Article 8: Interview with Cameron Stanley Francois

Janice Muskego

Interview with Cameron Stanley Francois was conducted on December 21, 2022, at 5:30 pm.

Tansi! My name is Janice Muskego. I am Cree from Pimicikamak First Nation under Treaty 5 Territory. I am a first-year Bachelor of Arts Student at Thompson Campus, University College of the North. I am a single mother to six beautiful daughters. My oldest is twenty years old and my youngest is four years old. I completed my University of Manitoba’s Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) at the Thompson campus in 2012. It gave me plenty of employment opportunities since then, which I am very thankful for as I meet wonderful people throughout my Social Work career.  I decided to return to school to pursue a career in Education and work as a teacher, and that’s why I decided to go back to work after working at the high school back home. To come back to school later in life is challenging. We open ourselves to new experiences. And after all, a well-lived life is all about showing up for new experiences. So, here I am back in school but this time it’s different for me as I am on the same campus as my oldest daughter who is in enrolled in Early Childhood Education. We two support each other at school, which is key to our success. I also owe all my success in completing my education to my parents, Andrew and Eileen Thomas who instilled that education is key to endless opportunities in life. They were right! Thank you.

Ten years after completing my B.S.W, I came back to university finding it very challenging to learn with the current educational technology as I have to learn how to become computer literate as most classes, checking grades, and submitting assignments, all of which must be completed in computers. The helpful support from fellow students and professors makes my learning experience easier. The motivation to overcome the learning curves comes from the support and encouragement of my professors as they make certain that students’ success is their main priority. In literature class, we learn the best literary works from the 20th century, and we are also encouraged to create our own literature. I have chosen to do an interview as my creative project focusing on the topic of Truth and Reconciliation. I believe that the process of conducting an effective interview would increase my critical thinking and communication skills.   In Thompson, homeless people are more visible than in any other place, and the topic of Truth & Reconciliation has brought me here in the Homeless Shelter. I am curious about homeless people and wanted to know their stories. I invited Mr. Cameron Francois to UCN Thompson Campus to share his experience as an Intergenerational trauma survivor of the Indian Residential School system and the impacts it placed on himself and his family.

Janice: What is your name?

Interviewee: Cameron Joseph Francois

Janice: Cameron, do you mind telling me how you are?

Cameron: I am 50 years old.

Janice: Do you have any children, Cameron?

Cameron: Yes, I have three:  one is thirty-three, one is twenty-two, and the other one will be turning seventeen.

Janice: Where are you originally from?

Cameron: I am from South Indian Lake, Manitoba.

Janice: What is your favourite childhood memory growing up in your home community of South Indian Lake?

Cameron: Helping my granny smoke fish. And helping my grandpa smoke meat as well.

Janice:  I’ve never seen that done growing up. How do you smoke fish and meat?

Cameron: Well, first you build an “Akwan.” A smokehouse. You can use wood, plywood, or tarp. You make it a tent-shaped [using hand gestures to explain how the Akwan is made while talking]. You put willows around the tent-shaped dome. About an inch high, then you fillet the fish. First, you clean the white fish, slit them in half, and then you put them on the sticks. The best thing to use is Red Willows, they were the best type to use (we would look for them for our granny to use).

We would bring the Red Willows back and my granny would make the fire, no flame just smoke, not flame. We would smoke them for three to four hours. The right texture is to be slightly dry. We would cut the fish, similar goes with the moose meat. Usually, it would be cold smoke and dry meat.

Janice: Your granny showed you how to do that?

Cameron: She did not show me, she told us how to do it. Just my granny and my grandpa. We would go fishing every day, just for Jack Fish. My auntie would tell me not to throw any away. We would bring back a small bag full of fish.

Janice: How many people were there in your family household?

Cameron: Probably not less than eight and not more than twenty. My grandfather was the first to have a small television set. You must remember this was in the early 1970s, not too many people had Television sets. He was the first to have one in the community. His TV was the size of your laptop. We would sit around and wait for the Hawaii Seven to come on. Fridays and Saturdays had the good shows.

Janice: How many siblings did you have growing up? Such as cousins? Did you grow up in a blended family?

