This man ran an Indian residential school in Alberta.

Fr. Martin Michaud OMI

Martin Michaud OMI
Martin Michaud OMI

 

Father Michaud OMI was born on January 31, 1922 at Fort Kent, Alberta, Canada.

He passed away on August 28, 2007.

 

When I was a boy, maybe 11 years old, my mother and father packed up the ’57 Dodge with about 8 or 9 of us kids and piles of supplies [I have no idea to this day how they did it] and took us on a road trip.  My memory is a little sketchy as to the exact itinerary, but I distinctly remember that we left Maillardville, near Vancouver, BC, and headed north up highway 1 to 97 to Prince George where we spent some time with some  family who lived there.  I remember that we went as far north as Dawson Creek then headed east into Alberta to Edmonton, then south again to a place  that stunned me and that I have never forgotten. As far as I can remember, the place was close to Trochu, Alberta, but I can’t guarantee that.  It was an ‘Indian’ residential school and my ‘uncle’ Martin Michaud was the man in charge. It was summertime so all the ‘residents’ were away at the time with their families.  Us kids [maybe all of us] slept in the dorm.  I had no clue about the political significance of the place and others like it.  I was struck particularly by the names of some of the kids that lived here during most of the year.  I remember specifically two names: Johnny Born With A Tooth and Johnny Born With A Gun.  I’m quite sure about these names because they were so distinctive.  I found them so unusual, so foreign to me.  How could anyone be called something like that?

But back to Martin Michaud.  I didn’t really know him.  I knew his brother, Father Guy Michaud, OMI, much better because I went to a private residential school in Edmonton, College St-Jean, a kind of prep school for the French Canadian boys (mostly) west of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.  He worked there as director for a short period of time when I was there.  My parents sent me there hoping that I would become a priest, but as it turns out, I became a sociologist instead.  They tell me that I begged them to send me there because all of my friends were going.  That may be, I really don’t remember.  The point is, my experience at College St-Jean, where I got a superior, classical, education, was much different from Johnny Born With A Tooth’s experience at his residential school.   As I said, I didn’t know Martin Michaud.  But given what I know about Indian residential schools, at least as reported in Shingwauk’s Vision by J.R. Miller and What is the Indian ‘Problem.’ by Noel Dyck, among many other reports, and given the stories of pain and grief experienced by residents of the many residential schools in Canada, I wonder about what kind of a man Martin Michaud was.  Noel Dyck points out that in many cases the people who worked in residential schools or as Indian Agents were people with the best of intentions.  The religious personnel of these schools would have believed that the only way to salvation for the poor little Indian children in their care would have been to rescue them from their savage parents and cultures.  This may have entailed using physical punishment to ‘beat the indian out of the child.’  I don’t know what kind of director Martin Michaud was.  I’d like to know.  Obviously, it’s been many years since the residential school I visited was shut down.  I’m hoping there are survivors who can help me determine want kind of a man my ‘uncle’ was.  If you have any information about Martin Michaud or the residential school he directed, please, I’d like to know.  So far, my research hasn’t gotten me too far.  I’m hoping you can help.

Is Canada a Capitalist Country?

This is a script I presented on a Knowledge Network sociology telecourse in the early 90s.  Still relevant today, maybe even more so than then:

Is Canada a Capitalist Society?  Interesting question and not as simple to answer as it seems, I think.  Generally, when this question comes up, people immediately think about Capitalism and Socialism or Communism.  Canada isn’t communist, that’s clear…but is it socialist?  Well, what does socialism mean?  Many people think of socialism as government ownership and control.  For some, socialism means no more free enterprise, no more freedom of choice and no more good life!   For others it means Medicare, UIC,  Canada Pension and Social Services.  If socialism means government takeover of private business, then the W.A.C. Bennett Social Credit government of  B.C. was one of the first socialist governments in Canada.  It took over B.C. Electric and made it into B.C. Hydro, took over responsibility for ferries in the province and monopolized the sale of alcohol.  Well, most people would never think of the Socreds as socialists, but there you have it…  Just kidding of course…  But it still leaves us with the problem of coming up with a way of deciding whether or not Canada is a capitalist society.  Is it mostly capitalist with some socialist policies?  Can we talk of shades of pink, or is it one or the other?  Well, maybe there’s another way of approaching the whole question.

