My name is Sierra. Before I begin I would just like to ask if you have a cell phone or anything that’s going to make noise to please take a moment to turn it off. And also before I begin I will let you know that I will be using the terms Indian and half-breed within historical context as I speak.
We are standing at the site of what was formerly Saint Paul’s Hostel. Saint Paul’s Hostel opened in 1920 as a boardinghouse for children of mixed heritage within Yukon. At this time children of mixed heritage, referred to as half-breed children, were not allowed to attend school with children who were fully Indian. There was a residential school and Carcross for Indian only children, called Chooutla Indian School. Saint Paul’s Hostel allowed children from remote areas of Yukon where no public or mission schools existed to live in Dawson during the school months in order to receive formal education at Dawson Public School.
At its fullest the Hostel housed 30 to 40 students. Federal funding from the government of Canada was granted to the Hostel under the heading quote Indian education as quote a special case, end quote. The Hostel was given a per-capita grant equivalent to that received by Chooutla Indian School. The church was responsible for making up the difference in funding. Parents of the students were required to pay boarding fees for each child who was sent here to the Hostel, yet even with these contributions, the Hostel was largely underfunded and ran on very little.
In order to operate on the minimal budget, the church purchased food as cheaply as possible. They also planted a garden here on the side of the Hostel to grow their own food. Children who went to the Hostel were rationed with low-quality food such as watery oats and low-grade sugar, and even stale or poor-quality meat. For example they never ate chicken, pork or beef.
In contrast those who ran the Hostel would eat from the garden. As part their additional education, it was termed, the children who lived at the Hostel received additional instruction in housewifery, gardening, carpentry, and other practical skills. This could also be viewed as child labour, where the children were responsible for cleaning the Hostel, maintaining the grounds, and attending to various ongoing duties, such as clearing away all the snow where they lived, chopping their own wood, in order to keep the place running. The Hostel is also remembered by some for the beatings and abuse that took place here.
In 1952 the capital of Yukon moved from Dawson to Whitehorse and at this time Saint Paul’s eventually closed its doors in 1954. However I would like to note that a new hostel, Saint Agnes Hostel for half-breed children, open Whitehorse and Saint Agnes Hostel operated from 1952 to 1966.
The Canadian Indian residential school system can be seen as an attempt to force Indians off their land, sever their family ties, and deplete their traditional culture, heritage, language, and way of life. Many children were removed and/or separated from their homes and families and faced forced conversion, sickness, and abuse and what has been described as an attempt at genocide at The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The effects of this system have and continue to be felt generationally and in communities. Healing and remembering have and will take time and effort. Healing and remembering will also be felt generationally and in our communities.
In 2007 the Indian residential schools settlement agreement came into effect following the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history. The settlement established a multimillion-dollar fund to help former students in their recovery. In 2008, on this day, 9 years ago the government of Canada issued an official apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian residential school system. As Saint Paul’s Hostel was partially federally funded this apology includes those who lived here at this Hostel.
Throughout this walk we have been thinking about truth, and we have been thinking about reconciliation. What do these words mean for us. And so I ask you to consider how does truth sound in words, and how does truth look in actions. Yes, there has been official apology from our government, but where do we go from there and what types of actions support that apology. What is your role in reconciliation, not just today on this walk, but in your daily lives.
How will your words uphold your truths. How will your actions uphold your truths. How will you see, how will you see your community, and how will you see Canada. Today the stops we have made on this walk have made some of the invisible histories in our community become visible and so I ask you to hold these stories and these histories visible.
And right now we will hold a minute of silence for the former students of Saint Paul’s Hostel and their families. I invite you to turn and face the image that’s just behind you of the former Hostel and reflect, to remember, and to acknowledge.