On display at the book launch for Lex̱éywa: I Pass the Torch to You, written by Sumas First Nation member Beatrice Silver, were paintings done by an art activism class at Robert Bateman Secondary School, each painting based off an excerpt from weeks of talks Silver did with the class about her experience at residential schools. Those talks ultimately laid the foundation for the book. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

On display at the book launch for Lex̱éywa: I Pass the Torch to You, written by Sumas First Nation member Beatrice Silver, were paintings done by an art activism class at Robert Bateman Secondary School, each painting based off an excerpt from weeks of talks Silver did with the class about her experience at residential schools. Those talks ultimately laid the foundation for the book. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Abby Schools

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

Beatrice Silver told her story to an art activism class, eventually developing that into a novel

Beatrice Silver has always had a rebellious heart.

A member of the Sumas First Nation, Silver is the author of the recently published book Lex̱éywa: I Pass the Torch to You, which tells the story of her experience with St. Mary’s Mission Indian Residential School in Mission.

The rebellion flowing through her veins, Silver says, helped her survive the experience.

“When we went to residential school, we were mostly known by numbers, and I tell you in my book I don’t even remember that number. I was not a number – I was Beatrice Silver – and from day one, that’s how I was when I got there. I bucked the system, and as a result, I was punished a lot,” Silver says.

“I wasn’t into drugs and drinking; it wasn’t that way at all. I just was not going to let you or anybody else tell me what I could do or what I couldn’t do.”

RELATED: Belonging key to improving Indigenous grad rates

RELATED: Abbotsford school facilities naming process to include Indigenous voice

But despite her experience, Silver is optimistic. She says she’s seeing some strides in improving the status of Indigenous Peoples in Canada in recent years – not the least of which is in education.

Where the residential school system targeted children to erase Indigenous cultures – called cultural genocide by Senator Murray Sinclair, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – Silver now sees education as one of the foremost tools in reconciliation.

“Think of it as a circle,” Silver says. “It’s coming back now, and we’re beginning with our children, our babies.”

Silver recently got first-hand experience with recent updates to the B.C. curriculum – which emphasizes Indigenous issues and culture – in the Abbotsford School District, when she shared her story with a group of students in an art activism class at Robert Bateman Secondary School, talks that laid the foundation for her book.

“It was amazing,” says Taryn MacDonald, one of two teachers of the course. “I think it was pretty exhausting for her, but she handled it really well. The kids handled it really well, and it was transformative, for sure, to hear it come straight from her.”

During the course, each student based a painting on an excerpt from several weeks of daily talks from Silver. Those paintings were all incorporated into Silver’s book as title pages for each chapter, and one painting of a yellow rose made the cover of the book.

The art activism course isn’t exclusive to tried-and-true artists – you’d never know it from looking at the paintings, but some students hadn’t even picked up a paintbrush before.

“For the kids that didn’t have a lot of technical skill, we just gave them a lot of coaching. It was nice, because there are two of us teaching, so we had a pretty good handle on coaching them through it,” MacDonald says.

Silver said diving deep into her past traumas was challenging, even causing migraines, but she added that she was encouraged by the openness of the students and teachers to hearing a dark part of Canadian history that has often been hidden away.

“They were just amazing, amazing teachers to take this on, because it wasn’t just, ‘Oh, let’s do art.’ This was real, true, hardcore stuff they had to learn about and then paint from their hearts. They felt what they saw,” Silver said.

That was particularly encouraging for Silver because most of the students were not Indigenous, so the truth of her experience was getting out beyond Indigenous communities.

“I was so impressed with the attention they paid and the respect and the hunger for more,” Silver said, adding that she encouraged questions and interactions from the students. “They wanted to know really what it was like, what happened, (and) I told them.”

What’s more, Silver said she was impressed with how well-prepared the students were with knowledge of the residential school system, something that has had new emphasis in the B.C. curriculum.

But Silver added that she feels the Abbotsford School District takes Indigenous issues and education to another level, with initiatives like the Ray and Millie Silver Aboriginal Library.

“What the schools have done in Abbotsford is take the bull by the horns and dance with it, rather than fight it,” Silver said. “They took our history, as bad as it is, the Canadian history, and accepted it, and said, ‘This is what happened; now how can we go about reconciling?’ ”

Silver eventually became a teacher – the only Indigenous teacher in the Fraser Valley at the time, as far as she knows. And for a time, she was elected chief of the Sumas First Nation and is now running for a spot on council.

She says her story of success since residential schools, despite the odds, will be the subject of a future follow-up book.

Lex̱éywa: I Pass the Torch to You is available at electromagneticprint.com.

Find more of our coverage on the Abbotsford School District here.

Report an error or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Abbotsford News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Abby Schools

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

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
18 school exposures in Abbotsford since Jan. 6

21 exposures since the the holiday break

Dallas Lajimodiere is wanted by the Abbotsford Police Department.
Man wanted by Abbotsford Police domestic violence unit

Dallas Lajimodiere has three arrest warrants, including for assault with a weapon

Russell Jonathon George Gurney was last seen in Chilliwack in mid-December. (RCMP photo)
RCMP ask for help to find missing Abbotsford man last seen in Chilliwack

Police and family are concerned for the well-being of Russell Jonathon George Gurney

Grade 6 students at Eugene Reimer Middle School have been participating in the Equity Backpack Project. (Submitted photo)
Equity Backpack Project in Abbotsford addresses inclusion and anti-racism

Grade 6 teacher Nerlap Sidhu says she wants students to develop ‘strong sense of self’

The UFV Cascades women’s basketball program has announced the signing of Langley’s Esther Allison and Edmonton’s Charley Arnold for 2021. (UFV Cascades photo)
Langley’s Allison, Edmonton’s Arnold signed by UFV Cascades

Women’s basketball program adds pair of recruits for 2021, reporting to Abbotsford later this year

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Francina Mettes and Thomas Schouten with the 200-page document they submitted in December of 2018. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Dutch man, 94, facing unwanted trip home can stay in B.C. with wife of 45 years

Immigration offices cuts red tape so couple of 45 years can stay together in Victoria area

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier, health officials to discuss next steps in COVID immunization plan

Nearly 31,000 doses of vaccine the province expected by Jan. 29 could be curtailed due to production issues

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

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

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Most Read