Before and After Images of Thomas Moore

It has been a long time since I’ve posted to the blog. Life with baby is busy! My research continues to progress, but the pace has certainly changed. There have been many moments over the last few weeks where I’ve thought, ‘I should post this to my blog,’ but just didn’t get the chance.

A friend and colleague, Eric Large, recently sent me an interesting article about the missing children who never returned from the Indian Residential Schools. Many children died while in the IRS system. Their bodies were often buried at cemeteries near the schools. Some families didn’t know (and still don’t) what happened to their children or their bodies. The article mentions the work of researchers now trying to find out where those bodies are to provide some sort of peace of mind to families. A small fragment in the article stands out to me. A researcher is quoted as studying the movement of students at a particular school, but her work is cut short because the records simply cease to exist after 1916. She pursues the documents “until the records disappear.” In the context of the article, this simply refers to a particular school’s records.  But the words strike me as indicative of a much larger issue. So many of these schools didn’t keep or lost their records. But there is nothing simple about disappearance. Many factors are involved in the disappearing of things, of people, of cultures, and it is an active rather than a passive process. As I continue to look through archives, I am reminded that the gaps found there are not simply absences but active erasures.

Two of the most circulated images from the IRS system are of Thomas Moore. Arranged as before and after images, the photos are an evocative representation of the goals of colonial assimilation. When I began this research, I had hoped to write about Thomas Moore. I quickly found, however, that finding out what happened to young Thomas Moore was more difficult than I had thought it would be. Because the images are some of the most re-printed images from the IRS system, I would have thought that more about his life would have been known. But, I found that this was not the case. One exchange with an archivist in Saskatchewan provided some limited information:

Thank you for your enquiry. Yes, the two photos are probably some of our most popular images. No, we do not have the original photos. They were copied from the Canada Sessional Papers, No.14, Volume XXXI, No. 11 (1897). This Department of Indian Affairs Report was for the year ending at June 30, 1896. The photos would have been taken before that date.

The only information we have on Thomas Moore comes from the student register for the Regina Indian Industrial School, 1891 to 1908 (microfilm R-2.40, see entry No. 22). He was actually admitted to the school on August 26, 1891 when he was 8 years old. He was a full blooded Indian from the Saulteaux tribe. He was from the Muscowpetung Band which is about 35 miles northeast of Regina. His full name was Thomas Moore Kusick. His father was St.(?) Paul Desjarlais (deceased) and his mother’s name was Hanna Moore Kusick. The boy was a Protestant and had previously attended Lakes End School. His state of education upon admission consisted of knowing the alphabet. His height was 3 feet, 11 inches and he weighed 54 1/2 pounds.  There is a note in the admission register that directs one to look for page 20 in the Discharge Register. However, we do not have this document and therefore we do not know when he completed his education.

The height and weight information strikes me as particularly sad. He was just a boy, 3 feet 11 inches and 54 1/2 pounds.

With this email exchange, I had very quickly reached the point where the records (at this particular archive, anyway) disappeared. Of course, information about Thomas Moore may be scattered in several archives (and I have reached out to several). More than likely, the best place to look for more information will be outside the archives, in communities near Regina, or through networks of extended family. I’m going to keep looking, but I don’t have much hope of finding out what happened to Thomas Moore.

If anyone out there has any information, please feel free to reach out!

Images of the different incarnations of the before and after images of Thomas Moore.

e-misférica: After Truth

February 22, 2011

A special edition of e-misférica, focusing on truth commissions, has just been published. The articles and reviews cover a diverse range of issues related to truth commissions around the world. I have two short pieces on the IRS TRC in this issue: Contexualizing Truth: Recent Contributions to Discourses of Reconciliation in Canada, and The Nation Gathers. Looking forward to reading more of this special edition.

An image from my last trip to Berlin

An interesting article appears in the New York Times today about a contest of memory over the date, November 9 in Germany. The date carries double-meaning as the date of the “Kristallnacht,” as well as the day the Berlin wall was breached.

From the article:

Germans take the business of remembering very seriously, and so Nov. 9 has always presented a bit of a challenge — how to celebrate the joy of the wall’s coming down while at the same time commemorating the night of terror known as Kristallnacht, or the night of broken glass….

Years ago, Germany decided to sidestep the awkward historical coincidence by emphasizing Oct. 3, 1990, as the day of unification, and playing down Nov. 9, 1989. But that effort seems to have lost steam. “Memory is about self-interest,” said Maxim Biller, a prominent writer and commentator who is Jewish. “The Germans wanted to reconcile with history, to have a better corporate identity for society, in a way, yes.”

