By James Rose
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In 2006, Shelagh Palmer Kinbasket Dehart, 96, published with the help of her granddaughter Dusty Dehart, ‘The Kinbasket Migration and Other Indian History.’

Kinbasket Migration is a history book made up of smaller stories within a bigger story about “our Shuswap ancestor’s migration to the beautiful Columbia Valley,” wrote Dusty. “My family has heard these and other stories since we can remember. Grandma’s memory and her duty to pass this information on to the next generations astounds me.”

Introducing the book, Dusty wrote: “This is Grandma’s book, and it covers the history of the first four of our family’s eight generations that have lived in the Columbia Valley.”

Who exactly was Shelagh Palmer Kinbasket Dehart? In Kinbasket Migration, she writes: “I am the granddaughter of the third hereditary chief of the Columbia Valley Shuswap people, Chief Pierre Kinbasket. I am the daughter of Amelia Agnes Kinbasket and William Hobbs ‘Bill’ Palmer. I was born at Stoddart Creek on April 1, 1910, in my parent’s farmhouse.”

“I am almost 97 years old and I have lived at Stoddart Creek my entire life except for ten years during the dirty thirty’s when we moved to Port Coquitlam for work. I am the fifth of eight generations of Kinbaskets that have lived in the Columbia Valley since the 1700s.”

“I have always wanted to write this book,” Shelagh wrote. “The trust history as told to me once and for all, of the Kinbasket migration. Here is the true history of my ancestors, my people, my family.”

The stories within Kinbasket Migration are wide-ranging and fascinating. For this article, I want to focus exclusively on specific passages Shelagh wrote regarding her time spent at the St. Eugene Mission Residential School.

The following passages are from the section What Went On There: “My sister Tracie was eight and I was ten when the priest came. He was on the train going south and he said: ‘It is time to send the girls to school, they are old enough now.’ The next day we dressed in our best clothes and father took us to the train and away we went to school.”

“What went on there was unbelievable. Those nuns were insane. When they beat you, they would say: ‘We do this because we love you.’ Lots of times we didn’t even know what we were being whipped or our faces slapped for. We were punished for the least thing that we did or didn’t do.”

“It was so pitiful for most of the little children starting school there because they didn’t understand the language. Most had no relatives to comfort them. We’d hear their sobs in the dead of night and we’d see them crying during the day. This would go on for days until they got used to their new environment.”

“We never had books or papers to read except religious magazines. We were not allowed to go anywhere or do anything without permission. We had to declare everything we get from our visitors. It was a sad day when a couple from the Shuswap reserve arrived to see their two daughters only to be told that they died a couple of months ago. I remember the two girls very well.”

From I Ran Away And Got The Whip: “I ran away once. I walked down the road as fast as I could in the middle of winter. My feet and shoes were full of snow when I got to the hospital in Cranbrook. I had no other place to go. I asked if I could stay the night and they let me sleep on the cot. A priest came looking for me. He said: ‘Come with me or I’ll call the police.’ I should have stayed and told the police what they were doing to us. The next day I got the whip.”

From What They Fed Us: “Terrible, unbelievable. We had the same thing for years. The buns, when you split them, were full of mouse droppings. Still to this day, I cannot eat bread or buns with black seeds of any kind in them. Everything was full of droppings, the flour, the cereals, etc. There was always cat pee in the kitchen too. You could smell it all the time, even in the food, especially in the bread, it was so disgusting.”

From A Day At School: “We had to whisper our own language. If we were caught, too bad, a whipping. If you go to the toilet without asking, you get a whipping. We had to sleep with our hands crossed on our chests, that was the law.”

“We took music lessons. It is amazing that Indian children with very little knowledge of the English language can learn music without difficulty. How true that music is a universal language.”

Shelagh Palmer Kinbasket Dehart was 18 when she left St. Eugene for good and returned to her family home in Stoddart Creek.

“We lived it even after we left school. You never get over those things. You never forget it. Even seventy-eight years after I walked out of that school, I can still feel it and what it did to me. I still get triggered.”

In Kinbasket Migration, Dehart writes much more about her time at St. Eugene. I would encourage anyone to find a copy to learn about a fascinating family history that unfortunately included a deeply saddening and heartbreaking period of residential schooling.