A powerful, raw yet eloquent memoir from a residential school survivor and former First Nations Chief, Up Ghost River is a necessary step toward our collective healing.
In the 1950s, 7-year-old Edmund Metatawabin was separated from his family and placed in one of Canada’s worst residential schools. St. Anne’s, in northern Ontario, is an institution now notorious for the range of punishments that staff and teachers inflicted on students. Even as Metatawabin built the trappings of a successful life—wife, kids, career—he was tormented by horrific memories. Fuelled by alcohol, the trauma from his past caught up with him, and his family and work lives imploded.
In seeking healing, Metatawabin travelled to southern Alberta. There he learned from elders, participated in native cultural training workshops that emphasize the holistic approach to personhood at the heart of Cree culture, and finally faced his alcoholism and PTSD. Metatawabin has since worked tirelessly to expose the wrongdoings of St. Anne’s, culminating in a recent court case demanding that the school records be released to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Now Metatawabin’s mission is to help the next generation of residential school survivors. His story is part of the indigenous resurgence that is happening across Canada and worldwide: after years of oppression, he and others are healing themselves by rediscovering their culture and sharing their knowledge.
Coming full circle, Metatawabin’s haunting and brave narrative offers profound lessons on the importance of bearing witness, and the ability to become whole once again.
Taken from his family by draconian Canadian laws intended to "kill the Indian in the child," young Edmund Metatawabin is brought to St. Anne's residential school in northern Ontario in 1955. In a school system infamous for its essential inhumanity, St. Anne's stands out as one of the worst offenders; children there were routinely humiliated, beaten, forced to eat vomit, electrocuted in a homemade electric chair, and sexually abused. Nor did St. Anne's legacy end when its students escaped into the adult world; as Metatawabin's account shows, survivors were plagued with alcoholism, self-loathing and all the other burdens of the abused, with their road to recovery long and difficult. Only in recent years have victims won official acknowledgment and recompensation, often half-hearted and grudging. The horror of Metatawabin's account seem almost unbelievable, but it is all too factual, backed up with official documents. Nor can Canadians dismiss this as a tragedy from a now bygone era; Metatawabin argues that recent legislation from the Stephen Harper government as a continuation of oppression. This work is a harrowing but enthralling account of an aspect of Canadian history that the country would prefer to forget but which continues to haunt. Agent: The Cooke Agency