In my article on Sept. 25, I mentioned that the Catholic church did not teach our people about moral standards. I mentioned this with no disrespect intended; I only wanted to clarify our Sylix people’s traditions to the public, as well as protocol.

I write the stories, as many of our non-Aboriginal neighbors have no idea or knowledge of how our Sylix people lived or how we were taught before the churches or residential schools became a part of our experience.

Children were very important. They were gifts from our Creator K’wlencuten, so the Sylix could continue living on this earth. To the Sylix people, the highest form of good governance meant that all family members were healthy, housed and protected.

The original Sylix people of long ago, had an ideal lifestyle. There was no need for law enforcement because back then people did not steal from each other. Good governance to the Sylix means that we carry the laws inside us, within our spirits, our hearts and our minds. It means that we know how to behave and live right without someone forcing us.

Long ago, the original Sylix took care of those who had no one to hunt or fish or gather medicine or berries for them. This was done as a form of respect to the families and out of responsibility for being able to gather and provide these traditional foods.The original Sylix people believed that every person shared equally in the work and its benefits.

The oldest of each household – called “tlax tla kap” – was responsible for the good conduct of individual family members in the day to day work of households. Tlax tla kap taught the young girls and boys. Young girls were taught to sew, cook, and keep their homes clean. Also, they were taught to keep their physical bodies covered, not to wear revealing clothes, as this was inappropriate. The boys were also taught to hunt, to fish , ride horses, and other means of provision. Most importantly, they were taught to respect the women, to honour them and not to physically beat them as was customary to some.

There were older males and females who were called “suxencwiltm”, the ones who disciplined.They were law keepers who took on a role to keep discipline and peace in the village. There were also the heads of extended family who took care of keeping good relations between members.

When an individual did wrong to another person whether the wrong was done physically, emotionally or spiritually, the family head would speak on the wrong-doer’s behalf. He or she would approach the individual’s family head to explain the grievance and together each decided what action to take for the discipline towards the wrong-doer. Both families took part in the process, which was for the understanding of the wrong and how to correct it.

There was no punishment given, rather the wrong was explained to the wrong-doer, then he or she was told that the behaviour was inappropriate and must not do it again, as it caused pain to the other person. From the experience they learned to respect each other as human beings with feelings and learned to treat everyone with respect.

When the Sylix children were taken from their parents’ care and then placed into the residential schools, they were like people in a foreign country with foreign laws and a foreign language being spoken to them.

Children were taken from as young as five – the very age when their minds were most impressionable. Most children did not speak the English language so they were punished if they did not understand the English words. Punishment was very foreign to the Sylix children; they never had punishment from their parents.

In my last article I mentioned the fact that nuns, brothers or priests did not have any training or knowledge in child rearing . They were simply told by the government, “here are native children – it is your responsibility to teach them.”

I ask you, would you take or give your child or children into the care of someone who had no knowledge or legal license to care for little children?

These days, there are licensed daycare facilities for children. If they disobey the regulations of the law, or abuse the children in their care, they are brought to court or have their daycare license taken from them for good.

But nothing was done for the residential school children.

During my time at the residential school, I saw children being punished for bed-wetting. Every day there would be one or more girls who had bed-wetting problems. They would be brought to the chapel with their soiled wet sheets wrapped around their heads, placed in front of the whole chapel. The chapel was for both boys and girls, junior, intermediate and seniors.

Had the nuns been trained to care for children, they would have recognized that bed-wetting was a physical disorder and brought the children to the doctor rather than punish them by shaming them in front of all the other students.

The trauma of shame must have been a self-esteem blow to these girls.

There were many other ways in which the children were punished. There was the leather strap, used to discipline by strapping the hands. As a result, I believe children learned to be mean spirited because their spirits were broken, their hearts torn between being Sylix and being taught the church’s ways. In our own hearts, we knew that Creator k’wlencuten was not a mean God, unlike what we heard. He was not waiting for us to fail, so He could punish us.

I know one girl who chose to commit suicide when she grew up.

These are memories which have remained in my heart. It makes me sad, to think so many lives were destroyed, not because it was intentional, but for lack of knowledge. The nuns and priests meant well, I am sure, but their methods were too severe.

I often think that perhaps they resented the care of the native children, which was forced upon them by the government.

As Always in Friendship.