 

Let’s stand way back and check out the view from there.  We are very accustomed in this part of the world to seeing things from the perspective of our countries.  I’m not saying that we’re nationalists, necessarily, but that our frame of reference is our country.  We think of “Canadian” society, the Canadian educational system, the Canadian political system, the Canadian legal system, the Canadian transportation system, etc.  We view Canada as an entity, a thing in itself.  We use Canada as “containing” our society.

 

There is another way of thinking about these things.  It is very difficult, though, because we take our conventional view of things completely for granted.  We have difficulty even conceiving of another way of seeing things.   It requires a real perceptual shift.  But let’s try this on.  Think of the concept of Capitalism as a basic reference point rather than the idea of Canada. In this conceptual scheme capitalism has time and space dimensions but I want you to think about it more as a set of institutions or way of doing things, organizing ourselves and thinking.  The primary institutions of modern capitalism are private property, business enterprise, the machine-process, the class system, wages, the division of labor, the market and the price system.   Taken together, these institutions, along with others, make up what we might call the economic basis of capitalist society.  I’m not talking about people here, but about the ways that have evolved by which we relate to each other in society.  The primary institutions are those concerned with how we organize ourselves to make a living…that being the basis for the rest of social organization.  We have to make a living as societies before we can do anything else.   In order to survive…and this is an evolutionary perspective…capitalism generates a whole range of other institutions, or it appropriates them, borrows, begs or steals them historically from previous societies.  These institutions  we usually define as being political, social, legal, educational, etc… And they evolve  themselves and together…like all the organs of your body evolve together.

 

From this perspective, the way we organize official learning, in classrooms with the teacher as authority and children conceived of as empty vessels to be filled with standardized knowledge is a basic educational institution of modern capitalism.  Whole organizations, plants and facilities we call  schools, colleges and universities are created to service this institution which itself serves to ensure the survival of capitalism.  What kids learn in school is more important than just math and social studies.  In the way the school is organized, in the way they are regimented and disciplined, kids learn their eventual place as workers within a capitalist society. It could hardly be otherwise.  An educational institution that would contradict the basic way that we organize ourselves to make a living wouldn’t last long.

 

Countries as we know them are political institutions that arose in conjunction with the rise of capitalism in Europe.  They are the products of the growth of capitalism:  they exist to regulate the flow of capital and labour; to provide infrastructures such as roads for the movement of capital and labor (not always successfully); to defend capitalism, or sometimes the interests of a group of capitalists in competition with another group; to provide a context for law and order and the right “climate” for investment, etc… Once in existence along with the institution of citizenship, countries tend to legitimize the notion that citizenship is a status more important than that of worker.    Citizenship, with all of its caveats and rights,  is the political/legal expression of your right to sell your labour on a market.

 

Canada, then, is by definition a capitalist institution.  It “fits” into a now global system of political institutions that exist to perpetuate capitalism…and make no mistake about it, capitalism is the more fundamental institution here.  It makes little sense to speak of “Canadian” capitalism or even of “Canadian” society, for that matter.  Canada, the political institution, is part of a global capitalist society.  It makes much more sense to speak of the role of the Canadian state in the perpetuation and  survival of the growing capitalist global system.  If the government takes over the operations of a losing propositions such as B.C. Electric, then it does so to ensure that capitalism can still grow and prosper.  Capitalism needs cheap power.  There’s no money in it, but it is nonetheless necessary.  Why not get workers, as citizens and taxpayers, to subsidize it?    If the government sets up systems to train potential workers (i.e., the school system), to support unemployed workers, to nurse them back to health, to provide them with pensions upon retirement, it relieves the pressure from the capitalist to do so, a pressure that the slave master or the lord of the manor had in totality with regard to the well-being of his slaves or serfs.  So, in a big way, the governments in our country help to manage the working class.  And through the tax system arrange to have the working class cover the expenses for its own management and even cover the costs of capitalist risk-taking itself, again through the tax system.

 

This may sound cynical and negative, but I don’t think it is.  Nor do I think that the system stinks and that all capitalists and politicians are lying, good for nothing exploiters of the working class.  I’d rather be a worker with only half of my waking life in the service of someone else than a slave with my whole being and life in the service of someone else.  Besides, capitalists and politicians are harnessed to the needs of capitalism as we all are…much as all the cells in a human body are harnessed for the survival of the body as a whole…and the whole thing will live just as long as it has not exhausted all the resources it has to keep it alive.  Countries are one of those resources that serve the ends of capitalist survival.  Canada is one of those resources.

