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

Dreamfish are hung on the fence at Annunication School in Prince Rupert on April 17 as part of the Stream of Dream eco-education program teaching about local watersheds and salmon habitats. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Stream of Dreams fish swim the fence at Prince Rupert School

Students at Annunciation school learned about watershed protection and salmon habitat

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

BC CDC mapping for the week ending April 4, shows a sharp decrease in COVID-19 cases to 27 in Prince Rupert down 45 from the week prior. (Image: BCCDC)
Sharp decline in Prince Rupert COVID-19 cases

Prince Rupert lab-confirmed cases are down 62.5 per cent in one week

Blair Mirau, Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society CEO, is seen in a hydroponic greenhouse the society purchased in 2020 to promote food stability and local supply. (Photo: supplied)
Three P.R. organizations partner to develop food distribution network

$167,000 grant awarded to GSN, PRDCC and Ecotrust Canada to strengthen food supply chains

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

(Bandstra Transportation photo)
Smithers family-owned business institution sold to publicly-traded company

Bandstra Transportation and Babine Trucking acquired by Mullen Group

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson is photographed following her budget speech in the legislative assembly at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. budget lacks innovative drive, vision during uncertain times, say experts

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget sets out to spend $8.7 billion over three years on infrastructure

Using panels kept cold by water circulating within them, B.C. researchers compared thermal comfort in 60 of the world’s most populous cities, including Toronto. (Lea Ruefenacht)
B.C. researchers use air conditioning to combat spread of COVID particles

Dr. Adam Rysanek and his team have proven a new worthwhile system – a mixture of cooling panels and natural ventilation

Most Read