June 14, 2011

After I visited St. Mary’s, I drove the short distance towards Coqualeetza. Soon after arriving, it became very clear that my short trip out west would only be long enough to scratch the surface of Coqualeetza’s history. Thankfully, Patricia Raymond-Adair and Karen Bonneau at the Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre answered my questions and kindly photocopied a mass of documents (including old pamphlets and media coverage) that I’ve brought home with me to go through.

When I began this research, I was under the impression that many of the former Indian Residential Schools no longer existed. I had heard stories of schools that had been demolished, neglected and decayed, and had heard several times about schools lost to (both intentional and unintentional) fires.  As I continued the research, however, I found that several of the schools have been taken back by communities. And I wanted to hear more about the strength and determination involved in doing so.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the former Portage la Prairie school is now being used as tribal and administrative offices. Some former students work in the same building where they went to school. The Coqualeetza school in Chilliwack also has an interesting history.

The Coqualeetza site has been used over the last centry as a Methodist Indian Residential School, a tuberculosis hospital and army barracks. In the 1970s, the Sto:lo First Nations occupied the former school to reclaim it as their own. A report in the Chilliwack Progress (May 5, 1976) describes the occupation:

Acting under orders, with the sound of tribal drums ringing in their ears, members of the Canadian Armed Forced heaved against the front door to the former nurses residence at Coqualeetza. By 7:45pm Monday 23 people were carried or led away from the scene that erupted only a short time before when members of the Stalo Indian band decided to stand ground and disobey military and RCMP orders to vacate the Coqualeetza facility.

The Coqualeetza Cultural Education website notes that the occupation was an attempt to “publicize the lack of action on achieving reserve status and ownership of the Coqualeetza Property.” The occupation certainly brought more attention to the Sto:lo First Nation’s claims to the land. The buildings, now being used as the headquarters for Sto:lo Nation and other cultural, health and educational initiatives, still show traces of the past. But they also reveal a promising future.

My next post will be about Blue Quills in St. Paul, Alberta. And shortly afterwards I’ll be heading up north to Yellowknife and then Inuvik. I hope to be posting images and reflections as the trip unfolds.

Thanks to Patricia and Karen for their help at Coqualeetza!

3 Responses to “Coqualeetza”

  1. Ey Swayel Naoimi,
    On behalf of Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre, we thankyou for the acknowledgement. CCEC was a critical part of the redevelopment of both St. Mary’s and Coqualeetza Residential Schools, as it was Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre Association which was created as a nonprofit society who worked hard to secure both properties and managed them both for many years. Both St. Mary’s and the former Coqualeetza Residential Schools are now managed through an interm lands management team with Sto:lo Nation.
    We hope to continue fundraising to rebuild our archive and library materials. and we hope to relocate back to Coqualeeza Grounds in the near future – where we should be to provide education, language and culture, resource and research materials to our communities, to educators and researchers. Your call for assistance, and your recognition of our centre and the materials you have been accessing is allowing us to showcase our resources. Thankyou:)
    All my Relations, Patricia Raymond-Adair, Manager Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre, Chilliwack, BC

  2. n.a. Says:

    Hello Patricia,
    Thank you for your comment. I hope you are successful in your fundraising efforts. The work done at the Coqualeetza Cultural Education Centre is valuable and definitely worth supporting. If I can help in some way, please let me know.
    Wishing you and yours the best,

  3. […] of site visits to various former schools, including Portage la Prairie, St. Mary’s, Coqualeetza, and Blue Quills. I have also corresponded with Naomi via e-mail and she kindly offered advice […]

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