Article 6: Interview Session with my Grandpa Brian Rowden Sr., A Former Staff Member of Multiple Residential Schools

Chadwin Scatch

          On October 28, 2022, I completed an interview with my grandpa, Brian Rowden Sr., whom I had not known well enough to connect my life with before this interview. Unlike most of the lucky children who spent lots of time with their grandparents, I had never spent much time with my maternal grandpa during my childhood.  However, I inherited the “whiteness” from him as I was told by my mother, Denice Rowden, that Grandpa Rowden’s eyes are in light-dark blue color, and his hair is blonde.  I have white skin, dirty blonde hair, and greenish-blue hazel eyes.  If Grandpa Rowden and I were to stand together, I would almost look as if I were his son. That is inherited from him, and the gene from Grandpa Rowden is so strong that I even don’t carry any genes from my father and my mother who both have brown eyes and dark hair. My brothers all have dark hair and brown eyes, and their hairs are straight, and I am bisexual which makes me feel like an outcast of the family. I always look like a queer pretty brother to them. Because of my “whitish” appearance, I was bullied a lot growing up in the reserve. To my peers, I was sort of feminine, nerdy and weak. Until high school when my academic performance was excellent and I gained medals in various sports, my peers started looking me up. As I grow mature, I look handsomer to them, I would say, but I am not quite sure if it is I or my peers who have a new outlook. Now I have more confidence in friendships; I am playing sports without embarrassment if I fail; I have dated many girls and have many friends Indigenous or non-Indigenous. 

Being physically like Grandpa Rowden made me want to take on this interview with him. I believe that he must have seen some bullying in his lifetime. As this interview covers two topics—residential school experience and bullying experience, I made two sessions of this interview. In this first session, I focused on his thoughts about and experience at residential school, and how he lived through the residential school for many years.  In the second session, I focused on his life so that I would know him better, particularly his thoughts and experience of seeing bullying or being bullied.

Session 1—Residential School Experience

Chadwin: Grandpa, can you tell me a little bit about your experiences at residential school?  What did the residential school teach you?

Grandpa Rowden: Not knowing what was developing in the schools till now, as to what the history was in some of them, I can say I’ve been to some of them that were operating well and had good people working there, who had a good nature of life. I haven’t been to the Eastern Provinces, but I’ve been to the Western Provinces. I spent eight years in Vancouver (Vancouver Island), eight years in Dauphin and one year here in Norway House. So, I had experience with a lot of people throughout my years in residential schools. I got a lot of stories about what happened in the residential schools and what happened to the people and to the kids. However, for me, most of the story is about success. By saying success, I refer to the students that were there. They had a successful learning experience there. For example, in Dauphin, the teachers in the residential school were super teachers. When we first got there, we had an invitation to the elementary school where Christine, Denice and Tina (my aunties and my mom) were going to school.

           Christine’s teacher stood up and talked to her one day. Christine asked her about her teaching experiences and what it was like being a teacher. She was going on and on about her teaching. Here she was only a Grade One teacher, and she had all this background behind her. She had all these courses to prepare herself to be an extremely super teacher. The high school there too had super teachers. The native students at this time were at the forefront of education in the Canadian educational system that was put in place.

        There were unique people, and they were just awesome teachers, and they had all these courses behind them to prepare them to teach. Ukraine people, for some part, the older Ukraine people were prejudiced, but the younger people were like “What can I do for you, what can I teach you to succeed and to be a happy person”.

         A good opportunity came to me when I came to Dauphin. All the girls loved to learn, and they just built them up and got a good head on their shoulders. I had the opportunity that presented myself as their mentor. The Reverend Cannes Grace of Dauphin was eventually the moderator of the Anglican Church of Canada. He was behind me every step up of the way. He found out everything about me, I don’t know how he did, and he hired me. When he asked whether I would like to work, I said sure. I didn’t have a job, and I just came from Norway House. When I first went there, he hired me as a Jr. Boys’ Childcare Worker. I got all these phone calls from him at first and he said, “Why don’t you ask your girlfriend to come and work here too” and I said, “I’ll ask her.”

