Indian children with problems should be helped by Indians. The most useful thing white people in the treatment field can do is make their knowledge and experience freely available to Indians who can
then draw on these resources in setting up their own programs for their people. This is the point of view Dave Courchene, articulate president of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood,
expressed during a conversation I had with him in Winnipeg
"I would never send an Indian child to an institution," Mr. Courchene told me. "No matter how badly damaged he might be psychologically, he's still
better off in
the Indian community.
"One reason that comes to mind right away is, how can that small child communicate freely in a foreign language? How can he talk to a
white person about the trees, the rivers, the fish, all the things in nature that
he used to participate in?
"And although some of our southern Indian communities know about technological developments, children who come from a northern reserve have a hell of a transition to make. A lot of our
don't even have television; it's not available in the northern part of our province, so it's a completely new thing to them. They aren't used to the city rat race. They don't
have time clocks
on the reserve; they aren't used to having to be here at this time, there at that time. The family life is very different. This is the environment that the
"Another thing I'm concerned about when they take these children away from their home communities — and I don't deny that sometimes there are valid reasons for taking a child away from his family, a total breakdown of a family unit, for example — is that the child
someday is going to grow up and be an individual and where is he going to fit
Almost half of the emotionally disturbed children in residential treatment in the Saskatchewan
of Browndale are Indian or Metis. We are wondering if the therapeutic family units we have evolved meet the needs of the Indian children as adequately as they meet the needs of the white children. We are coming to realize that there may be special aspects of
traditional Indian family life, of which our white staff are unaware, which should
be incorporated into the therapeutic family structure.
Steven Heiber, director of Browndale Saskatchewan has been looking for young Indian men and women who have the potential to train as therapeutic parents for emotionally disturbed children. The
establishment of a Browndale all-Black therapeutic family in Ontario* brings up the question of whether Indian emotionally disturbed
children might be better served in an all-Indian therapeutic family group than in our present integrated units. I discussed these ideas
with Mr. Courchene.
"Don't only look for Indian staff," was his reaction. "Develop your program with our people. The staff will develop with you
as they participate in building the program. If you are sincere you should be willing to help our people
develop the kind of program which you have developed and found to be successful.
Then it will succeed because it will be our program, not somebody else's
People both in and out of government who draw up plans for projects concerning Indians without consulting them until all decisions are made and then
to get involved, infuriate Mr. Courchene. "In their arrogance they figure that they know the answers and they try to force their answers on us.
"The same situation applied in education. They said, let's put the Indian children in the community schools, they'll assimilate. They aren't assimilating, they're walking out. What they didn't
look at was
the possibility that the Indian parents might have wanted to get involved. But whether it's the federal or the provincial
the school program there's no parental participation as far as Indians are concerned. So, after a while, the kid says: 'I'm not part of that system, my community isn't, my parents aren't.'
And he walks out."
Approximately 94 per cent of Indian children drop out of school before reaching grade 12, the rate for non-Indian children is 12 per cent (Hawthorne Report,
October 1967, Volume II, pp. 130).
Three years ago there were only eight Indian students in the University of Manitoba; now there are over 200. "But some of these people have to be very tough to make it
through the abuse that they get there. The prejudice is often subtle, but it's just as hard to take." Because such a high percentage of Indian children drop out of school there
are few Indian teachers for the children to identify with, and few Indian
doctors, lawyers or other professionals.
"The whole educational system is not geared to the advancement of the Indian. It's geared to the total, cultural genocide of the Indian. You wonder why
Indian kids have problems. I went through an educational process geared to inculcating an inferiority complex in every Indian kid in the school."
Courchene is an articulate, forceful, proud man, but he told me that when he left residential school at the age of 13 he felt
that I couldn't look a white person in the eye. I had been told that I was a savage, a Jesuit killer, the whole bit. I had been told that the medicine my people had was no good.
It was good, but I didn't know it then.
"Canadians are too damn smug sometimes, looking across the border, criticizing what the Americans are doing to the Blacks when they have been doing
the same thing to the Indians right from the beginning.
"Ever since Columbus got lost with his three little boats and we discovered them, white society
a continuous pressure on the Indian to lose his identity. They have systematically undermined our language, our livelihood, our way of life, our pride in ourselves as Indians.
They totally destroyed
the religious belief of the Indian with the different Christian groups that developed here so that now he doesn't know who or what he is. Yet he had a better concept of Christianity
of the white people who came over. He was willing to share with all people.
"Now they are trying to save the very people they have psychologically destroyed. Well, it's not going to be accomplished overnight. Every damn teacher, every
missionary, every member of the
police forces, the government, the civil
service needs to be reoriented.