A Commie I’m not. A crusty old Marxist, maybe.

So, we had a big party at the homestead recently and I was lovingly described as a communist by my son-in-law. I appreciate the sentiment behind this remark.  For him, it’s a term of endearment.  There were many ‘left-leaners’ in the crowd who would have appreciated the comment because in some senses we share many moral precepts.  Oh, I’ve been described as a commie before.  It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last in all likelihood.  I really don’t mind all that much.  Whether or not people actually believe that I’m a communist is another matter and I hope to set the record straight here for anyone who cares.  If people read this blog posting,  and few will, they will know my position on the matter.  For my own sense of self, for myself, I want to set the record straight once and for all.

When I state that I’m not a commie, that doesn’t mean for one second that I’m a proponent of ‘capitalism.’  Many people see communism and ‘capitalism’ as opposites, as alternate ways of organizing ‘the economy’ and ‘society.’   I don’t, nor did Karl Marx when he got old enough to think straight.  As an aside, Harold Adams Innis, the brilliant Canadian political economist and historian said, in a moment of particular lucidity, that one cannot make a contribution to the social sciences before one reaches the age of 50 and he’s probably correct.  He was 58 when he died and his best work happened in the last 5 or 6 years of his life.  Marx was born in 1818 and died in 1883.  It wasn’t until the late 1860s that he really got his shit together, hunkered down in the British Museum and started writing Capital.  Yes, yes, he wrote the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts earlier, but he really got serious later.

The reason I say I’m not a communist is that I’m not a proponent of communism.  For me, or anyone else, to be labeled a communist or anything else for that matter implies a certain level of advocacy, of ‘proponency.’  It’s not necessary to be proponent of something that will eventually happen no matter what we think or wish.  It’s like being described as an old-agist.  I know that old age will happen to all of us, but that doesn’t mean I’m a proponent of old age.  I’M getting old, but that doesn’t mean that I advocate old age. That would be ridiculous.  A communist mode of production will inevitably replace the capitalist one because the internal contradictions within the capitalist mode of production dictate it in the same way the feudal relations of production replaced slave based ones and the capitalist mode of production replaced feudal ones.  The change will happen gradually, just as old age creeps up on us.  Before it’s clear what’s happening, the old bones get brittle, the arteries plug up and the organs just can’t cut it anymore.  The resiliency of youth is past, old solutions no longer get the same results they used to.  Life inevitably brings on death, they are different sides of the same coin.  What that means for me as an individual is clear, what it means for ‘society’ or for the ‘capitalist mode of production’ is also clear.  Nothing is forever, nothing.  Not the capitalist mode of production, not our beloved countries, not our cities, not our towns, not our fabulous wealth.  The question is not whether or not the capitalist mode of production will live on forever, but when it will die.  It’s not even a question of how.  That’s also been clear for a long time.  Still, classical economics is still in classical denial over the whole thing, a fact which is made clear on virtually every page of The Economist which is a proponent of capitalism.

For what I’ve written above I could be branded with the sin of determinism, one of scholarship’s seven deadliest.   If saying that one day I will die makes me a determinist, well that’s ok by me.  Call me whatever name you want.  Furthermore,  what I write above does not mean that life is completely meaningless to me.  We live life on many levels, a day at a time.  My life is full of activity and that means that every day I make many moral decisions most having nothing or little to do with my eventual death.  I don’t  live life as though my life is about to end (I didn’t do that even when I had cancer and the possibility of my quick exit from this life was very real).  I DO things, there is nothing else to do.  I read the papers, listen to the radio and watch TV.  I play with my grandkids.  I can’t help but get outraged by the blatant bullshit and crap that comes out of the government in Ottawa on a daily basis.  Yet I understand  the role that national governments play in the capitalist mode of production and their essential collaboration in making it possible for capital to flow with greater and greater ease globally  and for controlling labour by keeping tight reins on migrations and regulation.  I haven’t lost my moral compass.  I even get angry on one level…say, at incivility, at stupid driving, at poor highway engineering…while understanding that at other levels, the picture is much different and anger makes no sense.  As I write above, we live life on many levels, many planes.  They are all connected although not always in obvious ways.  Even otherwise highly educated people don’t see the connections.  The connections, interconnections and interweavings become visible only after a sustained gaze upon them.  To see them requires special training.  Somewhere, Norbert Elias got that training, as did many other thinkers who have had a sustained influence on me over the decades.

