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Thunderchild Report

Chief Winston Weekusk, Thunderchild Band

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      January 31 1975      v05 n01 p03  
We would like to fill you in the developments of the Thunderchild education situation. We feel that "The Saskatchewan Indian" is the best medium through which we can keep in touch with the many organizations and individuals who have given us such tremendous support in the past months.

No support from IAB

The generous donations which we have received have allowed us to start our school on the reserve without the support of the Department of Indian Affairs.

The article in the November issue of this magazine brought people up to date on the situation till the end of November. Therefore we will now relate the happenings of the last month and a half.

Away back on October 11, 1974, we met with Judd Buchanan in Saskatoon and presented him with a paper outlining our request for a school on the reserve. Mr. Buchanan replied that he would study our request and respond in one week's time.  In typical Indian Affairs fashion, one week became two months and it was not until December 5 that the minister met with us again. The minister invited us to Ottawa to meet with him and therefore we were quite hopeful that he was going to grant us our reserve school. We did not think that he would have us travel all the way to Ottawa simply to tell us no again. However, such was not the case. It turned out that the minister had a great deal of sympathy for us, but no money.

His position was that if he granted Thunderchild a reserve school he would set a precedent by which he would have to grant reserve schools to all other Indian bands in the future. The minister seems to be assuming that the joint schools are doing a poor job all across the country and therefore many bands will be requesting their own schools in the near future.

Joint schools offer poor services

Mr. Buchanan's solution to the problem for Thunderchild and similar situations is to improve services offered by the joint schools. However, this does not seem like a very realistic solution to us. It seems to us that the joint schools have been offering poor services for a long time and we believe that there can be only two reasons for this:

  1. Indian Affairs personnel have not been concerned enough to bother improving the joint schools.
  2. It is technically impossible to improve the joint schools because of provincial legislation.

We feel that both reasons contribute to the failure and therefore we see very little hope for improving services from the joint schools. Firstly, we have no reason to believe that department personnel have changed their attitude. In fact, our experiences lead us to believe just the opposite. The department is so concerned with financial matters that they give very little attention to quality of education.

Secondly, it is technically impossible for Indian people to have an influential voice in provincial education at either the local or provincial level. And therefore, no significant changes can be made.

We therefore feel that the minister's solution is unrealistic and that he is failing to face the problem squarely.

We had no sooner arrived home from our disappointing meeting in Ottawa than we were the target of a very critical speech made by our own Member of Parliament-Bert Cadieu. The Progressive Conservative M.P.'s statement is included with our report so that you can read for yourself the attitude that Mr. Cadieu and his party have towards Indian people. It seems to us that the Liberals and Conservatives attack one another over any number of silly little issues, but when it comes to fighting Indians they stick right together.

Many willing to help

Since the New Year began we have had five volunteer teachers working with our students. We also have on out staff five associate teachers and two Cree Language Instructors, who are volunteering their time as well. Three old classrooms and the Catholic Church are used. The donations that we have received have been used to purchase some of the basic requirements for our program. As a result of the donations and volunteer help, we have been able to establish a half-time program for all of the students from six years of age and up. Half of the students attend in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. It is not an ideal situation for either students or teachers, but we are determined to keep our program running until Indian Affairs approve of a school and program for our reserve.

We should announce that the department has taken a small step in the right direction by approving a kindergarten-nursery school program for Thunderchild. We would like to start the program immediately but the department says that they will have no money for it until the new fiscal year.

We feel that the department certainly should have money to start this program immediately since they have not had to spend any funds on our older students this year.

This pretty well brings us up to date on what has been happening at Thunderchild. We will make an effort to keep you informed of any further developments in future issues of "The Saskatchewan Indian". In closing, we would like to thank people again for the help they have given us in the past and we hope that you continue to be as generous in the future. Without your support, we could not do what we are doing.

A complete Interview with Mr. Cadieu was heard on CFQC with Host Leon Brim.

Intro: Mr. Cadieu said that in the past, he has strived to bring both native and white people together in the schools to give mutual education and now enrollment is down and classrooms are empty. He refers specifically to the Thunderchild Band's request to have an Indian school on the reserve, 25 miles east of Turtleford. Mr. Cadieu said that the idea is basically wrong both economically and socially and is a backward move.  The MP said the so-called agitators are being paid by band funds.

Cadieu: These are pretty high paid men, and/or men and women, (most cases I know are men) because I know in the case of the Thunderchild Reserve alone, the people are divided there and they have people hired on that reserve, they are not teaching school they are just... well, they are in Ottawa right now and I think this is out of line. I just can't see it there. Their argument is; the children must have the school on the reserve but when you stop to look at what it is costing the taxpayer, when you might look at most of these reserves 90 per cent of the people are living on welfare and the balance I presume are living on senior citizens and why should the taxpayer have to put up with this.

Intro: You say you have a statement to read concerning Indian education, if you would like to go ahead, we are all set here.

