Open Letter to the Anglican Church of Canada

Aboriginal Futures, Commentary, Rodney Clifton

Dear Archbishop,

On March 20, 2017 you, along with National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and General Secretary Archdeacon Michael Thompson, published an open letter to Senator Lynn Beyak in response to a speech she gave in a Senate Committee.  In your open letter you stated there was “nothing good” about Indian Residential Schools (IRS).

As an Anglican who spent some time in the IRS system I want you to know I find your assertion troubling. Let me illustrate by describing the work of Rosalind Mallick.

In late August, 1966, a young woman walked into the staff dining room at Stringer Hall, the Anglican Hostel in Inuvik, NWT. Her name was Miss Mallick and she was the new residential nurse.

Miss Mallick’s clothes were strange, as was her accent. We knew she wasn’t Canadian, and over dinner she told us that she had come from England to be our “nursing sister.”

At that time, flights from Edmonton stopped at many small communities in Northern Alberta and along the Mackenzie River. Consequently, it took almost 12 hours to get from Edmonton to Inuvik. Miss Mallick’s trip from London, England, had taken her more than two days, sleeping and eating on airplanes as she traveled.

She had come from the centre of the British Commonwealth to one of its furthest outposts; from a warm autumn day in England to a cold, dark, August evening 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle; from a major world city to a small isolated community hugging the east bank of the Mackenzie River.

Miss Mallick told us she was going to live and work in the Anglican Residential Hostel in Inuvik for an entire year. It was part of her Christian service.

We were astounded by her commitment.

A couple of months later John, a 12-year old student, woke up very ill. He was one of the 85 boys in three Senior Boys’ dormitories that I supervised. After sending the other students to breakfast in the dinning room, I went to John’s bed, one of 60 in the largest dorm. He told me he did not feel well; not surprising, given his absolutely dreadful appearance. I helped him climb the stairs to the second floor and shuffle along the hall to the infirmary.

“Miss Mallick, I have brought John because he seems to be ill. I know you’re on your way to breakfast, but could you please take a look at him?”

I left John in Miss Mallick’s care and went for breakfast. Besides being responsible for this 12-year old, I had to ensure that the other 84 boys got fed, went back to the dorms, brushed their teeth, put on their parkas and mukluks, and went to school. The 250 aboriginal and non-aboriginal children (about 12%) from Stringer Hall attended Sir Alexander Mackenzie School along with 250 children from Grollier Hall, the Roman Catholic Hostel, in addition to the local children from the town of Inuvik.

At about 11:00 am, Miss Mallick came to the senior boys’ dorms and found me sorting clothing that had just arrived from the commercial laundry. Clean clothing was stored in each boy’s numbered cubicle—1 to 100—in a locked storeroom, and sorting clothing was a time-consuming part of my job.  The easiest way of sorting and storing clothing was in numbered cubicles and each boy had an assigned numbered cubicle. These numbers were never used to refer to any of the boys, not even those children with long and difficult to pronounce aboriginal names.

Miss Mallick told me that John probably had appendicitis and that she had helped the Reverend Leonard Holman, the Administrator of Stringer Hall, take John to the hospital. At coffee break that afternoon, Nurse Mallick told the staff a doctor had phoned to say that John’s appendix had burst and surgery was in progress. After a few hours in the recovery room, John would be transferred to a general ward.

People could visit him the next day, and many staff members and students did exactly that.

I recalled this incident, and many others, when I read your open letter, a letter that belies the work and the love that Miss Mallick, and thousands of other Anglicans, gave to countless aboriginal children. If there was nothing good about the residential school system how would you describe what Miss Mallick did in saving the life of this young boy?

Here was a young Anglican nurse who came to an isolated, dark, and cold community—an outpost on the edge of Canada—to help children acting out of Christian love and duty to serve the children, the Church, and her Lord. It was obvious that she loved these children as if they were her own.  Had John been out at the hunting camp with his parents, no matter how much they loved him, he surely would have died a painful death.

The TRC report references the sad reality of up to 3,200 children who may have died in residential schools. Surprisingly, there is no discussion—not one word—about the countless children, like John, whose lives were saved because residential school staff loved and cared for them.

There is no mention of the innumerable children with infected bug bites that Miss. Mallick treated. There is no recognition—not a word—of the many 6-year olds who arrived with ear drums so badly infected that green smelly pus was running down their cheeks.

It broke our hearts to see and hear young children who were in such pain that even while receiving antibiotics they cried themselves to sleep. Nurse Mallick did not consider herself a saint, she was just an ordinary Anglican nursing sister who did her duty: treating these children, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, with love, compassion, and skill.

All of us, especially the clergy of the church, must be mindful of the thousands of good, solid Anglicans—the very backbone of the Church—who put their lives on hold for little pay and hardly any sleep, who went forth to serve their church, their Lord, and Canadian aboriginal children with honour, respect, and faith.

Now all they ask for is a little respect, or perhaps a little acknowledgement of some of the good things they did. Nothing more.

Is that too much to ask?

Sincerely,

Rodney A. Clifton