Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.

Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

The co-author of a book mentioned as part of the controversy surrounding an Abbotsford school’s assignment on residential schools is speaking out.

Christy Jordan-Fenton said it is upsetting to hear that the book Fatty Legs – written by her and her mother-in-law Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton – may have been misinterpreted and taught in a way that minimizes the traumatic impacts of residential schools.

Last week, Abbotsford mom Krista Macinnis went public with her anger over her daughter’s class being assigned to write five positive stories or facts about residential schools. Her daughter is in Grade 6 at W.A. Fraser Middle School.

The controversy resulted in an apology from the Abbotsford school district and a written statement from superintendent Kevin Godden posted on the district website.

RELATED: Abbotsford mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Macinnis, who is Metis with Cree and Blackfoot heritage, said the students had been reading Fatty Legs, a memoir about Pokiak-Fenton’s two years at a religious residential school.

Macinnis said her understanding was that the book was being used in the context that there is a positive side to residential schools, and that those stories should be heard.

Jordan-Fenton said she and her mother-in-law are in support of Macinnis in speaking out.

“The assignment given by this teacher is disturbing and harmful. We are appalled that Margaret-Olemaun’s experiences would be used in this way,” she said.

Jordan-Fenton said Fatty Legs focuses on how a traditional upbringing and a strong spirit helped Pokiak-Fenton “to endure the most horrific time of her life.”

“We did not choose to give the power in her story to the abusive staff at the school, and the abusive system of residential schools, but to focus on how a very young girl saved herself as her own hero, day after day,” she said.

“That does not mean the school she went to wasn’t that bad. It was, and just how bad it was is probably something that will remain locked away with … Olemaun forever.”

Jordan-Fenton said Pokiak-Fenton has a light-hearted story about slipping and sliding up and down the recreation room floor in wool stockings, to polish the floor.

But, she said, beneath that story is the hours and hours spent on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor with harsh chemicals.

She said her mother-in-law likes to tell the story of slipping and sliding because it feels better than talking about how many chores were given to her as a form of abuse.

RELATED: Abbotsford school district must make amends for harmful residential school assignment: superintendent

Jordan-Fenton said the book also shares other terrible things, in age-appropriate ways. She said that when Pokiak-Fenton returned home after two years of no contact with her family, her mother didn’t recognize her and they no longer shared a common language.

MARGARET-OLEMAUN POKIAK-FENTON

“She could no longer speak to her mother, who could no longer see her little girl in the skinny, gaunt, and traumatized child brought back to her.”

Jordan-Fenton said for survivors to focus only on what was good helps them remain resilient and cope with trauma. But that doesn’t mean they had a good experience.

“Respecting the right to silence, or the right to share only what a survivor wants to share, does not absolve us from the factual knowledge that the residential school system was an act of genocide,” she said.

The school assignment listed two web links to help students in their research of positive experiences about residential schools. One of the links was to a 2008 news article that quoted the late Ojibwa writer Richard Wagamese, who was a mentor to Jordan-Fenton.

She said it was disturbing that his words were being used to support the teacher’s “revisionist agenda.”

Jordan-Fenton said that when Wagamese stated that his mom liked to focus on the good things – like learning to sew – he was not saying residential schools weren’t bad places.

“He was saying survivors have a right to frame their own stories how they want to,” she said.

She said Wagamese wrote extensively about the generational impacts, including how the residential school experience left his mom and dad “completely incapable of parenting him or his siblings.”

Jordan-Fenton said for a teacher to use his words out of context is “irresponsible at best, and intentionally or unintentionally, it is revisionism and the perpetuation of a falsehood.”

She said she stands behind Macinnis and any other parent in a similar situation.

“We also stand behind survivors being allowed to determine what of their own stories they want to share, and respecting those stories as their stories, not tools for a colonial agenda.”



vhopes@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Abby SchoolsFirst Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Co-ordinator/founder David Clarke, right, is pictured with members of Comox Valley Street Outreach during Monday’s rig dig. Scott Stanfield photo
Comox Valley group aims to stop overdose deaths, reduce stigma

As the overdose crisis worsens throughout B.C., a local advocacy group is… Continue reading

London Drugs now taking COVID-19 bookings. Screenshot, London Drugs
Courtenay London Drugs now taking COVID-19 bookings

A number of locations in Western Canada selected to give vaccine

A wildfire has started near Gold River, and B.C. Wildfire Service crews are on scene. Photo courtesy Coastal Fire Centre
Wildfire burning in remote area near Gold River

Coastal Fire Centre investigating cause, but confirms it is human-caused

Volunteers paint the famous Denman Island Graffiti Fence with messages for Earth Week. Photo by Danni Crenna
Denman Island celebrates Earth Week

The Denman Island Climate Action Network (DICAN) has kicked off Earth Week… Continue reading

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read