D.C.: Mrs. Sutherland, when did you come to this area?
E.S.: In 1921
D.C.: I think you came as a bride, did you not — from a city?
E.S.: From London
D.C.: To Dawson Creek?
E.S.: Aye – we had to otherwise ….
D.C.: He came along behind and ….
D.C.: Mrs. Sutherland, did you come up here to homestead, or did Mr. Sutherland come with the idea of just continuing teaching? Can you give us some of your early impressions of the Dawson Creek district?
E.S.: Our first homestead was just on top of the hill — right up [present-day] Seventeenth Street — right at the top, not far from the Loran station. Mr. Sutherland’s first school was South Dawson. He drove there with the horse and buggy every day. Of course there were no taxis! For a little while I think I stayed with the Barrett’s until we got a little shack built. It was small but it was home. Wesley would drive backwards and forwards, and then at the first fall of snow, Mr. Ravelli and Mr. Torio pulled the shack down into Mr. Ravelli’s yard – the first Mr. Ravelli. Wesley had a kind of cutter and he would drive around and pick up the pupils and take them to school.
D.C.: How long before the little log schoolhouse was built was there a school at South Dawson?
E.S.: I think it opened when we went there. Fred Newby, and the Torios and Ravellis – he had only six or eight. I think we were there two years, and then came down to Dawson because it was closer to our homestead. He stayed there for five and a half years in the little log schoolhouse.
We kept our little homestead house but we bought [another] house. I think it belonged to Jack Hall — somehow I’m not right there. I’m not sure, but we bought his house in town right next to Mrs. Bullen — a big house — a great big house.
Then there was a teacher who wanted Dawson Creek, so Wesley said he’d trade schools with him. So we went to North Dawson and lived in the Nickla (?) Mikla (?) house just across from it — a long building with a sod roof. Mrs. Smolik was my nearest neighbour there. From there, well he was at Bessborough for seven years where our farm was. We had three quarters there. Then the phone rang one day. Now Wesley had decided that he would take a rest from teaching for a while and farm. When the phone rang, it was the school board. Wesley had said he would go to Moberly. They now said to me, “We can’t get a second teacher for Moberly Lake. Will you go and teach the junior room.”
Now I had the post office here that I’d had for sixteen years, so I’d have to get checked out. I bundled up all of the papers and took them down to the Post Office and said, “Here they are. Check them over, I’m giving it up.” You’re supposed to give three months notice you know — but I wrote out to Edmonton and ended up I got a wonderful recommendation from them.
Then of course we had horses and cattle and got busy getting rid of everything. You know what that’s like. But I said, “Oh, my! It will be fun you know.”
So I went out there and I loved it! The inspector said, “You should have done it thirty years ago”. Just my line, you might say.
After three years, I said, “Have you found anyone else yet to take my place?” He said, “No, we are not looking”. We were there until Wesley got a couple of years over age, so we retired. It was hard, baking bread and doing the washing and all, but I really loved it.
Our concerts were really something. I had my piano out there. Every morning we had singing. The first thing they wanted to sing was “Davy Crockett” — their hero. They really had lovely voices, those children. When it came time for the concert, Wesley said, “You put it on. I don’t want to be bothered.” So I had action songs, and an awful lot of singing. I had my room put on different things. One thing they wanted to do, they’d only had three practices. “I don’t think you really know it well enough.” They begged, “Please Mrs. Sutherland, let us do it.” So I told the people — the school was crowded — that I hoped they’d excuse them– that they really weren’t ready, but they wanted to do it so much. They only made one little mistake, and it was lovely!
The Indians were so nice. There was just a trail into Moberly then. If you met somebody else, somebody had to back up. We’d be stuck in a mud hole late at night, getting back. I remember hearing a team. I was sitting there. Wesley had said, “Lock the door.” and I did. Louis Desjarlais came along and looked in the window. “Oh, it’s you Mrs. Sutherland”, he said. “What are you doing there?” “We’re stuck in a mudhole,” I said. “Don’t you be afraid”, he said. “No one will hurt you.” “Oh, I’m fine”, I said. If you treat them properly, they treat you properly.
E.S.: They really were perfect. But I don’t see that today in the children I meet.
D.C.: Neither white, nor native. I do like particularly their very soft voices.
They were simply eager beavers you know. They really wanted to learn.
D.C.: Speaking of Beavers — you did have two groups, didn’t you? The Beaver reserve at one end of the lake and the Cree at the other. Where did the Saulteaux come in?
E.S.: There must be some there, but they must have lived with the Cree. The Beavers were at the west end — there weren’t too many there. I think the Saulteaux and the Cree must have lived together up on the reserve. They built them nice houses, and the road goes in there now.