           My girlfriend, Eleanor was in Norway House then. So, I decided to ask her parents first to see what they would say about her leaving them. To my surprise, they said yeah. We then moved to Dauphin together. We worked separately: Eleanor worked in the kitchen. Two years down the road, she asked me, “Should we get married?” Her mom and dad came to Dauphin, and we went to Dinner. Her dad said, “Are you going to marry our daughter?”  I started humming nervously, and he got mad at me for taking so long to respond. He said again, “Are you going to marry my daughter, or are you not going to marry my daughter?” I said,” Okay, yes, I will.” Later I talked to them again, then the next year we got married here in Norway House.

            After we got married we went back to Dauphin. We were married, she was working back where she was, in the kitchen, and I was back to working with the Jr. Boys.

          We thought that we need a honeymoon, so I said, “Let’s go out to the west coast, my dads in Vancouver.” We said, “Okay, we will go to Vancouver for a couple of months.” We both loved Vancouver. She said, “We are going to stay in Vancouver.” So, I got a job in a woodwork shop making doors. I did that for about a year. In August I got a call from an administrator, a guy who told me to go work for a Residential School in BC. He said, “Well, we will give you a house and a boat. Those would be complementary other than the money, the money was good as you know.” So, we went up to that residential school in Alert Bay on a stormy night. I slept on the lawn outside a resident’s place in a tent. They showed me around the campus the next day.

            I went back to Vancouver and discussed it with my wife, Eleanor (my late grandma), and she said, “Oh yeah, let’s go then!” So, we went to Alert Bay, BC., and I worked in the boy’s dorm. Eleanor went to work in the hospital as a nurse, and we stayed there for eight entire years. That’s where Tina and Denice were born, in Alert Bay. Christine was born in Vancouver. It was said they were closing the residential school, but luckily I got a call from Dauphin. They asked if we would like to come up and work at Grace Hall and teach the high school boys. I said okay, and back we went to Dauphin to work in the residential school there. We spent another eight years in Dauphin with Reverend Cannes Grace. It a was good life.

            We had boys of all different ages. When I got there it was Friday night and there were 250 kids in the auditorium and there were drunks and brawls all over the place. I said to myself, “This has got to change, and we can’t have this.” So, I herded them out and talked to the drunks, asking them to either change or say its goodbye to Charlie Brown. “We are not going to have this again in this place,” I said firmly. It took about two-three months to get that cleaned out. We got the message across that you need to go to school, there’s an opportunity here for you. We got everyone to graduate. I worked at Grace Hall in Dauphin for four to five years, then I took over the recreation part of the residential school. We turned the chapel area into a recreation area where we could play all types of sports. They wanted me to go for the administrator job, but I didn’t get the job. Onterio (the guy my papa knew well) got the job. So, we worked together, and he was good at his job; he was educated; he had a plan, and he showed his respect to me. We worked there for a while together. In 1981 they closed the Dauphin residential school, so I decided it was time to move on.

            “Where are we going to go?”

            Eleanor decided for us to come back to Norway House, then I worked here, and I have yet to come across anyone that I didn’t get along with. All my students behaved well. To this day I see some of my students and they’re retiring from their work or jobs. On top of that, when I was working as the administrator here I went to have meetings down in Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Center in their office, here. One year we were out here and there was a conference there and there were all these Chiefs and five of them were my boys. I said to myself, “Holy man”. They learned a lot from what we did in the residential schools, I was fortunate to have worked in some of the best residential schools.

            I had a Major who was helping me with the boys. He was an army Major. His system was that he would bring the boys together and choose leaders, and the leaders would get a set of boys. We would work in groups of seven or eight of them and they were responsible for different things, chores, sports, etc. I did the same thing with the students I had later. I gave them the opportunity to teach each other more than just, to get along, and to work as a team together. We had a lot of sports programs for the students to choose from. They competed against each other. It worked well throughout all my years, which determined how I worked all my years. That was a good experience. I can’t remember any difficulties I had with the students. One day we invented a game, with paddles and a rubber ball and two nets. Anyways we started this game one day, a kid happened to get hit in the head and was knocked out cold. I said, “The game is over. Put the ball away.” It was a good game up until that point. The fishing, the hunting, they added to the activities. I loved it. It was one of the reasons I continued to work for residential schools. Ken Young, one of my former students, is a lawyer now and a Catholic Priest. He was a Number One student for me. In Thompson, he saw me and greeted me happily, “Hey Mr. Rowden.”