"Right now I'm very dissatisfied with the Children's Aid situation. We've had a number of cases where children have
been taken away from their parents on someone's recommendation and then a few
years' later the kid comes to us and asks us: 'Where are my parents? I'm not part
of this family I'm living with.'
Abused in foster homes
"The children run away from these foster homes they're put in because they are abused in them.
"We've got a bad case right now in Brandon. A 9-year-old boy has been taken away from the people he has lived with
for eight years.
These people have looked after him since he was a year old and they were good people, but someone decided they couldn't look after him any more because they were old age pensioners.
the decision we haven't been able to find out yet. But he's been put in a home where he is being abused by older boys and he runs away all the time.
case we had, in Transcona, three children were taken
away from their mother but she had the guts to go to court and charge the Department
of National Health, the Department of Indian Affairs and the Children's Aid Society with picking up the children and accusing her of a number of things which were completely fabricated. She lost the first round but she
put in an appeal and won the case. She sued the Department of Indian Affairs for
the costs which were over $3,000 but she still has to pay a share of the costs,
which she can't afford.
Children's Aid "arrogant"
"Recently I got a letter from British
Columbia about a 14-year-old girl who had been taken away from
her parents in Northern Manitoba when she was a young kid. She wanted to find her parents. No-one
from Children's Aid or any other agency would help. They are so arrogant, the Children's Aid! Finally, we went to the churches and
they found the girl's parents.
"The other day we had a 16-year-old girl come into the office here asking us to help her trace her parents. She had been sent to the United
States to be adopted when she was a kid. We can't find out how many children, registered Indians, are
being sent to the States, because the Children's Aid is a very closed society, but we know this is being done.
that by taking our kids away they are going to restructure them. Give us the resources, we'll do our own restructuring.
"You've had this country fo over 100 years. Now it's our turr to make some decisions. Anc given the chance we'll achievi what you white people, with al your
multiplicity of financial am professional
resources, have no been able to achieve. We are dis covering some harsh realities. W are discovering that the worst per son
is the one who thinks he ha all the answers when he doesn even know the questions.
"I hope you people realize the it's not only a question of workin with the children who come t you. There are reasons why thes children become disturbed. M children don't need
to go to a
because they have a decent home life. Sure, many Indian parents don't make it; they break down psychologically because of the stresses they have
"Didn't give a damn"
"All of a sudden people are taking an interest in the Indians. As recently as two years ago Canadians didn't give a damn about what was happening to our
And the Department of Indian Affairs was so arrogant as to make believe they were the father of all the Indian people — a complete farce as far as I'm concerned. I'm not the father of
any damn white and no white is my father!
"The Province of Manitoba is 165 million acres of
which 135 million
acres is land base. Do you know how much of that 135 million acres they reserved for the Indians? Just 400,000 acres of rock and swamp. If you visit some of the northern communities
how barren some of those communities are, communities where our people have to survive. And then they say there is something wrong with the Indians.
If the people who say that had to live through the process we have survived they'd discover there was something wrong
"There are some very good people in the Department of Indian Affairs. You can find sincere people in all government departments, but they're few and far
many civil servants are using the
Indian people for a job. They couldn't care less about our people. There are bigots all over and some in very high places.
"Private industry's no further ahead. The protectors of the forest in Manitoba
are the Indians. The dirtiest, lowest paid job is forest fire fighting. And where do the logging companies go when there's a fire and our natural resources are burning? They don't go
to the universities, the people in the universities are too important for that kind of dirty work. They don't go
to the logging industry itself, their wages are too high. They go and
pick the Indians and make them slave 18 hours a day
for $5 a day.
"The dirtiest job you can do for the logging companies is log driving — you're up to your behind in mud. Where do they
go to get people to do this? They go to the Indian community.
they get their sugar beet workers? And where do they put them when they get them? In
dirty old chicken coops with no windows,
in places where they have a helluva job to find drinking water.
"Our livelihood has been totally destroyed. We were hunters. That's a right we conserved for ourselves when our country was taken away. What did
they do with that right? They made farms out of the land where our animals grazed and pushed them out. Wherever there were forests they made game preserves,
saving the animals for themselves. The federal government passed legislation saying I can no longer shoot a
duck or a goose. How're our people going to live? They're going to shoot them anyway, they get caught and they're thrown in jail.
"We can no longer live in the old way. They've locked us up. They've polluted our waters so that we cannot fish any more. And they scream:
'Look, we're doing everything for the Indian; we're giving him welfare!' . . .
the worst damn thing you can do to a person. Then they wonder what has happened
to the Indian and his pride, his motivation, his initiative? Every
time we step somewhere a block is put in our way.
