Robert P. Wells
Growing up in the 1940s and ´50s at my family’s fishing lodge in northwestern Ontario was very different from what my life is now. We were isolated, living in roadless Quetico, 104 miles down the railroad track from now Thunder Bay. We did not have the convenience of indoor plumbing, electricity, or stores. There was more work to everyday living. Neighbours were few and far between. As children, we spent much of the time outdoors. As a child I was not aware of what a special place and Aboriginal friends I had. The trees and water were there to play with or to use for whatever was needed. To think of your backyard as enchanting or special was absurd; it was just there – a part of everyday life. Whatever nature threw at you, you adjusted life to accommodate it. The only times I vividly remember as exciting and looked forward to with anticipation were spring break-up and fall freeze-up. This truly marked the end of one season and the beginning of the next. As I grew older, I became more and more aware, how much my friends and growing up in the Canadian bush are a part of who I became. I married Inge, who was born in Germany, and we became parents to a blue-eyed blond-haired boy whose out-of-doors play language was Anisinabek. My Aboriginal friends, my life as a fishing and hunting guide, fur trapper, and twenty-eight years as an Ontario Conservation Officer have resulted in my appreciation for nature and an interest in First Nation(s) cultureand their history. I had a difficult time organizing my thoughts about the story of forced integration, Indian residential schools, and the post-generational impacts. I strongly believe that the pervasive problems of alcoholism, drug use, domestic violence, and high rates of incarceration and suicide are not First Nation problems alone. Those of us who are not personally affected need more than a clip on the evening news that something is not right on some Indian Reserve somewhere back in the bush. We have become sufficiently mature not to hide from this dark chapter of our colonial history. The time has come to chart a new course. The history of forced integration and residential schools, and the history of Canada’s first people ought to be taught in all Canadian schools.