Cameron: When I was younger, till I was just eight years old. I grew up with all my cousins and everybody in South Indian Lake. My mother uprooted me from there. We moved to Thompson, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, B.C, and I ended up in Vancouver for fourteen years after coming from here. When I was twelve years old, I moved to  Vancouver and lived there for fourteen years.

Janice: So, your mother worked in those cities?

Cameron: No, my mom was an alcoholic, she died from cirrhosis, she drank every day of my life.

Janice: (Now for the interview on Residential school experience, I understand this is a sensitive topic.) Cameron, if at any time you need a moment, we can stop, or pass any emotional question if you wish (looking at Cameron until he gestured for me to go on). So, did you attend the Residential School?

Cameron: Actually, I did not, I was a little bit too young. But they took my oldest sister, and my oldest brothers. There were three that went to Indian Residential Schools (IRS). Other than that, I have suffered the precautions of the effects of the Residential school system. So, there were three of my siblings that went to Residential school. Somehow, they skipped me from South Indian Lake, I was too young. But it doesn’t mean I did not suffer the precautions from my family members attending the IRS. Whatever was taught in the school, they brought it back home.  After they were done, all we learnt or were told about the school is the punishments. There could be over 1000 stories about punishments at Residential Schools. Whatever they learned from there, they brought it home. That is what they knew when they were five to six years old. A lot of it is very bad. A lot of abuses. It was not their fault. They were brainwashed with abusive languages and they never knew that these abusive languages would hurt their families when they used them. They brought it to the community. I got bullied lot even by my own family members. A lot of it was not their fault. It was the fault of the Residential School. They came back home, and they started abusing things and people. The kids learned this bad stuff from the Residential school. So, it’s very discerned of knowing what’s right from wrong. My mother died before she got her Residential school settlement.

Janice: She was punished for speaking her language, which is Cree? Is this correct?

Cameron: Yes, for speaking her language.

Janice: Do you remember her telling you what the daily routine was like at the Residential Schools?

Cameron: Awe, pretty well. Get up crack of dawn, make your bed, go wash up, and make sure the dorm room was clean. Eat cold oatmeal and there was sugar. Go to church.

Janice: How old was your mother when she attended Residential School?

Cameron: My mom was six to seven years old, and six of other aunties attended the Residential school as well.

Janice: So, what do you think they learned from Residential School?

Cameron: They learned how people could be so cruel.

Janice: What do you remember good things about the Residential School?

Cameron: I remember when my siblings came home from Residential school, they flew on a Float Plane. They brought me gifts for Christmas. That is a good memory I have.

Janice: Where did they attend the Residential School?

Cameron: They attended Guy Hall Residential School, located in The Pas, Manitoba.

Janice: If you can share one thing about the Indian Residential School in Canada, what would you want the world to know?

Cameron: The world knows already, it was in the news. The Catholic church were made to  apologize. You must have heard the news.  Now all the residential schools are closed but the trail is carrying on. I am not sure how many people care about the trail. It is carrying on. It is leaving a trail. And that trail has not stopped.

Janice: Yes, that trail that is still carrying on. How could people in that “trail” begin healing? Is there any way for healing?

Cameron: I mean you can sit there and pray all you want. It is always going to be there. I am fifty years old, and I still remember everything from when I was 8 years old. It is about the impacts of the Residential school system that I have not forgotten. I remember everything. That was not from Residential School it came from my family who attended Residential School.

Janice: Thank you for sharing how the impacts of Indian residential school affected you. Thank you for taking the time to tell your story. Thank you for your time and contribution to my interview.

Janice and Carmon at the Homeless Shelter in Thompson

Instructor’s Remarks:

Janice Muskego attended the first-year literature class–Major Works and Authors of the 20th Century (ENG 1015). As an adult student, she has brought real-life insights to her learning. While she has brought her Indigenous perspective to class discussion, she also learnt from her peers about reading and interpreting literature from other perspectives. She has the grit and perseverance in learning and sets a good model for her children to follow. When she was encouraged to conduct an interview, she decided to visit the Homeless Shelter in Thompson and made a friend with her interviewee, Cameron Stanley Francois. Through her interview with Cameron, the public see how the “trail” of the Residential School system is still impacting Indigenous people.

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