An apology, in print, for lost years

Just saying sorry worth more than the money,
for survivor of St. Mary’s

Angus Jones

Angus Jones has his letter. It’s in black and white, dated July 26, 2012 from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and it’s on government stationery and bears the signature of deputy minister Michael Wernick.

And it says sorry – for putting him through the hell of life in St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada … I wish to apologize to you and your family for all of the pain that you and your family have suffered as a result of your attendance at St. Mary’s.

“I recognize that you have carried this burden for far too long and the burden is properly ours as a government, and as a country.”

Jones spent eight years at the huge school that once dominated the hillside in Mission. He was from the Mt. Currie band, near Pemberton, and was sent there in 1950, when he was 10 years old, although the school’s records say he only got there in 1952.

From what he can recall, the uprooting began when his band got a letter from the government, saying that children all had to be sent to the residential school.

In a way, Jones was a little lucky. Mission wasn’t far from Mt. Currie. And his four brothers and three sisters were sent to St. Mary’s.

“People got separated. They went to Kamloops, Williams Lake.”

Not that it made much difference. His family didn’t have money to visit anyway.

Jones saw Prime Minister Stephen Harper deliver the televised apology to school survivors during an historic meeting in the House of Commons in June 2008.

“That was good enough for everybody, but not for me. I wanted to see it physically,” said Jones.

So he asked the government for a written apology for everything he went through.

The effects of life in St. Mary’s have stayed with him his whole life, he says, adding the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Ann, who ran the school, also should apologize.

Even though he had a job as a court worker for 17 years in the Mount Currie and Pemberton area, helping other former residential school survivors, Jones lived as a hermit for two decades in the bush, without electricity and running water. He’d jump in the lake for his shower.

He’s been running away for 60 years.

“Too ashamed to stay in one spot very long. This is the longest I’ve stayed in one place – six years,” he says, referring to his Maple Ridge home in Baptist Towers.

In the In-Shuck-ch Nation newsletter out of Deroche, his daughter Lucinda wonders if her dad really survived St. Mary’s.

“Is his real life/soul lost and buried at the residential school?” she asked in an excerpt from her education thesis from six years ago.

“What are we seeing, is it really just a hollow form of Angus Jones, a product of residential school?”

He lives alone in the woods and he never visits, she says.

Later, she notes he’s improving and his face glowed with “kindness and love.”

Jones, 71, doesn’t want to talk too much about his time at St. Mary’s. Each person’s experience in the school was unique.

“Each person is different and received different treatment over there.”

But he hasn’t forgotten and is trying to remember as many details as he can and put them into print so others know what happened.

He’s been writing it for the last 20 years and says it’s painful remembering the details, but doesn’t want to omit anything. He doesn’t know when that will be finished, but knows exactly why he’s doing so.

“Why not? Why not?” he asks.

“Would you keep it to yourself?”

Jones says the deputy minister told him he was the first to ask for such a letter.

While residential school survivors, including Jones, under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, have received cash payments for their years in residence, the money was quickly spent. Many have since died.

The letter is more important than the money, he says.

“To me it is.”

He wants all residential school survivors to ask for a letter for apology.

“When they admitted it was their fault and not mine – it really lifted a load off my shoulders on that day.”

Receiving the piece of paper, holding it, reading it, brings to an end those years.

“I’m going to frame it.”