Apparently, staring is rude, even for an 8 month old baby.

I’m reading Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process, the edition I have being published in 1994, but which is really a compilation of  two earlier separate works entitled the History of Manners and State Formation and Civilization both from 1939.  It’s a long, involved and complicated book, a detailed historical sociology rivalling Max Weber’s work.  At the moment I’m reading his fascinating account of the evolution of the use of table implements like the knife, spoon and fork and their moral implications.  He writes that it took centuries from the first appearance of the two pronged fork on the European scene in the early Middle Ages as an implement usually made of gold or silver and strictly used by the upper nobility to its more general use only three centuries later.

Normally I wouldn’t write about a book while still in the process of reading it, but in this case I’m not reviewing his book and it turns out Elias’ analysis provides a great backdrop for something that happened to me today in an elevator.  Carolyn and I were rushing around looking for a cash machine in a mall at 555 West 12th Street in Vancouver, BC., not that the location has any particular significance.  The same event probably could have happened in a number of similar locations.  So what happened was this: We chase around the mall for a bit looking for a cash machine and eventually find one, get some cash and head back to the elevator to get back to the parkade, one floor below.  A woman also waited at the elevator.  She pushed a stroller into the elevator as the door opened and we all got in, but just before she did that she turned to me and said: “He hasn’t learned yet that it’s impolite to stare at people.”  Well, alright.  So I asked her, “How old is he?”  She replied: “eight months.” At which point, the sociologist in me kicked in and I told her that it was a little too early in his life to be learning manners as complicated as not staring or averting the eyes.  She probably thought I was just a nutty old man and left it at that, but she definitely had the old moral wall on her mind.  No way was she going to let her son break an inviolable rule of etiquette such as not staring and she just wished she could enforce it on him even at his tender age.  At least she didn’t hit him for it.

Granted, the use of forks has very little in common with not staring at someone when it comes to etiquette.  Still, they are both things that ‘are not done.’  That is if you want to be accepted as part of a civilized society.  Savages and pagans stare and eat with their fingers, but not civilized people.  The study of manners is the study of morality, who is part of my world and who isn’t.  We struggle constantly with whether or not we ‘fit in.’  In saying that I’m not breaking any social scientific sound barriers.  Sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists have long been interested in manners.  They open an impressive window into what we will accept as ‘civilized’ behaviour.  Their evolution is key to understanding a multitude of other social relations.

That said, I’m a little concerned for the little tike I met in the stroller on the elevator in the mall at 555 West 12th Avenue in Vancouver.  His mother seems to be hyper sensitive to etiquette rule violations.  If it’s true that children hear ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ 40,000 times before they enter kindergarten, this little guy might be in for maybe 60 or 70 thousand ‘nos and ‘don’ts.’  By  the time he gets to kindergarten, he may be so hemmed in by his mother’s imaginary moral wall that he will have difficulty turning around without scraping an elbow.

SHOP.CA

SHOP.CA.

So begins the endgame for  the small retail commodity store.  Services will still be immune from this type of shopping, but not most commodity shopping.  Hard goods retailers will be especially hard hit.  WalMart is not immune although it will take some time to topple that giant.

What is more interesting is the way this website and organization is being promoted – using very nationalistic themes – and how it’s connected to banking.  The nationalistic appeal on the YouTube video advertizing this site, which only appeared a couple of days ago, is highly misleading of course.  We don’t buy products as citizens, but as consumers.  We buy tons of hard goods, services, and other commodities from all over the planet.  There is no ‘Canadian’ consumer.  There is only a consumer of capitalist commodities.  Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric.  But, it doesn’t matter much.  The end result of all of this is a more integrated global social system that is at the same time more local in its meaning for people.  We are more and more globalized as we become more and more insular, shopping from home on our computers, iPads and iPhones.  The world, she is a changin’.  We don’t understand the implications of such a centralized, overarching ‘Canadian shopping experience’ until the deal is done.  But there’s no turning back.  This is not a moral dilemma.  All I’m doing here is observing what’s fast becoming our new social order.