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 An update from Tim and Lana Higginbotham!

Who says the days don’t run away like horses over the hills?  Two weeks ago, Jordan and Madison graduated from Trinity Western University.  Jordan a Bachelor of Business Administration in Leadership and Management & Finance.  Madison a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communication.  They have worked hard and we look forward to their next stage of life.  The commencement ceremony was also meaningful as Lana read the Scripture from Esther, "For Such A Time As This."

Children are a gift from the Lord…unless you were a Native parent living in the 20th century…then your children were wards of the state to be raised in institutions sponsored by the government and run by various churches. Below is a memo written in 1948 by a principal of one of the many residential schools Native children were forced to attend.  In it he spells out the standards by which Native children could go home to visit their families over Christmas. Three times he referred to parents seeing their children as a ‘privilege.’  If they abused this privilege it would be taken away.  The memo reflected the underlying attitude of both the government and the ‘church.’  Children belonged first to the residential schools and parents came second.  Abuse filled these institutions.  Without the love and example of their parents and family, they lost how to parent, what it means to be human and what normal family relations look like.  This went on through the 1970s - the stories and profound scars remain in Native communities. Thousands died in the schools, and many were victims of physical and sexual abuse.  Clergy and teachers were involved in the most depraved abuses.  To understand our ministry, any ministry in NAIM, we need to understand how this period in history continues to impact what we do.

Lana and I had dinner with friends a few weeks ago.  This couple has lived in Canada’s largest cities, studied in respected seminaries and served in a number of western Canada’s flagship evangelical churches. Their capacity and ministry have allowed them many opportunities.  They are well educated, well travelled and cultured.

Our conversation turned to the topic of Canada’s recent Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC).  The TRC documented the effects of Indian residential schools.  Our friends said that up until the TRC made the news, they had no idea of the history or impact of residential schools.  The number of Canadians unaware of the largest issues impacting Native friends and communities continues to astound me. 
 
“Missionary” comes from the Latin word for apostle, and both mean “sent one.”  The job description given to the original 12 was to be a witness of the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:21 & 22).  I’ve always loved this idea of bearing witness.  It is a strong value in Native communities.  Were you there?  What did you see?  Tell us what happened so the hearers can in turn pass that story into the future. 

 
In missions we bear witness to many untold stories of people who have been through incredibly difficult circumstances.  Their faith strengthens our faith.
 
I first met Mary Jane Joe when she was a professor at the University of British Columbia where she spoke to our campus ministry group.  Since then, she’s helped train NAIM staff and shared her life and experiences in different contexts.  Mary Jane is a member of the Ntle’kepmx Nation, a Salish tribe in BC, and a residential school survivor.  As a singer, drummer, storyteller and quilter, she discovered that traditional culture, language and arts are like medicine that brings healing.  She currently is an Elder in Residence at Langara College in Vancouver.  She has an incredible story about her time at Kamloops Residential School and tells it here…

Mary Jane's Story - My name is Nk’xetko; my English name is Mary Jane.  Parents were threatened with jail time if they refused to bring us to the residential school.  It was a law.  At age 6 when my parents dropped me and my three older sisters off at Kamloops Residential School (pictured below) I went to the Junior Girls’ Dorm.  My sisters went to their dorms and after that day never saw them again, besides it was against rules to go into a different dorm.

I panicked because I couldn't remember my name.  I ran to find my sister Seepeetza to ask.  She said, “Mary Jane. Repeat it ten times.” I needn't have bothered because I was assigned the number 39 and that was what I was called.
 
It was a type of abandonment and loss, the disconnection from family for 288 days of the year was a type of suffering that is indescribable.  At night in the dorms we cried ourselves to sleep and there was no comfort.  We lived in fear at night, “Don't leave your beds – there are devils under your beds.”  Kids cried at night because they were terrified to go down the hall to the washroom, they wet their pants.
 
Abuse was constant during the day, whippings with the “strap” was a regular occurrence.  The nun kept the strap inside the left sleeve of her black habit for easy access.  We got yelled at by the nuns who said, “You’re good for nothing.  You'll never amount to anything.  You are worthless.”  We felt threatened and intimidated at all times.
 

