Robert Wells is a local author who has been receiving praise for the past few years for his book Wawahte, now a documentary, which shines a light on Residential Schools, an unspeakably dark period in our country’s history.
Through his work as a fishing and hunting guide, fur trapper, and Ontario Conservation Officer, Bob gained an appreciation for nature and an interest in First Nation’s history and culture. From what he has learned about the First Nation’s and growing up in the north-western Ontario community of Quetico, Bob firmly believes that the pervasive problems of alcoholism, drug use, domestic violence, and high rates of incarceration and suicide are not Indigenous problems alone, but a problem for all Canadians.
Bob’s book Wawahte is an honest, sensitive, and matter-of-fact report, told from the perspective of three survivors of Residential Schools. For more than a century, Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend residential boarding schools that were funded by the Canadian government and administered by the church, to be indoctrinated in settler teachings and ways of life. Significant harm was done to these children, who were deprived of their families, languages, traditions and ways of living. Many were exposed to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the staff members charged with their care. Many of these children never made it home and it is thought that at least 6000 Indigenous children died.
Wawahte is critical in helping us to understand what happened in Canada's residential schools and its impact today.
“As a country we cannot understand ourselves without a firm sense of where we came from. Canada has yet to fully teach its history and therefore cannot be said to understand itself. Until we make substantial, sincere, and effective attempt to teach our history, Canada will not, and cannot, be undivided.”
We are so fortunate to have author Bob Wells as one of our community champions here in Kingston and the Islands.
Question: What has been your proudest moment?
Answer: Without exception; my family, and being Canadian and living in the caring and loving community of Kingston.
Question: If you could spend a day with anyone on the planet, who would it be?
Answer: It would have to be Sir John A. McDonald. First, to compliment him for the fulfillment of his dream of Confederation. Though not perfect, we are a country and not a collection of squabbling states or something else. Second, to convince him to break from the colonialism and racist thinking of his day when dealing with Indigenous peoples. His policies of forced integration have been a dismal failure leaving us now with the difficult task of reconciliation.
Question: One quote or saying that keeps you going when you need it most?
Answer: “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”
- Albert Einstein
Question: What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Answer: To give back the languages we stole from generations of Indigenous peoples. The Wawahte documentary was produced here in Kingston by Tyton Sound. The documentary is currently only available in English. I would like the resources to produce voice-overs, beginning with French and then in Indigenous languages, making it accessible to all Canadians.
Question: What is the most important lesson you have learned?
Answer: To listen, listen, listen. My greatest teachers neither delivered their lessons from behind a podium nor crafted in well–defined words. They were the gifts of ideas and the courage to dream!
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