Irene Kelleher was the first Indigenous woman in B.C. to be granted a teaching certificate. (Photo courtesy of The Reach, P11696)

Irene Kelleher was the first Indigenous woman in B.C. to be granted a teaching certificate. (Photo courtesy of The Reach, P11696)

Family of first Indigenous teacher in B.C. is subject of new book

Irene Kelleher and family of Matsqui were subject to prejudice and mistreatment

A new book details the life of the family of the first Indigenous woman in B.C. to be granted a teaching certificate and who went on to become a school principal in Abbotsford.

Invisible Generations: Living Between Indigenous and White in the Fraser Valley was written by Jean Barman of Vancouver and tells the story of the Kelleher family – who were of mixed Indigenous and white descent – and the prejudice they faced.

Irene Kelleher, born in Matsqui (which later amalgamated with Abbotsford), first applied to teach in Abbotsford but was rejected, a decision she attributed to her heritage and gender.

She then began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Terrace, B.C. in 1921 and then at other locations across B.C.

Her students over the years included Doukhobor children at a time when the community was vehemently opposed to their offspring attending school.

Irene eventually obtained a job at Abbotsford’s North Poplar Elementary, where she became principal during the Second World War.

Irene retired in Abbotsford in 1964 after 43 years of teaching and died on March 16, 2004 at the age of 102.

Barman’s book details how Irene’s white grandfathers were attracted to the future B.C. by a gold rush beginning in 1858 and had families with Indigenous women.

But the dominant white society in their community in the Fraser Valley did not accept them, the book indicates.

Invisible Generations also looks into the Catholic residential school system that Irene’s parents and many other “mixed blood” children attended.

Royalties from Invisible Generations will go in Irene Kelleher’s name to sustain the Julia Mathilda and Cornelius Kelleher Endowment Memorial Scholarship and the Irene Kelleher Memorial Endowment Bursary at University of the Fraser Valley.

Barman is an historian and author of more than a dozen books about B.C. and Canadian history, including Sojourning Sisters, for which she won the 2004 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal of Historical Writing.

Much of Barman’s writing attends to the stories and histories of Indigenous people and to Canadian women and families.

Her writing has garnered more than a dozen Canadian and American awards.

She is professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and the recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Barman holds graduate degrees from Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley and University of British Columbia, and an honorary doctorate from Vancouver Island University.

Invisible Generations (Caitlin Press) is available at local bookstores.

RELATED: Multigenerational pain of residential schools lingers for many in B.C.

RELATED: ‘I was not a number’: Abbotsford school class turns into residential school memoir

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Jean Barman is the author of the new book Living Between Indigenous and White in the Fraser Valley, about the Kelleher family.

Jean Barman is the author of the new book Living Between Indigenous and White in the Fraser Valley, about the Kelleher family.

Just Posted

Abbotsford football star Chase Claypool has signed an endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan brand. (Air Jordan website)
Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool signs with Nike’s Jordan brand

Abbotsford Senior Secondary School grad joins exclusive group of top athletes wearing Jumpman

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

The Oxford Senior Care private care home in Abbotsford is part of a COVID-19 contact-tracing pilot project through the company Vantage. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford care home participates in COVID-19 contact-tracing pilot project

The Oxford Senior Care uses ‘wearables’ to track movements of staff and residents

The Abbotsford board of education said on Tuesday they are satisfied with how students and staff dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic from September to December.
Abbotsford board of education pleased with return to class during COVID-19

District officials thank staff and students for low number of infections and issues during pandemic

The Abbotsford News is looking forward to hearing the stories of some of Abbotsford’s unsung education heroes. (Getty Image)
Who are your Abbotsford education heroes?

We’re looking for stories of people who have gone above and beyond for students

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

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

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

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

Most Read