The author of a new book titled Invisible Generations: Living Between Indigenous and White in the Fraser Valley (Caitlin Press) will speak at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in Abbotsford on Monday, Feb. 10.
Jean Barman presents a talk about Invisible Generations and Matsqui pioneer Irene Kelleher at noon in room B101. Admission is free.
In her book, Barman explores the history of the region and the prejudice that people of mixed Indigenous and white descent faced in the mid-1900s, with a focus on her good friend Kelleher.
Born and raised in Matsqui, Kelleher was the first B.C. woman of Indigenous heritage to be awarded a teaching certificate.
Unable to get a job close to home, she taught across the farthest reaches of the province, including Doukhobor schools in the Cariboo, small single-room schoolhouses, and even remote island communities.
Eventually, Kelleher returned to the Fraser Valley and worked in Abbotsford for 25 years. She was the principal of North Poplar Elementary during the Second World War before retiring in 1964.
“Irene was burdened by history. She lived all her life in the shadow of a past she bore in her physical features – so she considered – and in her every action,” Barman says.
While not wholly Indigenous, the Kelleher family’s Indigenous descent separated them from the dominant white society, who stereotyped and demeaned them with the pejorative term “half-breed.”
Despite this treatment, Kelleher took great pride in her family’s history, “especially with respect to her parents’ and grandparents’ lives,” Barman says.
“But it was also a past that she felt set her apart from those around her – both in everyday life and in her career as a schoolteacher.”
Barman and Kelleher met in the 1990s and began working on the book, but, at the request of her friend, Barman waited until after Kelleher’s death to publish it.
Additionally, Barman explains, “The rightness of the time for publication is prompted by a greater openness in British Columbia and across Canada towards persons of mixed Indigenous and white descent, as Irene was, and by new publications opening up broader perspectives on the history of British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, where Irene lived.”
Barman is donating all book royalties in Kelleher’s name to the Julia Mathilda and Cornelius Kelleher Endowment Memorial Scholarship and the Irene Kelleher Memorial Endowment Bursary at UFV.