Dene author to speak about residential school experience
By Darren Lum
Canadian history includes more than peacekeeping, the underground railroad, or a global reputation for inclusiveness and multiculturalism. There is a darker past that was revealed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which includes the systemic assimilation of the original peoples of Canada through the Indian Act and the Canadian Indian Residential Schools System.
More than 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Metis children between the ages of four to 16 attended residential schools from the 1870s to 1996 when the last residential school closed. Antoine Mountain, a Dene newspaper columnist for more than 15 years and author of From Bear Rock Mountain: the Life and Times of a Dene Residential School Survivor, is counted among those who were taken from their homes and brought to schools far from family and forced to forget their past and culture. Some faced abuse and continue to carry that trauma.
Mountain will be coming to Haliburton to speak about his experience on Oct. 3 at Canoe FM. He said he wants people to “leave with a feeling of having exchanged in a healthy manner in Canada’s steps toward reconciliation with our Indigenous community.”
His visit, he said, is about interacting with the arts community here.
Mountain is originally from Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., and was stolen from his family in 1949, when he was seven.
His book includes his personal story and follows the earliest historical examples of hatred for groups of people dating back to the second century. It is told in a series of vignettes, anecdotes, poetry and includes his own paintings. He will be coming to Haliburton to speak to Canoe FM radio host Larry O’Connor, who is of Metis descent and hosts the show Tales from the Big Canoe.
O’Connor said he knows little about residential schools and wanted to help educate himself and the public. He said his great grandmother and her six siblings attended a residential school.
“They’ve long passed and I never had the conversation with them,” he said.
O’Connor said there’s a lot to learn about residential schools.
“A lot of people don’t realize residential schools were around as long as they were and people don’t understand the effect that the residential school has had, especially [the] experience at a residential school when you have several generations within a family that have gone through a residential school because the impact is compounded even more and that’s something people don’t even understand,” he said. “It’s an education for all of us.”
Mountain’s friends Pat McCann-Smith and Peter Smith, a couple from Kennisis Lake, asked him to come to share his story and present his book.
Smith said the book is considered a must-read by Maclean’s magazine, which said, “His writing can be needle sharp, but rarely direct – this is no linear autobiography, but an evocative story that winds back and forth from past to present, from the broad historical interaction of Indigenous peoples and Europeans to his own personal details.”
Smith appreciated learning about Mountain’s childhood, which included an image of him and other children sitting around a record player, listening to Tchaikovsky.
“What’s projected on one hand versus the reality on the other, there is such a huge chasm between the two so the learning that could be done by all of us, specifically Haliburtonians. I’ve been sheer ignorant of all of this,” Smith said.
His friend said Mountain is well-travelled, and a skilled storyteller.
O’Connor appreciates the support the radio station has given him for his show and their support of truth and reconciliation.
“I’m proud of the fact that Canoe FM has the first and only Indigenous radio program in Haliburton. That’s a good thing,” he said.
The station provided him with a better time slot during prime time on Friday.
“That shows a commitment by the board of Canoe FM to truth and reconciliation. That’s a positive,” he said.
Antoine Mountain will be at Canoe FM’s Malcolm MacLean Radio Hall across from the A.J. LaRue Arena on Thursday, Oct. 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Books will be available for purchase and to be signed by Mountain.