Phyllis Webstad and Joan Sorely.

Dirty Laundry: I was not expected to succeed

I was born on the Dog Creek reserve and lived with my grandmother Lena Jack until I was 10.

By Phyllis Webstad

Special to the Tribune

I was born on the Dog Creek reserve and lived with my grandmother Lena Jack until I was 10.

My aunt, Agnes Jack, took me upon graduating from university.

Dog Creek had no indoor plumbing or electricity; it was a small Department of Indians Affairs match box house.

We lived on food gathered mainly from the land, which included berries, fish, wild meat and vegetables from granny’s many gardens.

We had a cellar to keep food good over the winter.

For money, granny did beadwork and buckskin work and made items to sell at the local general store.

Granny never had a nine-to-five for money job like I’ve had in my life time.

I attended Williams Lake Secondary from grades 8 to 10.

I had my son while I was in Grade 8.

Upon returning to school after having my son was born, I was picking my courses with the counsellor at WL when the comment was made that “you won’t be going to university anyway” so I would not need a particular course.

The majority of First Nations students were put into modified programs.

I used to walk by the algebra class and not see any Native kids in there and think they must think we are all dumb.

When I attended college at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in Merritt, I took algebra and received an A grade.

I wondered why I was kept out of algebra in high school because it wasn’t all that hard.

Looking back on it now, I understand that I was not expected to succeed!

When I worked as education manager for my band a few years back I was involved with rewriting the Vision, Mission and Values statement for School District 27.

I told this story of being stuck in modified courses. As a result the comment phrase  “encouraging and understanding” was inserted into the vision statement.

Some years later I met Joan Sorley who has become a good friend over the last few years.

I met her when I became a member of the Cariboo Regional District’s Heritage Steering Committee.

It was through Joan that I found out about the St. Joseph Mission Residential School and Reconciliation events in May 2013. Both my granny and mother attended that school for 10 years each.

I became involved in the planning and as part of the media events leading up to the heritage week activities. I told my story about being given a beautiful orange shirt to wear to my first day at the mission school and how sad I felt when my shirt was taken from me and replaced with a uniform.

That feeling of worthlessness was with me for much of my adult life.

As a result of telling my story, Joan worked to establish Orange Shirt Day, which takes place on September 30 each year and is now internationally known as a day to recognize that every child matters.

Many people wear orange shirts on September 30 to remember and honour residential school survivors and their families.

I was expected to succeed

By Joan Sorely

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

I struggle with racism and white privilege, partly because my background is almost exactly like that of my Shuswap friend, Phyllis Webstad.

When I was a child, I lived in a place called McConnell Creek north of Mission.

Our property was given to my grandpa as a homestead during the Second World War.

We lived in a tarpaper shack with no running water.

My dad was a logger in the days before that became a high-paying job, and he struggled to pay bills and put food on the table.

Our food came from our large garden, meat was from animals we raised, and our clothes were made by my mom.

My dad was out of work every summer, it seemed, for fire season or a strike, and we spent summers trying to earn a few dollars by splitting shakes on our property.

And yet, unlike Phyllis, I was able to go home to my family after school every day.

I had teachers who expected me to succeed, who encouraged and challenged me. And, I realize now, that homestead given to my grandpa had been taken from Japanese-Canadians, and Coast Salish people had been there before that.

As kids, we played in the bush on our property, with arrowheads, mining equipment, and china dishes that we found.

Although it certainly never felt like I was privileged, I have never experienced being turned down for a job, or turned away from a rental home because of the colour of my skin.

I have never experienced being followed around in a store because I might be a shoplifter, simply because of the colour of my skin.

So yes, although I have lived with poverty, and struggled through some hard times in my life, I realize now that I do enjoy the benefits of white privilege whether I like it or not.

We need to make sure that these benefits are not limited to white people, that white privilege and racism disappear from our society!

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