Dr. Mary Jane Logan McCallum has published a new book looking at the history of student labour at Mount Elgin Indian Residential School.
Nii Ndahlohke: Boys’ and Girls’ Work at Mount Elgin Industrial School, 1890-1915, is structured in two sections: the first focuses on boys’ work, including maintenance and farm labour, and the second on girls’ work, such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
Dr. McCallum, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous People, History, and Archives, as well as a Professor in The University of Winnipeg’s Department of History, is a member of the Munsee Delaware Language and History group, which supports Indigenous history and language learning.
“We noticed that residential school educational resources used in elementary schools tended to be very general and not specific to the area where the students live, so we started thinking about how to teach residential schools as local history and what elementary school kids who now live in the same area as Mount Elgin want to learn about it,” she said. “We chose the theme of student labour, because this features so prominently in the history of Mount Elgin and it’s something that students might not know a lot about.”
Student Labour at Mount Elgin
Student labour was key to the running of the school despite never appearing as a line in any budget or report.
The work students did to run the school is what made ends meet, Dr. McCallum noted, because the per diem granting system, especially at Mount Elgin, was really bare bones.
“The department and the Methodist Church – now the United Church – didn’t want to increase the funds towards the school, so the kids had to do all of the labour to run the school,” she said. “This ranged from the farm work, to the sewing of uniforms, linens, and bedding, to cooking, cleaning, and laundering, to even painting and building repairs, when possible.”
Dr. McCallum says it’s also important to know that student labour at Mount Elgin went beyond community standards at the time, both for First Nations and in the surrounding settler society, and that student overwork led to a profound sense of unfairness.
Dr. McCallum, who is currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Western Ontario, will be launching the book at Huron University College on September 26. Julie Tucker, who wrote an Afterword for the book, Donna Noah, one of the artists whose work is featured in the book, and Ian McCallum, who did the translations, will be joining her.
If you’d like to purchase Nii Ndahlohke: Boys’ and Girls’ Work at Mount Elgin Industrial School, 1890-1915, you can do so at FriesenPress Publishing’s website and other online booksellers. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to support Indigenous language and history learning.