As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
My name is Parry Stelter. I’m originally from Alexander First Nation, which is part of Treaty Six territory. As an Indigenous person, who comes from the Sixties Scoop generation and who has many relatives who went to residential schools, I can easily find some very negative stories of what happened within the history of Canada. In fact, I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. I’ve learned some of the things that have caused it and some of the things that can make it a bit better. In light of this I want this article to focus on the positive, since focusing on the positive can improve a person’s perspective.
I’m a believer in Jesus who is striving to follow what Jesus tells us to do in the Scriptures. In Matthew 5 we see Jesus telling his disciples to be the light of the world and that this light can’t be hidden. We’re to allow our light to shine before all people. So I’m focusing on some positive stories today, because of the darkness that surrounds us.
In 1907 when tuberculosis was rampant, Dr. Peter H. Bryce, the chief medical officer of the Department of the Interior, submitted a report stating that one quarter of all Indigenous people who attended residential schools died of tuberculosis. Then in 1922 he submitted a report called, The Story of a National Crime: being a record of the health conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921. He became known as a man who stood up for the Indigenous People of Canada, and you would think submitting such reports would contradict his position. Yet he believed that exposing the truth was more important. His reports gave the high statistics of deaths associated with residential schools in Canada.
He’s not the only one who left an impression on Indigenous People. There’s a Canadian Indigenous man who had a powerful experience that led him to go on to be famous. As I’ve interacted with some of the people in Parkland County, I came across this man who was also affected by tuberculosis. Harry Rusk was a patient at the Charles Camsell Hospital, and although there have been many negative stories in the media, this is one man’s testimony showing that things were vastly different for him in at least two ways. The first was the way he was treated by the nursing staff, and secondly there was an encounter with a celebrity that changed his life at a young age, which he personally told me.
His first positive experience was the way certain nurses and fellow patients cared for and treated him. Rusk said he wants to express his gratitude to, “three most wonderful, caring former nurses, Elsie of Toronto, Doreen of San Francisco and Bea of Stony Plain. They all cared for me in 1950 and are still with us, plus two ex-patients: Danny of Pelly Crossing and Billy of Ft. St John. Danny and Billy were there from 1949-1952.” It breaks my heart when I spend too much time thinking about all the details that I come across in the work that I do. So I’ve decided that in honor of those that did do some good, and in honor of people like Rusk, who was so touched by the people who treated him so kindly as he was recovering in the hospital, this piece is for him. He was and is very frustrated and saddened when the hospital that was used for Indigenous tuberculosis patients in Edmonton portrayed nothing but negative news.
His second positive experience was when a famous country singer Hank Snow visited the hospital in 1952. Snow at the time, was No. 1 in his category of country music, along with Hank Williams. Rusk said, “Snow only had a chance to visit a few patients, and I was one of them.” The time that Snow spent with Rusk led him to become a famous country music singer himself. Snow told him at the Camsell hospital that day on June 13, 1952, “No matter what, always look up.” After those encouraging words, and a variety of other circumstances, Rusk went on to be the first full-blooded Indigenous person to play at the Grand Ole Opry. All of his experiences before and especially after his first appearance on the Opry led to an overwhelming successful career.
The recent mass graves are very disturbing. I want to point out that in 2013 a report from The International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State had already documented evidence of the first burial site. This was discovered in 2011 in Brantford, Ont. But this discovery came as a result of 10 traditional Indigenous Elders inviting Kevin Annett and the ITCCS to come and excavate the grounds, according to the book Murder by Decree: The Crime of Genocide in Canada.
Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has done a lot of good, there are many things they missed or failed to do. Kevin Annett, who wrote Murder by Decree, said in the YouTube documentary Unrepentent that he lost his job as a United Church Minister on Vancouver Island in 1997 because he focused more on the Indigenous people in the community, rather than doing the status quo. He then lost his marriage and a variety of other misfortunes. All due to standing up for Indigenous People.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls campaign is one of many positive organizations that is still doing ongoing educational initiatives. Their website has many free resources and reports available, educating people on this vital issue that affects all women and girls. In fact, my sister-in-law’s sister was murdered, and the story was highlighted on the news a number of years ago. There are many more organizations that are trying to make a difference.
There are many Indigenous organizations that offer insight for those that prefer traditional spirituality as their focus and interest, but there’s also a wealth of resources out there for Indigenous People that adhere to some form of Christianity. One resource that I came across lately was a First Nations Version of the New Testament. It isn’t written in Cree or Stony or another Indigenous language. Rather, it’s written in a more personal way that takes into consideration the worldview of Indigenous People with culturally relevant content. It even says in the first page that it wants to bring healing to the people of Turtle Island for all the damage the church and government has done in the past.
When we take a closer look at all these positive stories, in the midst of what has been seen as a genocide, I’m not downplaying the suffering that many people endured, rather I’m pointing us to the light of Jesus Christ. If I spend all my time focusing on the negative, I’ll never see the light of day, because I’ll be so depressed and see no hope. Hopefully, I’ve opened the door and shed some light in the midst of the horrific stories that reflect what my people did endure. Hopefully I’ve helped you not to be so depressed by what has taken place across North America with Indigenous Peoples. Hopefully I’ve pointed you to Jesus, who is the light of the world that can’t be hidden.