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Old story. New lens.


Isabelle Knockwood. Out of the Depths. 1992.

Often decrying the inadequacies of my own K-12 education when it comes to exposure to the First Peoples of Turtle Island, I wonder how much further ahead settlers would be in moving towards decolonization if we'd been exposed to the truth of what we'd done at younger ages.


And then I'm reminded of Isabelle Knockwood's #book, Out of the Depths. I first read it in 1993, less than a year after its publication. It was assigned reading in an elective Native Studies class during my first year of university. Despite the class being taught and TA'd by Indigenous people, I don't recall there being much discussion about the book's contents, or Residential Schools, outside of a single week's lecture. The idea that these schools existed elsewhere in the country, and their generational impacts on those who were forced to attend, was something I'd grapple with later in life.


Coming from a small city where I knew of only 2 Indigenous families - whose lives looked just like mine - I read this book through the lens of a sheltered child with a view that it was all in the past. I wasn't aware that at the same time I was reading Knockwood's words, a Residential school continued to operate in Saskatchewan.


That there was only one Residential School in the Maritimes isn't a testament to how "good" the people, state, or churches were in the area. Rather, it's an inditement of how well they succeeded in massacring those who lived on the lands before Europeans arrived and settled in the region. I know of many Maritimers who, to this day, remain blissfully unaware of the prior existence (it has since burned to the ground) of the Residential School at #Shubenacadie, NS.


I may not have understood how vital Knockwood's story would be in my exploration of Canadian identity at the time, but I knew it was important. I have carried this book with me over 25 years, 6 moves, and 4 Provinces. I recently learned of a 4th edition release of the book wherein Knockwood documents her conversations with other Shubenacadie survivors and their reaction to the 2008 Apology issued by the Canadian government. I've purchased the new version and await its arrival next week.


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Knockwood, I. (1992). Out of the depths: The experiences of Mi'kmaw children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Lockport, NS: Roseway Publishing.

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