Residential Schools Subject of Powerful Book

By Katrina Geenevasen
Kingston This Week
June 1, 2012

Rob Mooy, Kingston This Week Kingston author Robert (Bob) Wells leafs through his new book Wawahte, an examination of the impact the former Indian Residential Schools had on the children who were forced to attend them.

A local author has written a book about the tragedy of Indian Residential Schools, which saw more than 150,000 First Nations children taken from their families between 1883 and 1996.

"I think that I was fated to the task from early childhood," said Bob Wells, author of Wawahte. "I grew up in remote Northwestern Ontario, at the time in our history when many people lived as 'we' and 'them.' As a child, it did not seem fair to me that my friends were being treated differently than I was."

The book is written in two parts. The first part tells readers about the experiences of three children who attended residential schools. Through the eyes of Esther Faries, Bunny Galvin and Stanley Stephens, readers travel back to a time of forced assimilation.

The second part of the book provides a detailed historical description on how and why residential schools came to be.

"Writing and promoting Wawahte has been a great adventure, because the book is different than most, as it not only tells personal experiences, but it also gives the history," said Wells.

Wells said Wawahte was written to help all Canadians to better comprehend this dark chapter of history.

"Many people don't want to talk about it but we're mature enough to face up to the fact that are our forefathers made some missteps along the way," said Wells.

The book took Wells 14 months of research, interviews and writing, but all the hard work was worth it.

"It's a part of our history, a very integral part," said Wells. "If were going to find solutions to the many First Nations problems that are ongoing, it's going to take all of us to solve these problems. And in order to do this, we need to know their history."

Despite having to relive their experiences in residential schools, Faries, Galvin and Stephens were eager to share their stories with Wells.

"Wawahte is our gift to help young and old to better understand a piece of Canada's history that will soon be lost from living memory," said Faries.

It is Wells' hope that this book will not only educate readers about what happened at residential schools, but also be the building block to First Nations history study being mandatory in all Canadian high schools.

Chief Robert Joseph, executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, hopes people who read the book are forever enlightened.

"By shining the light on a dark part of our past, we have a chance to create a bright new day for Aboriginals and all Canadians. We will all know what happened, and then come together to realize that what happens now and our vision for tomorrow are what really count," he said.

Wawahte can be ordered from local bookstores or online retailers. It's also for sale at Earth to Spirit, located at 340 King St. E. in Kingston. Book signings will be held at Earth to Spirit on June 16 and July 1 from 1 to 4 p.m.

"It brought to the forefront a lot of feelings, and lots of things I had shelved in the back of my mind," said Wells. "It's been really gratifying to do it. It's been the most satisfying thing as far as work that I have ever done in my life."

- With files from Bob Wells


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