Cadieu: I am certainly disappointed with some of the arguments and debates that have begun to take place on my constituency on the issue of Indian education. From the time I was first elected as a Member of Parliament, I have kept a firm belief that each individual in this country is entitled to an education. I worked hard for several years to make sure that this was available in my constituency, when I was first elected there was a shortage of schools and materials in much of the area and where these were available they were either of poor quality or too far away (many native students-broken sentence????) I worked hard so that in four

Thunderchild Report

Chief Winston Weekusk, Thunderchild Band

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 31 1975      v05 n01 p04  
years After my first election, under the Diefenbaker government I could say that every child, native or white, could attend school if they wanted to . . .That had not been the previously. We've built and developed schools where none existed. The provincial and federal governments co-operated with the Department of Indian Affairs for funding northern schools. We started integration, for financial and social reasons, and I am firmly behind the policy of integration in our education system. The quality of education system should be reason enough for the integration procedure let alone the social mirror.

Do we want a bunch of separate little ethnic groups or do we want one main group? It is easy to spy that we wish to respect the culture and the language of various groups in the country, and certainly, we want Canada to respect the language and culture of the native people. We want them to maintain their native identity, but we must not lose sight of the fact that we are living in an age of rapid change, a period when each day brings new development in science and all fields. Education is more and more important and the best possible method at the cheapest possible price is necessary (absolutely necessary), not when large enrollments are falling off and many classrooms are empty or classes are small. When this is happening, and the costs are rising fast, it is wrong to move the integration policy, backwards. The cost of construction alone for schools, back on the reserve is out of reach, and then adds to that the salaries of qualified teaching staff and up keep of materials, it is unthinkable, and the taxpayer just cannot afford it. Those are only the economic reasons for integration. What of the social reasons? This day and age calls for steps to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get an education that will not only provide the basis, but will also give each person the knowledge required to adapt to a changing labour force. More and more, this system must provide the individual with the ability to shift careers, knowledge or skills to meet the demands of his labour, if he wants to remain employed. Under these conditions, it is foolish to suggest that we return to two school systems and I suspect those systems will divide native and white children. We cannot go back to the old idea of segregation, which will only nourish the suffering and the personal shame of welfare. I stand firmly behind the principle and the use of integration. Whether it be the use of existing schools in towns, bringing children from the reserve to these schools or existing schools on reserves and bringing the surrounding white children to the reserve schools whichever makes it the easiest route for the majority of children.

The problem in the system will take time to fix up certainly, but it is not the integration system which is wrong. Any move to abandon the system before it has time to show its results is foolishness, on the part of the people involved and the failure to accept our responsibility. The delegation from the Thunderchild Band is in Ottawa this week, this is one of the groups that have been keeping their children out of school from Turtleford and Livelong respectfully. I have enquired into this situation and find out that Indian people are divided on this issue. So it is the children that are to suffer for missing school. It appears to me the unit board has cooperated fully with the Indian people. It appears to me also, that it is the hired agitators on the reserve that are creating the problems. That's it.

Intro: Okay, I guess the natural question after hearing that statement Mr. Cadieu is, what makes you think that the policy of integration is moving backward?

Cadieu: Well, just that the people, the agitation is going on the reserve to keep their children out of school and demanding the government, the Department of Indian Affairs, to build schools that are not necessary, right at this time.

Intro: Now, you speak of hired agitators, can you be a little more specific? I'm kind of confused about that.

Cadieu: It appears to me they are using band funds, in some cases, to hire people to agitate this . . . ah, of . . . to stop sending their children to school, town schools or whatever the community school is. These are pretty high paid men, and/or men and women, (most cases I know are men) because I know in the case of the Thunderchild Reserve alone, the people are divided there and they have people hired on that reserve, they are not teaching school, they are just . . . well, they are in Ottawa right now and I think this is out of line. I just can't see it there. Their argument is; the children must have the school on the reserve but when you stop to look at what it is costing the taxpayer, when you might look at most of these reserves 90 per cent of the people are living on welfare and the balance I presume are living on senior citizens and why should the taxpayer have to put up with this.

Intro: These people that are lobbying in Ottawa right now, do you have any indications that they have the ear of the Indian Affairs Department, that they are getting a sympathetic hearing?

Cadieu: Yes, I have I think they are working on (among) the Indian people, very strongly so, to create this agitation, for building the schools back on the reserve.

Intro: But, do you think the Indian Affairs Department will, go along with that idea?

Cadieu: Well, Indian Affairs is as I see it, they certainly want to be just and fair to these people, government wants to be, in some cases, government gets too lenient and too easy and forget about the taxpayer when they start doing these things.

Intro: So, therefore, I take it that, well . . . from the sounds of it, it sounds as though you fear that Indian Affairs is going to go along with this idea?

Cadieu: Yes, I do, to an extent, an extent that they are going to be in such a mess that they won't know where they're at. Because I'm certain that there are a good number of people, many people on Indian Affairs, that don't approve of this now. Many cases where it was necessary to have schools on the reserves, this is absolutely right, but I found this integration was going along very well in a great many parts of my constituency and it didn't matter whether it was white children that had to go to the Indian schools or not, we have quite a lot of that in the North, but I think if . . . I'm strongly in favor of integration of these children.