E.S.: No, not at that time.
D.C.: What about their diet then?
D.C.: I had a gift of dried meat given to me the other day. As you say it isn’t particularly appetizing, as you say — paper-thin and dark and dry — but it is delicious. It has a much more delicious smoked flavour than the commercially dried beef that you buy or smoked bacon.
E.S.: I find the Indians — now I remember what Old Harry Garbitt told me when I first went out there — “Now,” he said, “you must remember that the Indian is like the husky dog — the worse you treat them the more they love you.”
“Then they won’t treat me very well because I intend to be kind,” I said. I never had any trouble with the children. There’s only one thing — if you say you will do a thing, you must do it. If you say, “Don’t do that!” you have to have some form of follow-up. I never touched any of my children. When it came to a special treat the disobedient ones were denied that candy. That hurt more than anything. They get so much spanking at home that it doesn’t affect them much. They like their children. I think they really love them. They used not to spank their children. They didn’t use any physical force on them.
D.C.: But in the early writings of the explorers it was recorded that no Indian father would lay a hand on his child. They thought the white man was cruel because he used physical punishment on the children. The Indians turned the child over to the teaching and discipline of an uncle – the father’s brother who would teach him the way he should go.
E.S.: I can’t remember hearing of a parent spanking a child out there. It was a free and easy life and they were all so happy. I remember one little boy saying to me, “I want a cigarette.” I said, “I don’t know. Why do you want a cigarette?” “Because I have a toothache. If I can put some tobacco in it, it will stop aching.” The nurse and doctor came around and took care of it. We had the children in, first the girls in my room. We had trouble with one girl. She would not take her sweater off to be examined. The nurse was awfully nice.
D.C.: Did you learn any other medical or other lore like the business of putting tobacco in the tooth? Or did they tell you much about their native ways.
E.S.: No. But I do know that when they got measles they rubbed snow on their chest to take the rash away. I thought it was rather dangerous myself.
D.C.: I haven’t been able to find out about their native ways. They are afraid of being laughed at.
E.S.: I do know, for instance that Peter Desjarlais had a heart attack and fell off his horse. When that happens they get ideas and believe in spirits. A week or ten days later, they were still saying that he was running about and playing all sorts of tricks. They came to me one day and said, “Peter Desjarlais is in your house.” “Is he now?” I said. “Well, I’ll make him get out.” So we went into the house. “There he goes!” they said, pointing into the bush. There was nothing there, of course. They just imagine. If they die suddenly they think the spirit keeps running. There’s something bad about it. To tell the truth, I was half-afraid to go in the house when they told me Peter was there. I knew it was a sort of hysteria, so I didn’t let the children catch on to that sort of thing. So I called them in and showed them, “Look, there’s nobody here…”
Yes, I saw the funeral. Once they went right past the school with the team – the horses all decorated up like you see them for holidays (?) you know. The children were running around, in and out of the bushes running ahead with tin cans in every direction, scaring away the evil spirits and that went on until they got to the church.
E.S.: No, I don’t think so….
E.S.: No — but I never taught religion. Mine isn’t the same as theirs. If they ever asked me any questions, I talked with them. I don’t know much about their religion but I know it was an awful time sometimes to get them to church. Father Jungbluth wanted to have a catechism in the school but Wesley always said, “I can’t give you permission. You’ll have to get permission from the school board.” He got permission but the children got to know and they’d go and hide.
D.C.: It’s the adults. I understand there was a difference between the two groups. I have a religious diagram by Dr. Ridington who lived for some years among the Beavers at the Doig and Halfway [Reserves]. According to what he said their thinking was quite complex. The statement that was often made that they were [?] and had no religion is just not true.
E.S.: Every Sunday the bell would ring on the Church, and I think it was full every Sunday. They were all well behaved and seemed to be very serious about such things.
D.C.: You spoke about the Napoleons. The Napoleons and the Thomas’s I believe are relatives and I’ve been told that when Dawson Creek first started there was a group of them that were farming west and somewhat south of town.
D.C.: Weren’t they about the first Indians to come in here from Alberta?
E.S.: Yes, Alex Callahaison. He was a very nice boy. I’ll never forget him.
D.C.: So you really enjoyed your experience at Moberly Lake.
D.C.: How many of those pupils of yours finished Grade 12? I know at least one finished University.
E.S.: I think Jeanette Garbitt did, but I’m not sure. I think quite a few did [finish high school]. Ronvie Lapointe did. These are all Treaty Indians. Non-treaties are not helped, but the Indian Department paid part of the Treaties’ education. There were some very clever children in that school. They were a lot better than some white children I know.