Chief Batiste George
One man, Chief Batiste George, was determined to keep his people strong. He foresaw a need to empower his people as he realized a new era was beginning to flow into the Inkameep Valley, an era in which he wanted his children and his people to be prepared. Instead of sending young children away to residential schools for ten months at a time, he knew his people would develop most strongly in their own community. He desired to have a Day School built to keep his people together and to retain the Okanagan teachings. He also knew that his people were beginning to deal with more businesses off the reservation. Naturally, a school on the reserve would allow people to become self-sufficient and educated in the new business ways. With the new teachings alongside of the traditional Okanagan teachings, the people would be able to succeed in both communities.
Seven months after Chief Batiste George wrote the Department of Indian Affairs (D.I.A.) requesting a Day School to be established in his community, the school opened in 1915. Out of their funds, the Osoyoos Band built the school, hired, and paid the salary of the school's first teacher, John Norwood. Norwood was an African American who married an Okanagan woman from Penticton and was hired because he knew the Okanagan language. Norwood taught the children English for approximately a year and a half before resigning in 1916. Chief Batiste George was a leading supporter of progressive education in the Okanagan Valley. He held the belief that such education could happen through children attending Day Schools. His main desire was to educate his people and see that "the young people (learn) to be good men and women before all else." It was important to everyone within the Inkameep community that the school operated on a regular basis and be open for learning from September to June each year. Throughout the initial years of the school's history, many teachers came and left Inkameep. It was only due to the Inkameep parent's insistence to have the school remain open that D.I.A. persisted in hiring new teachers on a continual basis.
As such, throughout its history the Day School opened and closed for months at a time. This was dues to the difficulty of maintaining long-term, experienced teachers that could withstand the conditions of teaching and living on reserve that were so different from their own lives. Teachers needed to be able to live in very rural and poor living conditions that often led to isolation during harsh winters. Religion also played a factor in the hiring of the teachers. The Priests of the Roman Catholic Church were very influential and stern about having a Roman Catholic person teach at the school. There was also a great competition with the town community schools that hired many teachers into their facilities. The government received teaching applications through mail which had applicants state their age, religion, qualifications, education, and experience. The teachers were told by the letter what conditions to expect at Inkameep. If the government was not able to interview the applicant in person then the applicant would be given a temporary trial teaching position at Inkameep. Whenever possible, D.I.A. favoured applicants who had normal/college training, had some knowledge of the Okanagan culture, and could tolerate the conditions at Inkameep. A total of seven teachers taught at the school between 1915 and 1931. Teachers that the D.I.A. hired and saw to be better suited for the job according to the government's criteria often found themselves in conflict with the local priest, the elders, or a few of the parents of the Inkameep students. It became clear that the ideal teacher would connect and have the Inkameep community's full support and involvement, and as such would have the greatest impact on the community.
Anthony Walsh, the eighth teacher to be hired at Inkameep, began teaching in 1932. It took two years for the children to fully trust Walsh as a person before they allowed him in their own perspective of the world. Mr. Walsh often stated that he "tried to meet them halfway... (and) as equals... the children taught (him) many things." During his time at Inkameep, the children playfully taught Walsh how to watch and observe nature and how to recognize the sounds and habitats of local wildlife. Most importantly, the children taught a man how to listen. Walsh showed the Inkameep students to express themselves and their beautiful culture through art. At a time of repression and assimilation, art and drama reinforced pride and encouraged its growth in the community. He was accepted into the Inkameep community because he supported the children's learnings of Okanagan teachings from their families and elders while he taught the fundamentals of the dominant education system.
Through their public support of the Inkameep children's art and dramas, the Okanagan Society for the Revival of Indian Arts and Crafts and the Society for the Furtherance of B.C. Indian Arts and Crafts helped bridge racial differences between Native and Non-Native communities. For the people surrounding the Inkameep community, the publicity of the children's achievements proved stereotypes of the Native communities throughout the world were wrong. Many people were beginning to see that the children were not simply re-creating art of the past; these children were defining who they were as individual people. The children's art integrated the present situations of their culture and lifestyles, and provided a glimpse into their futures. Art and drama empowered the voices of the children. This new understanding of the children's tiny voices rippled throughout Canada and the rest of the world. They used their art to help others and to help their community. With the Society alongside the Inkameep people and Mr. Walsh, they were able to fundraise money to send overseas through the Red Cross for children left homeless by the war. Since the government had small amounts of school supply money for the Indian Day Schools, the Society also helped the children to market their art so they could buy art supplies, winter clothes, and library books.
The Day School that began in the early 1900's continues to impact the world today. In a world of assimilation and cultural regression, the children's art thundered the strength of their culture. It brought to the world a clear understanding of the potential of the young Inkameep children. The children showed the world their pride in their cultural upbringing. The children showed themselves that they could be equals in the world. Through the school they were able to meet Chief Batiste George's dream, which was to keep the community and the people strong.
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