Making a Difference on the Downtown Eastside

The Humanities 101 Community Programme (Hum101) offers free non-credit university-level courses at UBC for people living on the Downtown Eastside (DTES) and nearby areas who are passionate about learning and knowledge, and who are living on very low incomes. Students receive bus tickets to get to and from UBC for each class, vouchers for meals on campus, childcare support, plus books, school supplies and a UBC student card. Hum101’s interdisciplinary Arts courses are taught by intellectuals from UBC and elsewhere. They often say how remarkable Hum101 students are – insightful, challenging, engaged and engaging, for starters. Hum101, going into its eleventh year, has over 450 alumni, an active Steering Committee made up of students and alumni who guide all aspects of the programme, and a number of public programmes held on the DTES which are open to all e.g. a documentary film series, study groups, lectures, and workshops.

Twice a year, in summer and winter, DTES and nearby residents see posters asking “Do you want to learn more about Writing, Critical Thinking, First Nations Studies, Literature, History & Politics, Art, Philosophy, Architecture, Music, Sociology, Gender Studies, Religions, Popular Culture & more?” Interested ones are invited attend information sessions held at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Carnegie Centre, The Gathering Place/Homeless Nation, Vancouver Addictions Recovery Club, Crabtree Corner Daycare, Directions Youth Services Centre, and for the first time this year the Dr. Peter Centre and the Aboriginal Front Door. Many Hum101 students and alumni are volunteers at these centres and organizations, and help to encourage their friends and neighbours who are interested in taking Hum101 courses.

One of the Aboriginal Front Door founders, Pat Delorme, graduated from Hum101 in April 2009. In relation to a class dealing with residential schools taught by William G. Lindsay (Coordinator for Aboriginal Student Services at the UBC First Nations House of Learning), Pat wrote an essay for the Hum101 yearbook which he kindly offered to have reprinted in this newsletter. It is as follows:

My Own Story, A Personal Journey Patrick Delorme, Humanities 101 Alumni, 2008-09

Two years have passed since I received the Common Experience Payment from the federal government. This was a part of a process that saw the government of Canada come to terms with Aboriginal people who generation after generation were sent to Residential Schools across Canada.

Humanities 101 Programme participants for 2008-2009.  Photo submitted by Dr. Margo Leigh Butler.

Humanities 101 Programme participants for 2008-2009. Photo submitted by Dr. Margo Leigh Butler.

As a result of government policy, the stories of Residential abuse told by some Aboriginal people were shocking and hurt us deeply. Those statements and facts brought into view my experience and my years in full denial. I could not come to grips with the years I spent in Residential School. For countless years, I lived my life as if I never was a resident in one of them. The day I received the cheque in the mail, I was beside myself with glee. After all, I was there and now I was being given monies. I’d never handled that much money at any one time. Visions of cars, a trip to la la land somewhere, or spend it all on lottery tickets and win the mother load? Within a few hours, I started to realize what I had done. I had taken payment for those years in Residential School. What had I done! The realization of my actions filled me with self-loathing, pain, denial and guilt. For the first time, I questioned my actions and inactions.

There was a small group of us that were released at night for the last time from the Residential School (I was informed years later that the reason the school shut down was because of abuse issues.) There were ten Aboriginal children including me that were driven to the nearest town where a public bus would take half of our group to the nearest big city. It was during this last part of our journey that five of us bonded. When we arrived at our final destination there were social workers who met us at the train station to take us to our new respective homes. I was taken to a farm and a very good family who made the next three years a very special time. I was ten years old when I arrived at that farm. I would keep in touch with the other Aboriginal kids during school times. All those kids from the Residential School have passed onto the afterlife except me. They died in car crashes and in violent circumstances, with one thing in common — alcohol! And alcohol saw generations of Aboriginal people who came out of Residential Schools and drank to forget. I had made it my purpose to educate myself on Residential Schools’ existence, and the reasoning behind them.

Understanding the existence and reasoning behind Residential Schools had a steep learning curve. Why and when did they start? Was it when Jacques Cartier landed in 1534 and then kidnapped an Iroquoian Chief’s sons for all of France to see? The sons were returned the following year. But the Europeans continued to go back and forth across the Atlantic, often bringing back indigenous peoples to parade before their sponsors and crowns. Over several centuries worldviews clashed and the indigenous peoples were expected to change their beliefs.

This is what I found out about Residential Schools for my deceased friends. Through the partnership between the church and government, the law was used to approve the forcible removal of Aboriginal children. The church, as a government tool, ran Residential Schools that oversaw the educational, religious and moral development of children in a strict government assimilation program. The church was given absolute power to exercise disciplinary authority over Aboriginal people to remove them from their culture.

These early events have left Aboriginal people with a legacy of destruction due to the systemic crime of genocidal policies. The attempts to erase our Aboriginal identification have impoverished the character of Canada. History contextualizes the colonizer’s claim to power without recognizing the hidden methodology in which the law isolates indigenous peoples’ culture for the colonization of the land.