Mǫ́lazha: Child of a Whiteman tells the story of residential school and the Mackenzie River Métis

·4 min read
Rick Hardy in an undated author photo. Hardy grew up in Tulita, N.W.T., the child of a white father and a mother who was of mixed European and Shúhta Got'ıne ancestry and has recently published a memoir and a book of history.  (Submitted by Rick Hardy - image credit)
Rick Hardy in an undated author photo. Hardy grew up in Tulita, N.W.T., the child of a white father and a mother who was of mixed European and Shúhta Got'ıne ancestry and has recently published a memoir and a book of history. (Submitted by Rick Hardy - image credit)

Rick Hardy says he had good reason to write a history/memoir of what he calls the Mackenzie River Métis.

"I was afraid that many of those things were going to be lost in time," says the first-time author.

More than that, he's not sure if the Mackenzie River Métis are going to continue as an entity in the Northwest Territories.

"We seem to be … lowering in numbers," Hardy told the CBC's Loren McGinnis, host of The Trailbreaker.

Hardy grew up in Tulita, N.W.T., the child of a white father and a mother who was of mixed European and Shúhta Got'ıne ancestry. Now in his 70s, Hardy spent 35 years as a lawyer and recently published Mǫ́lazha: (Child of a Whiteman), which traces his family's history back to the 1850s.

That history includes several generations of people who worked as fur traders, clerks and managers for the Hudson Bay Company.

"A lot of those stories and that history were things that were told to me by my mother," Hardy said. "And it was the type of things that as a very young person, I really just didn't fully comprehend, didn't grasp the whole intent of it."

There were also stories that Hardy says he didn't quite believe, including one story about his grandfather, who was the son of a chief trader for the Hudson Bay Company and was raised in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T.

The Book Cellar
The Book Cellar

Hardy had heard the stories about his grandfather travelling to Saint Boniface, Man., to go to school for several years, but he didn't quite believe that his grandfather had passed through Batoche, Sask., just as the Battle of Batoche — the last major action of Louis Riel's North West Rebellion — was taking place in 1885.

"I kind of brushed it off," Hardy said. "As I began doing research and talked to other people who would have knowledge of this, it became, you know, very evident that this was a true story."

The people who know these stories are few and far between, Hardy said, even in the Sahtu region.

"There were a large number of what I call Mackenzie River Métis living in these various communities. And since that time, the numbers of Mackenzie River Métis have dropped substantially," Hardy said.

"A lot of people have moved out of the territories."

Horror at Grollier Hall

Hardy also gives a raw and detailed account about his experience as a residential school student at the notorious Grollier Hall in Inuvik, N.W.T., which he attended from 1959 to 1963.

In 1962, at age 15, Hardy was one of five young men who testified in the sex abuse trial of dorm supervisor Martin Houston. He's since joined several Tulita Métis to call for more than an apology from the Pope, but also accountability from the church, noting that he "still has nightmares about the experience."

He worries that the stories of abuse, which in some respects are circulating more widely than ever, are also being downplayed by some.

For example, Hardy said that in his research on the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which ran Grollier Hall, he was surprised at an Oblate website that listed residential schools the group had been involved in.

"I was quite surprised to find that Grollier Hall was not on this list, and neither was Lapointe Hall or Breynat Hall, which are three residences in the Northwest Territories that were run by the Oblates," he said.

"If they can, just by a stroke of a pen, take the name and Grollier Hall out of the list of places that they ran … then I had to get this story down."

A book for 'everybody'

Hardy's book comes with a recommendation from Judith Drinnan, the former owner of The Yellowknife Book Cellar, and who's been involved in publishing and the annual NorthWords festival for years.

She described the book as "upsetting" but deeply informative.

"It is the kind of book that everybody should be dipping into," Drinnan told CBC News. "You don't have to sit down and read it cover to cover."

Drinnan also praised the introduction by Yellowknife lawyer Sheila MacPherson, who grew up in Inuvik and Iqaluit.

MacPherson writes that the "horrific" abuse Hardy suffered shook her to her core, the more so because she had no idea it was happening at the time, such was the gulf between her experience and that of the many Indigenous students in Inuvik at that time.

For Hardy, he just hopes the book helps some people on their healing journey, and for others, provide a window into the rich past.

"Those stories, I think will help people to remember that there was a life, a very vibrant life, that was in place for, you know, 200 years, I'd say," he said. "It doesn't exist anymore, but I want people to not forget there was that time."

Rick Hardy will read from his book at The Yellowknife Book Cellar from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 21. 

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