First Nations historian's new book details 'relentless' children's labour at Mt. Elgin residential school
The book titled, ‘Nii Ndahlohke,’ means 'I work' in the Lunaape language
For Mary Jane Logan McCallum, researching the history of student life at Mount Elgin's residential school is personal.
The history professor and member of Munsee-Delaware nation first heard about the institution from mentions of her great grandfather and his brother attending.
Now she's written a new book outlining the exploitation of children's labour in residential schooling — focused on the daily gendered labour of boys' and girls' between 1890 and 1915. The institution operated for more than 100 years on Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, located about 25 km southwest of London.
"There's a profound sense of unfairness," she said.
Her research — which delved into old maps, photographs, school reports, letters and financial documents — found students and parents felt the amount of work was harmful to academic learning and physical well-being. Domestic work done by girls and farm labour work by boys.
The day-to-day labour at the school was done by the children due to "miserly" funding. The training at the school set students up for "lowest levels of the social hierarchy" in Canadian society, she said.
The school "is a symbol not of education but of hunger, impoverishment, loneliness, punishment, and relentless hard work," Mary Jane wrote in the book.
The title, Nii Ndahlohke, is translated to "I work" in Lunaape, the Munsee-Delaware language.
The book is not the "definitive history of this school," she said. "This is one history among many that we can learn about."
Loss of language, culture and tradition were felt
May Jane's brother, Ian McCallum, translated some vocabulary in the book to Lunaape. He is the only intermediate Lunaape language speaker at the Munsee-Delaware nation, a UNESCO critically endangered language.
He found there was a lack of information about Mount Elgin Industrial School — especially what boys and girls did there, he said. These stories weren't often heard at home, but the loss was.
"The legacy in terms of loss of language and loss of culture and tradition were definitely felt," Ian said.
"This is a very dark period of Canadian history and a very dark period for Indigenous peoples' histories," he said. The stories shared in the book are important in acknowledging what his ancestors and family members went through, so "we can make sure that this never happens again."
Book will be teaching resource
Mary Jane hopes the book can be used as a teaching resource for elementary schools.
"It's written, hopefully, in a way that everybody finds enjoyable to read, but we wanted to speak specifically to the experience of kids that were the same age as the ones that might be taught this in schools," she said.
She currently works as a visiting professor in history at Western University while on sabbatical from the University of Winnipeg. She is also Canada's research chair in Indigenous people, history and archives.
The book launch for Nii Ndahlohke takes place at Huron University College's auditorium on Monday, Sept. 26, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in partnership with the Huron Community History Centre.
Mary Jane will be joined by a panel including translator Ian and beadwork artist Donna Noah, who created a piece published in the book.
Proceeds from book sales to Indigenous language and history projects such as 'Save the Barn,' a campaign to turn a barn from the Mt. Elgin residential school into a cultural centre at Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, she said.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.