Read the full article here.

Blog Link: Media Indigena

August 30, 2010

Check out Media Indigena, a collaborative blog by 7 indigenous contributors. The blog focuses on indigenous issues from around the world and topics range from politics, culture and the environment.  A couple of their recent posts focus on the election of Australia’s first Aboriginal MP and Stephen Harper’s visit to the Canadian Arctic. They’ve also posted about the Indian Residential School system and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For example, check out Sorry is Right and Reflections of a Residential School Survivor.

The title of the front-page Toronto Star article today, “No Truth, No Reconciliation” refers explicitly to those former students who have passed on since the creation of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2006. For those students, the article states, there can be no truth, and no reconciliation. The article also implies that the quest for truth and reconciliation may be stalled in general, painting a picture of a commission facing extreme difficulties: “The saga of truth and reconciliation is fraught with scandal, power struggles, firings, lost friendships and soul-destroying delays,” writes author Linda Diebel.

I agree that the commission has faced struggles, and also that time is of the essence for aging survivors. I also believe, however, that the road to reconciliation is always fraught with challenges. Having attended the first national event in June in Winnipeg, I witnessed the complicated journey towards reconciliation. The event was filled with contradictions and conflicting voices.  And having lived in South Africa almost a decade after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established (I was there from 2004-2005), I know that these challenges are not easily resolved. Indeed, people still debate the strengths and weaknesses of the South African TRC in dealing with the injustices of apartheid.

Linda Diebel’s article discusses the challenges of the commission, including the heavy hand of government involvement, the setbacks caused by resignations and staff shuffles, and budget concerns. It’s important that we are made aware of these challenges, and that dialogue about the commission occurs in the public sphere. I think too that it is important to remember that reconciliation must occur both through the commission’s work and outside of it. Otherwise, Canadians (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) won’t feel engaged or implicated by the reconciliation process.

To read more from Linda Diebel’s article, click here.

The news of Dr. John Milloy’s resignation as Research Director of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) comes just weeks after the commission completed its first national gathering in Winnipeg.  According to a statement issued by the TRC, Dr. Milloy is still committed to the work of the commission and will now assume the role of Special Advisor on Research to the Commissioners. Paulette Regan is stepping in as Interim Director. One reason given for his resignation was the heavy load of administrative work involved in the position.

In another staff shuffle, Tom McMahon, who was announced last year as the TRC’s Executive Director is being replaced by Kim Murray, a lawyer, professor and community leader from the Kahnesetake First Nation of Oka. Mr. McMahon will now take the position of General Council for the Commission.

Given the importance placed on the research component of the TRC’s mandate, Dr. Milloy’s strong research background, and the history of  resignations at the commission, Dr. Milloy’s resignation is an unfortunate setback. And although he has said that the research tasks have been assigned to others in an effort to avoid delays, it is difficult  to imagine that his resignation has not created any. But perhaps most importantly, if the commission is trying to foster trust in communities and individuals, staff shuffles and resignations do not help their cause.

To read more, see the Globe and Mail article here.

Above: an image of the closing event at the Canadian TRC’s first national gathering.

Below: a list of some of the coverage of the Canadian Truth Commission’s first national gathering in Winnipeg. (Thanks to Viola, Leonard and Harmony for some these links!)

Truth and Reconciliation Walkers Headed for Winnipeg (Wawatay News Online)

Strahl Breaks Down at Hearings Into Residential Schools (Global Winnipeg)

Ottawa Makes Own Gesture of Healing at Truth and Reconciliation Event (Edmonton Journal)

Minister Strahl Delivers A Speech on the Truth and Reconciliation National Event (IsumaTV)

Residential Schools Will Be Nixed from Indian Act (The Vancouver Province)

Residential School Stories Move From Shadows (

Ottawa Intends to Amend Indian Act (Financial Post)

Commission Will Hear Residential School Truths that Will ‘Heal Us All’ (Metro)

Residential Schools: Stories to Tell and Re-tell (The Globe and Mail)

Truth and Reconciliation (video clips covering the first national gathering – The National)

Harbinger of Truth Sees Hope for Future (Edmonton Journal)

Declaration Adoption is ‘a step on the journey of reconciliation’ (Indian Country Today)

Pupils to Study Residential Schools (Winnipeg Free Press)

Some Former Residential School Students Struggle with Church Presence at Reconciliation Event (The Globe and Mail)

Canada TRC’s First National Event (ICTJ)