An elder shared a story with me years ago and I was about 14 yrs old at the time.
The elder shared this knowledge with me. “Long ago before we signed treaty, our Chiefs were the poorest of the people, each person was fed first, the Chief’s family ate last he made sure everyone ate first, the women & their children who lost their partner from war were always looked after, and were part of the camp circle, the women, children and elders were in the middle of the camp circle, the young bucks slept on the outskirts of the circle.
“No one went without. If a man did a bad thing depending on how bad it was he was killed or shamed or shunned. If shunned he had to leave the camp asap. We had our own laws, we had our own way of life.
“Now today the chief and his family and relations take everything first. Same with the Councillors they take whatever the chief leaves behind for their families and relations. Than the rest of the people get whatever’s left over. This is what the Indian Act and colonial capitalism has done to my people.”
Being a 10 year survivor of the Indian Residential School system, it was difficult for me to comprehend First Nation politics, to understand why we were so dysfunctional, angry and why so many of us abused alcohol, drugs and whatever which eased the pain and shame left behind from the atrocious abuses in the residential schools. I was lost and confused as to my own identity.
But now years later I have seen and have been told by many others what the Chiefs and Councillors are doing. We as band members are being systemically abused by our own leadership. Like we are not already going through enough suffering. I earned some understanding of what the elder was trying to teach me.
This was a huge motivator in my life which compelled me to engage in higher learning and exerting the effort and enduring even the academic racism to secure all that education successfully only to hit a high and thick wall of racism reinforced by negative stereotypes which still confront me daily. But I am working on trying to change public attitude one person at a time, one day at a time.
My recipe is simple; “Educate, do not berate, raise my message and not my voice” and slowly but surely I am seeing success however small.
Yesterday, I received this powerful letter from Kenneth Young, a lawyer and a residential school survivor. The letter is filled with grace and simple truths.
Joan, it is a sad when people of influence who have done wrong fail to accept responsibility for the harm their wrongful actions have caused.
John Furlong must know in his mind that he did a lot of harm to young people he was entrusted to provide guidance. He will face further scrutiny in the coming months as the class action on day schools is worked on as to how it will be settled. If it will result in an agreement like the Indian Residential School Settlement with an adjudication process, I am sure the students he now stands accused of abusing will most certainly be claimants in which he will be most surely a person of interest.
My advice to Mr. Furlong is he reach out and call for a healing circle in which he will face his accusers and deal with the hurt and harm he has caused them, now to himself and those people who are most close to him.
If he chooses this path I believe his journey back to respectability will be one where he will be received by most people with open arms. It will be a journey, when taken with the right steps and attitude, that will bring true healing and reconciliation for himself and those he has harmed. Through this acceptance of what he did to those young innocent people was wrong John Furlong, I am confident, will learn the magnificence of the patience and kindness of First Nations people.
In saying this, I as a survivor of 10 years of Indian Residential School life, have been able to forgive the church and state for this very dark chapter in my life. It was not easy but the church and state reached out and this has helped me to carry on with my healing journey which will, I have now accepted will be a lifelong inner process. Mr. Furlong can do no less if wants to reinvigorate his life.
November 26, 2015
Attention: The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
The Honourable Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould
The Honourable Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Carolyn Bennett
Re: Burns Lake First Nations People and John Furlong
It’s time that our voices are heard.
We, the undersigned, call upon the Prime Minister to request that John Furlong step down from Share the Podium until we are heard.
In her September 2015 judgment, the judge made comments about us without hearing from us. No-one had time to listen to us. They should have talked to us before any decision was made.
The judge said Laura Robinson distributed a flyer, but we saw no flyer. We communicate not in writing, but by mouth. When we heard Laura was coming to Burns Lake, most people assumed it was to talk about residential schools. Laura talked to those people and, after they left, she talked to us—those of us who had had Mr. Furlong as their PE teacher. Many of us—-members of the Lake Babine Nations—-were not at the Burns Lake Band office.
The judge said Laura “contaminated” our memories. But she didn’t. We all have bad memories of Mr. Furlong, but over the years we haven’t talked much about them. It would be good if we talked more together.
When we saw him on TV, the anger came back. “Is he still around?” we thought. After the Olympics, we found out he hadn’t even mentioned Burns Lake in his book.
Someone said Laura damaged us. That is not true. Mr. Furlong was one who damaged us. He was part of a system that damaged our dreams.
Someone on the Whitecaps said on the Internet, “native people just want more money.” We never asked for money. We just wanted our stories heard.
Please direct your reply to Cathy Woodgate—firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Hereditary Chief Richard Perry”
“Hereditary Chief Ronnie Alec”
“Ronnie William West”
“Pius Charlie” (Burns Lake Band)
Copies to Media: Jesse Brown, CanadaLand email@example.com
Sandra Garossino, National Observer firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenny Uechi, Vancouver Observer email@example.com
Matthew McKinnon,The Walrus firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee email@example.com
Bob Mackin, The Tyee firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlie Smith, The Georgia Straight email@example.com
Natasha Hassan, The Globe and Mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Harris, I-Politics email@example.com
Michael Huffington Post Canadian blog team, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jesse Kline, The National Post email@example.com
Kate Heartfield, The Ottawa Citizen firstname.lastname@example.org
Jordan Himelfarb The Toronto Star email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Daphne Bramham The Vancouver Sun email@example.com
Harvey Enchain,Vancouver Sun firstname.lastname@example.org
It is one thing for Furlong and his PR team to work at rehabilitating his image. It is quite another for the mainstream media to aid and abet that effort.
On October 30, 2015, former BC attorney-general Geoff Plant wrote a Globe and Mail article in praise of Furlong: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/john-furlong-has-the-right-to-be-proud-of-his-life-and-work/article27040820/
I sent an article to the Globe, challenging many of Plant’s assertions. I did not receive a response.
When yet another phase in Furlong’s rehabilitation process was being rolled out—-namely, his appearance at yesterday’s Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon, I pitched an article to the National Post regarding the fact that the First Nations alleged victims have never been heard in a court of law.
Almost by return email, the Post said no.
My article is running today in the Vancouver Observer, an independent, online media outlet.
Is it any wonder that the public is turning away from the mainstream media?