Jones, Shingwauk from Bkejwenong First Nation
And my uncle, the Late Ron Deleary, Mohawk Institute
In the late 1990’s a small group of survivors got together here on our Chippewa Nation. It was at their kitchen tables that they would meet together to seriously talk about what the residential school system had done to them and their families. These three men of my community were my uncles, the Late Ron Deleary, his twin brother the Late Don Deleary and Mr. James Riley. They supported each other when they decided to uncover the atrocities that the church and state committed against them and their people. This group grew larger as more and more found it in themselves to speak of what was buried in the past and suppressed. Warren Doxtator, Leo Nicholas, Willie Beeswax, Martha Albert and the Late Goldie Riley, all Mohawk Institute Survivors who came on board to develop a Class Action Suit against Canada for the Residential School Experience.
I learned this piece of history from our committee of survivors. I also learned many stories of life in the residential schools. Every story that I heard I associated with my Late Grandmothers, Eva Shilling and Gladys Madison-Deleary, both who attended this Mount Elgin Industrial Indian School. With every story, I would image my grandmothers as little girls here on this very land that we stand. Removed from their families, which I now know was shattered from decades of abuse in this system of genocide.
Today, we now understand that this was all about the land. In order for a newcomer to take over a place, the original inhabitants must first be removed.
An evolution of events took place when the Shognosh first came to the shores of our continent.
I now would like to explain a couple of Chippewa words and terms I will use in this next portion of my talk.
Anishinaabeg - This word means, literally in our language to mean,
“From whence – Was lowered- the first of the human species.” We use this word to describe the Native American Indian of this continent “the People
Shognosh – This word means white man.
Turtle Island – Is what we call North America
Shkaa Kimi Kwe – Our mother, the earth
The Anishinaabeg knew that the Shognosh were coming. We now know our ancestors wrote this down for us to read in our sacred Birchbark scrolls. Please allow me to help you look at this life on earth from a basic spiritual lens as was interpreted to me by the intellectuals of our Nation.
Four colours of people inhabit this earth of ours. The Yellow, Red, Black and White human being. Each of these people were given gifts. For a reason, the Whiteman, the Shognosh, lost his gift and he was lost in his grief over this. The Redman, the Anishinaabeg, allowed the Shognosh to have their gift, at the cost of him suffering himself without it. This is how much he loved his brother. This is the reality we are now in.
The four peoples of the earth have come to a time when they have important decisions to make that will determine the fate of life on earth. The ancestors who wrote these scrolls describe that time is being now.
This planet, that we call ShkaaKiimi Kwe, cares for and nurtures all life forms. We are one of those life forms. The lives and territories of our co-habitants of this earth are in danger. The human being is on a course, which is using up the resources and creating dangerous pollutants that will inevitably destroy us.
This river that runs through our community of Chippewa, Munsee-Delaware and Oneida no longer sustains our people. Many of us are afraid to eat the fish or eat the deer that roam this land.
The Green lane dump that is right next to our communities threatens our health, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Environmentally, we are all in the same boat, what they are doing - they do to all of us.
Our Creator created our Anishinaabeg language for us so that we could communicate with this land and everything that lives on it. Our Anishinaabeg language is threatened immensely by becoming extinct.
There is much work to do to reconcile all relationships here. And I am happy to say that there are dedicated people in our community who are working on this.
I honor the work that these Residential School committee members did in making all of this day possible, for it was with their thoughts and ideas that all of this commemoration was designed.
I honor my Uncles Ron and Don, both of whom are now in the Spirit world. I know they are here today, along with all of our relatives and ancestors.