Chadwin’s reflection about the first session of his interview with Grandpa Brian Rowden: My grandpa ended Session One of the interviews with the story of his former student, Ken Young. The story also showed me how nice of a person my grandpa was. Grandpa Rowden was lucky that all the residential schools he worked for were well-operated and people working at the Residential Schools in his life were nice. His story about success also reminded me of a time when my own brother hit me with a hockey stick in my childhood.  Whether he hit me on purpose or not, it hurt me badly and I had a big goose egg on my forehead. My mom freaked out when she saw it, but I did not get knocked out. Instead, I told the story of having a fun time. I made an analogy of this story being hit by my brother to Grandpa Rowden’s story about success in the Residential Schools he worked for. My brother hit me hard same as that kid who got hit in my grandpa’s story.

            During the first session of the interview, I didn’t ask questions about the life of my grandpa. Since I don’t know him well enough to tell the story about him, I decided on asking him to just fill in some information on him that I might have missed in the first interview. Now here is the story of my grandpa’s life.

Session 2–The story about my Grandpa Rowden

Chadwin: Grandpa, where were you born and raised?

Grandpa Rowden: Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Chadwin: Grandpa, tell me something about your childhood such as what’s your first and favorite childhood memory.

Grandpa Rowden: I guess it will be living at 445 Trent Avenue in Winnipeg till I was about fifteen. Lots of memories there. I had a good life, and we lived in East Kildonan. I had good parents. I had a good life. I could not recall a favorite childhood memory, but I had lots of good memories of my life in Winnipeg.

Chadwin: Grandpa, how did residential school impact you and your family? Grandpa Rowden: Well, they provided us with a good standard of living for the years when I was there working for the Residential Schools. My wife even worked as a high school boys’ supervisor during our last few years working there. She worked in the kitchen in the beginning. Before we got married, she came to Dauphin and I worked with the boys, and she worked in the kitchen. We went to Vancouver after that for a couple of years. I enjoyed it, I met a lot of people, did a lot of things, and did a lot of travelling. I loved and still loved BC, the Island, and the scenery. We never had any snow there in any winter. We had a good life there.

       Eleanor’s dad and mother even came to see us one time in Vancouver, and they enjoyed it. The boys I took care of are still around. And if they’re ever in this area or around, they will come and see me. I went from Bayline to Nelson House, and even to the southern towns in Manitoba. Wherever I went, I saw the boys I had taken care of. As an administrator for Pinowachi (the old folks home here in Norway House), I travelled to other reserves. I would also visit the boys when I visited the other old folks’ homes. I started my life in Winnipeg, then I came to Norway House when I was twenty-eight. That year was 1963. The thing I remember most was the most horrible thing I still remember today—President Kennedy was killed. I was standing in the hallway of the school when I heard the news. I just cried when I heard the news. As you know, he was such a wonderful man.

Chadwin: What does “reconciliation” mean to you?

Grandpa Rowden: Very little, I have just heard the word recently. You know, actually, I heard it on and off the last couple of years. So, to me, it means that the native people were the first people to live in Canada and it was their land. People came from other countries to conquer it, but Canada is still one of the loveliest places to live in the world after all the impact the settlers have had on the land.

Chadwin: In your opinion, what is the best way for Canada to heal the history of Residential Schools? Do you think we should have more publicity about residential schools?

Grandpa Rowden: I think people are healing, you see a lot of it on tv, advertising it; they’re showing terrible things that are happening in the world as well, and in Canada, and people getting shocked. But the worst possible thing is the drugs. It’s the food intake Indigenous people have as well, which is not in the best favour of Indigenous people. You know diabetes and other diseases that are connected to the way of your life; they hurt individuals who do not have a good life in this world (talking about death and deaths in his life I’m guessing – my nan [his wife] and my auntie [his daughter] both died from diabetes). You know, that’s the way I am looking at it. I enjoy every minute I’m alive. I’m glad I am alive and have lived this long. I have lived this good life of health. So, that’s just my words (My grandpa is 79 now, he will be 80 soon).