"Sometimes it's a helluva lot easier to shoot the guy than to destroy him the way they are destroying the Indians. At least if they had shot us the
pain would not have been 60 years
"And they wonder why these kids
are being lost in the process!"
I asked Mr. Courchene if the younger Indians were becoming militant and he said: "They cannot go any other way. I can see militancy developing
within two years, perhaps sooner,
if we cannot get the message across to the policy makers of our country. There are pockets of militancy now.
"I was more optimistic that we could work together a year ago than I am now. There is a hold back now in government and in people generally. For many white people interest in the Indian situation is a fad. For us it's not
a fad; it's a matter of survival.
"One thing I hope is that we don't repeat the kind of injustice that we have suffered, because to destroy another person is
not something we believe in and to participate
in such a thing is to lose our cause. I have said this to our people. We still
have to use the system. In spite of all the frustration we must work together. It's not an easy thing to say, but we're both
here on this continent and somehow we've got to live together. But we must live as equals; we cannot go on living the way we have
been living the past 100 years."
we cannot go on living
the way we have been living the past 100 years."
Mr. Courchene what he thought the answer was and he replied without a moment's hesitation: "Resources; trust our people with the resources. They have the ability; there's no doubt in my mind about that.
Want to participate
"For the first time, because the present federal government has the guts — and I'll give (Prime Minister) Trudeau and (Indian Affairs Minister) Chretien
credit for this — to give
us some resources we have kids coming into our office saying: 'Look, I want to
participate in the movement of the Indian
people, because I am Indian.' Those kids were walking the streets —17,18, 20-year-olds — now they are going back to university because they say they need more training now that they can be useful
to themselves and to the people — a feeling they didn't have two years ago.
"Right now I've got 60 applications on my desk. Because we haven't got the financial resources I can't hire these people, though there's all kinds of
jobs waiting to be filled. Yet this summer, the federal government handed over $25 million to a bunch of kids, 95 per cent of whom didn't need the money and got a damned
out of it.
has signed a contract with the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood
for $144,000 for a two-year family planning and health education program. It will be run by five people — four in the field
and one co-ordinating in the Fall 1971 office
— to cover the whole of Manitoba.
Twenty-five million for a bunch of kids to play with and $144,000 for an urgently
needed health education program. Do you know
what we got from the government for economic development? Two million; yet just one of their projects in this province alone has a budget of $92 million.
"The Indian Affairs Department has a budget of $247 million of which $55 million goes on salaries alone. Our elected representatives, some of whom are responsible for communities
or more people, haven't got any financial resources to carry out their responsibilities. Yet the damn system that's holding them back gets $55 million for salaries.
"The Manitoba Indian Brotherhood has a paid staff of 90 and 90 per cent of them are out working in the field where the action is; they're not sitting in some plush
When I asked Mr. Courchene if he
thought the money allocated to the Department of Indian Affairs ought to be turned
over to such Indian organizations as the Brotherhood he replied: "Not to the
Indian organizations but to the Indian
communities. The worse thing we could do is develop another bureaucracy."
He doesn't intend to seek reelection when this his third two-year term as president is up in March 1972. He wants to work full-time at the community
Under Dave Courchene's energetic and shrewd leadership the Brotherhood has made good use of the resources it has been able
over the past few years. When Ottawa fired a regional director who "after two years of hard bargaining was finally beginning to understand our
aims and work
with us" the Brotherhood hired
him as a consultant. With his inside knowledge of the bureaucratic intricacies of both the government and the medical profession
(he's a doctor) he has proved invaluable to them.
Help choose staff
Brotherhood representatives now sit on boards which interview applicants seeking promotions or jobs which will bring them into contact with Indians. They are
to find people who do not regard
Indians as just a means to a job but understand the objectives of the Indians and are interested in helping them. At a board meeting
held a few days before I talked to Mr. Courchene, only nine were picked from 60 applicants. Three of those rejected appealed the decision
but that morning Mr. Courchene had received a phone call telling him that
the appeals had been rejected and the board's decision upheld.
Initially, Mr. Courchene told me, the board had been organized to do little more than rubber stamp decisions already made by civil servants. But the Brotherhood had rejected
that kind of token participation and had insisted that their representatives
sit down and help draw up the qualifications required for the jobs being sought.
The Brotherhood has become a force to be reckoned with in Manitoba over the
past few years, as have Indian
organizations in other provinces. Mr. Courchene gave me several examples of forceful action taken.