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

RCMP Emergency Response Team members on Charles Street in Chilliwack on Jan. 15, 2021 after an undisclosed threat was made by a male. The matter was resolved peacefully. (Darcy Loewen photo)
Heavy Chilliwack RCMP presence on Charles Street Friday after ‘disturbing’ phone call

Man who made threats to harm self and others eventually taken into custody unharmed

Two people were in a vehicle that rolled over on Highway No. 1 near Lickman Road. They are now out of the vehicle. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vehicle rolls over on Highway 1 near Lickman Road in Chilliwack

Two people in SUV at time of collision in westbound lanes

Both eastbound lanes are completely west of exit 135 on Highway 1. (Google maps)
UPDATE: Traffic now getting through following car collision on Highway 1 in Chilliwack

Incident happened shortly just west of exit 135 for Agassiz/Harrison Hot Springs

Carin Bondar announced Nov. 26 that she will be running in the upcoming byelection to replace outgoing school trustee Dan Coulter. (Sarah Sovereign Photography)
Chilliwack school board candidate Carin Bondar calls for vote-by-mail option

As the COVID pandemic continues, Bondar fears voter turnout will be low for next month’s byelection

The route of the pink parade. The Record has blackened out the name of the teen. Facebook photo.
Pink-vehicle parade to be held Sunday in support of transgender teen assaulted in Mission

Teen and family to watch parade drive single file along waterfront at 3 p.m., Jan. 17

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

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 Delta Hospice Society operates the Harold & Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care (pictured) and the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. (The Canadian Press photo)
Fraser Health to evict Delta Hospice Society, open new hospice beds next door

Health authority will serve DHS 30 days’ notice when service agreement expires Feb. 25

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read