We heard that previous generations had needles poked in their tongues for speaking their language.  This appeared to be a means of suppressing our voice because that's what we heard our parents and grandparents speaking at home.  My mother and grandmother maintained a Christian faith because of Father LeJeune who spoke a little of the Interior Salish languages.  Father LeJeune also taught us some practical life skills as well as the prayers such as the “Our Father.”  He was trusted.  My grandmother taught me her prayers and I repeat them every day.  I miss her but the prayers keep me close to her memory.
 
When I was grade 8 there were sixty-five of us in the class.  Yet when I graduated 3 of us completed Grade 12.  That's a 96% drop out rate.  (Mary Jane in picture seated below).

 

On my last day at residential school I made a vow to never pray to God again, or go to church again.  The religion taught to us at school seemed to condemn us to hell and that God was a cruel judge.
 
I attended the University of Victoria and boarded for two years with a white family who were kind to me, they didn't even know residential schools existed.  I hated white people but I began to meet individuals who were ignorant of our situation so I filled them in.  They were shocked.
 
I married young and had a little boy and moved to the Yukon.  When he was four I wanted one more child – a daughter.  
I didn't believe in God but took a chance and said one little prayer, “If you are real and you answer prayers I'm going to ask you for something impossible.  I’m asking for a daughter to be born on my birthday because I was born on my mother’s birthday, but your will be done.”  That was it. I didn't say another word, just hoped in my heart.  Eleven months after that prayer Nadia was born on my birthday.  Nadia means hope.  I became a believer and remain so to this day.  Nadia is now forty years of age.  I've had struggles and trials but I had no one to turn to but the Lord.  I have learned that our God is faithful to prayers that rise up in honest humble requests.  I am still amazed at my daughter.
 
Years later after a failed marriage I attended the University of British Columbia to complete two degrees.  I was the one shocked when I learned of the colonial Indian Policy that instigated residential schools was meant to assimilate us and make “Canadian citizens” out of us – in other words, get rid of Native culture, language, traditions and beliefs.  It was a form of cultural genocide.
 
This knowledge opened my eyes and revealed the truth.  
It appeared I was a victim of an evil experiment in the guise of furthering the Gospel but ended up destroying many of us.  How did we survive?  We had to numb our feelings; it was like dying a little every day.
 
This revelation showed me that my mother with her grade 3 education had a faith that covered me and I wasn't completely destroyed.  Looking back when I hear the horror stories of my schoolmates I'm deeply thankful my experience could have been so much worse. 
 I truly believe the hand of God spared my life.

 
Mary Jane (above with husband Wayne) helping train new NAIM staff about history and culture.  Below, sharing music with young students in Vancouver. Mary Jane says the Truth & Reconciliation has opened many people's hearts and minds to greater understanding of the past.
Indian Horse - A few weeks ago, I saw the movie “Indian Horse” (a Canadian drama film recently released in theaters).  It is an adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s acclaimed novel and tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, a young Canadian First Nations boy who survives the Indian residential school system to become a star ice hockey player.

When Canadian director Stephen S. Campanelli showed his new film "Indian Horse" to his mentor, Clint Eastwood, the four-time Oscar winner was in disbelief.  The story gives an unvarnished look at the brutal history of the residential school system in Canada, and Eastwood was floored.

"He didn't believe it," Campanelli, who grew up in Montreal and lives in California, recalled in an interview at last September's Toronto International Film Festival.

"He was like, 'What? You Canadians did this?' I said, 'Yeah, believe it or not.' He said, 'How come no one knows about this?' I said, 'Well, they will soon."'

Eastwood then signed on as an executive producer to help promote the film.
"He says, '
People need to see this movie,"' recalled Campanelli, who has been working with Eastwood as a camera operator for over 20 years.
The Days Ahead - Summers are for camping and staff from various areas NAIM works are gearing up for youth events.  We'd appreciate your prayer for a local camp Tim helps setup near Mt. Currie, British Columbia which runs July 22-27 (pictured above last year).
Thanks for your interest in our lives and prayer and support for the work we do.

Tim & Lana Higginbotham
NAIM staff and the ministries they represent are solely funded through and fully accountable to North America Indigenous Ministries.