Chadwin: Finally, can you tell me any stories of abuse or any stories you have heard of or experienced about abuse?

Grandpa Rowden: I personally have one that I went through. It happened during a camping trip and it was in the middle of winter when it was 50 degrees below. My supervisor said we had to go camping for three days on the weekend, and he gave us new equipment that he had bought, and we went out on the lake a few miles out and the equipment didn’t work! We were nearly freezing to death. So, I fed up, I got the boys together and said, “We are going home.” When we got home, the supervisor said we had to go downstairs and do three hours of exercise.

            At another time, I also told you about Reggie Chubb.  I was off on the weekend. When I came back, I was going down the stairs. At the back of the building, there was Reggie Chubb with a toothbrush brushing the stairs. He was bawling his eyes out. And I asked him, “What’s the matter?” He said, “Mr. Hudson made me scrub the stairs with a toothbrush. Well, I went to see my grandmother over the weekend, and this is my punishment.” You know that was a hard thing for me to take in.

            Ok, another time, one of the fellows snuck into the girl’s dorm in the middle of the night, and we saw this boy. They caught him, and they shaved all his hair off. That’s just one other example of the abuse I have seen going on in Residential Schools. I did not see any other abuse when I worked in Alert Bay or Dauphin.

Chadwin’s reflection about the second session of his interview with Grandpa Brian Rowden:

The last question was awkward and weird for me to ask my grandpa, but he knew what I meant with every question, and he answered as honestly as he could, I think. Who knows what he has seen or not seen, for only God would know or he himself. I love my grandpa and never want to see him go through any trauma or anything that would cause the trauma even. Grandpa Rowden is a very kind man. I would never expect him either to receive anything harmful on his own or to do anything harmful to the children he took care of during the years he worked for residential schools. His story about residential schools was a different type of story which didn’t have a brutal ending as most residential school stories do with the abuse and children dying. His story started and ended with the success of his life.

            I thanked my grandpa for his time spent with me for this interview, after which I really feel that I take after him from inside to out.  I was very happy that I got the interview done and hope anyone who reads it would enjoy it. Thanks to my grandpa, we see a different side to residential schools. There was bullying in the residential schools and there was fun as well. It was through the opportunity of working for several residential schools that he met his wife and saw the family grows, and that leads to my family being enlarged in Norway House. There was lot to learn from my grandpa.  He was thankful and enjoyed talking to me as always. He was grateful to spend time with me, which made me happy.

Grandpa in his late teens or early 20s in Winnipeg
Grandpa in his 60s in Norway House

Author Bio:

Hello, my name is Chadwin Scatch. I am twenty-six years old, and I am graduating from the University College of the North here in Norway House Cree Nation this year – 2023. I will be receiving my Bachelor of Arts Degree (3 years) Majoring in History and Minoring in Literature. I enjoy spending time with my godson when I have the time, watching movies and shows, writing poetry, reading, taking pictures, and running in my free time. What I plan to do in the future is work for my community, save up, travel and go to concerts, etc. Eventually, I will do my Bachelor of Education Degree either in Thompson or The Pas. After that I plan to finish my 4-year (Bachelor of Arts requirement) at the University of College of the North either in Thompson or The Pas so I can apply for my Master of Arts Degree at the U of M. One day, I will finally be a professor of History and Literature here at my University College in Norway House Cree Nation (Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation). Also, one day I want to go to RRC (Red River College) as well to gain my certificate in professional photography as they have a program for photography there. Photojournalism will always be a dream job of mine.

Instructor’s Remarks:

Chadwin has been a contributor to Muses from the North since the first issue when he published “What an Outing in My Hometown Is Like.” His two poems were published in the 9th issue: “How I Feel to Live in the North,” and “To My Love, Wayne.”  Chadwin is enthusiastic about creative writing, and he has the talent for it. When we call for submissions for the Truth and Reconciliation special issues, Chadwin planned to do the interview with his grandpa who worked for several residential schools, and here we have a different perspective on the residential schools from the interview Chadwin conducted with his maternal grandfather, Brian Rowden Sr., a former staff member of multiple Residential Schools.  (Dr. Ying Kong)

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