In this two-part miniseries, we explore intergenerational trauma and its impacts on Indigenous individuals and communities.
In this episode, we meet federal public servant Yves Pinette, an Innu from Maliotenam. He tells us about his experience, his background and his resilience in the face of the challenges of growing up in an Indigenous community.
Annie Leblond, Indigenous Learning, Canada School of Public Service:In this two-part miniseries, we explore intergenerational trauma and its impacts on Indigenous Peoples and their communities.
In the second part, we talk with Yves Pinette, an Innu from Maliotenam, who is also a federal public servant.
It's always delicate to talk with someone about the more difficult times in their life. If you listened to the interview with Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, you will see many parallels with what Yves has to say.
For me, what stands out in the interview with Yves is his great candor. Thank you, Yves.
This is a sensitive subject and it could trigger all sorts of immediate or delayed reactions. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
Yves Pinette, Innu from Maliotenam: (Introduces himself in Innu language.) Hello, everyone, all the listeners, my name is Yves Pinette. I'm an Innu from Maliotenam, Sept-Îles.
Benoit Trottier, Indigenous Learning, Canada School of Public Service:
Thank you, Yves Pinette, for taking the time to come and meet us today. You work for the government, is that right?
Yves Pinette: Yes. I've been with the Public Service of Canada for 18 years now. I work for the Privy Council Office, which is the department of the Prime Minister of Canada.
I tell myself that I didn't get here by chance. I put in a lot of effort to end up in this position. I worked hard academically and on the job to be able to perform professional duties.
Benoit Trottier : Important duties.
Yves Pinette : Some important duties, yes. We have to value ourselves in our duties and I think it's a pretty serious job.
Benoit Trottier: I'd like to talk a little bit about your background. Where are you from? What is your educational background and how did you come to hold your current job?
Yves Pinette: I'm 50, I've lived for half a century. I grew up on a reserve called Maliotenam, 14 km east of the town of Sept-Îles. It's a village where they built a residential school in the 1950s. The government decided to build a residential school to serve the Montagnais Innu communities in Eastern Quebec. Most of the Indigenous students were sent to Maliotenam for ten months, cut off from their families to go, they say, to "study," but it was a somewhat forced education.
Benoit Trottier: And you were born in Maliotenam?
Yves Pinette: On my baptismal certificate it says Maliotenam. Unfortunately, I don't know where I was born because I was adopted. I'm part of the Sixties Scoop. I don't really know my biological parents and I think that's a bit of an indirect consequence of the residential schools. If my mother gave me up for adoption, I don't know why. I don't know why, but she probably went to residential school as well.
Benoit Trottier: Both of your [biological] parents are Indigenous?
Yves Pinette: My mother was Indigenous, Montagnais Innu, while my father, the only information I have about him is that he is French Canadian.
Benoit Trottier: So you arrived in Maliotenam around the age of six months. Both of your adoptive parents are Innu?
Yves Pinette: My father is Innu. My mother is French Canadian. In those days, [if] Indians married non-Indigenous People, the woman got [Indian] status. So when he married my mother, my father moved to the reserve in 1969.
Benoit Trottier: And your mother became an Indian because she married your father.
Yves Pinette: Exactly. According to the law at the time, she was entitled to her status because she was the wife of an Innu who was from there.
Benoit Trottier: How did she feel about that?
Yves Pinette: It was quite difficult, I think, to adapt. It's a good thing my dad was there. She found it pretty hard, because throughout my childhood I often heard my mother say she wanted to move or leave the reserve.
On the reserve, it wasn't like in the town of Sept-Îles next door. On the reserve, there was a lot more poverty, more social problems. People had much more freedom. People were less disciplined. There was more crime, more alcoholism and even drug addiction. It was a social setting where there were far fewer rules.
Benoit Trottier: I'm trying to make the connection with the intergenerational trauma. Would you say that the problems that people were experiencing in the community at that time were directly related to the school policy?
Yves Pinette: I'd say so, very much so. [For] a lot of Indigenous People during those years, when the residential school was operating in the community, there was a very, very big disconnect between the children and their parents. A lot of the children came from the neighbouring villages and lived at the residential school, but without their parents. While those from the village of Maliotenam also attended classes at the residential school, but at the end of the day, they went home.
Benoit Trottier: Did you go through this, or was it before your time?
Yves Pinette: That was before my time. I started school in 1973–1974 and the residential school had closed in 1972, a year or two earlier.
Benoit Trottier: Did your father or anyone in your family go to residential schools?
Yves Pinette: No, my parents were too old to go to residential schools. They didn't have to, they were already adults. But I had a lot of my friends, students I went [to school] with, whose parents went directly into the schools.
Benoit Trottier: And how did that affect your schooling or your youth? From what I understand, you're not a—
Yves Pinette: I'm not a direct victim.
Benoit Trottier: For lack of a better term, you're not a direct victim, so you would be an indirect victim?
Yves Pinette: I am an indirect victim by the fact that the residential school was the dominant sphere in the village. Just because I went to school two or three years later doesn't mean that it changed. I was still being taught by the nuns and just because the school was closed did not mean that the teaching method changed drastically overnight. The methods remained the same.
Maybe the strap was gone by then or it was more hidden, but I remember that I was also sometimes hit with a ruler and had my ears pulled, just like everyone else. The rigour, the teaching method was still the same. Religion, too, in those years. In the 1970s, the Church was just beginning to separate itself from politics and then from authority. There was still a certain rigour and discipline that had to be followed, even though we—excuse the term—the little Indians, did not always listen.
They had to be disciplined. Unfortunately, that led to abuse. There was physical [abuse], where punishments also had to be given out. The type of punishment may have been acceptable at the time, but today it is not acceptable at all. There was also the fact that you were Catholicized a lot [through] the presence of prayers, of the Catholic Church, in our daily lives. Even I, when I went to school, it was the nuns who taught me everything. Throughout my primary school years, the catechism course was really important and I had to take it.
Benoit Trottier: Spiritually, at home, how were things? Did they respect what you were taught at school, or was there a kind of spiritual disconnect at home?
Yves Pinette: There was a big form of spiritual disconnection because throughout the village, Indigenous spirituality had almost disappeared. I remember, throughout my childhood, I didn't see a lot of people [practising] any spirituality. The rites, the ceremonies, were a little bit neglected, because people were also afraid of the priests, were afraid of the nuns and—
Benoit Trottier: Of the consequences—
Yves Pinette: Of the consequences that came with them. A lot of people rebelled against the Catholic Church and never wanted to hear about it again. For example, my father did not go to residential school. On the other hand, he strongly rejected the Catholic Church. However, he did not practise Indigenous spirituality. I would say that we were two generations who mostly lived without any real spirituality. That still has consequences because spirituality brings something good to human beings, I believe.
Benoit Trottier: Speaking of spiritual disconnection: how do you experience that when you're 14 or 15 years old?
Yves Pinette: In the 1970s, yes, it was quite difficult, from a sociological point of view, in the Indigenous community. Especially me, who grew up with an Indigenous father and a non-Indigenous mother, I was kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. In those years, a lot of Indigenous People didn't accept white people. It was quite difficult for my mother. On the other hand, I grew up trying to take the best of both worlds, as they say.
My father had no education; he couldn't read or write. My father was a hunter, a trapper, a gatherer; he worked with his hands. My mother, too, could barely read and write. I lived in what we would call poverty because in those years a lot of Indigenous People were poor. We were very, very poor. We had very small houses that the Department of Indian Affairs had built. They were very, very small houses.
Benoit Trottier: How many of you lived in the house, if you don't mind my asking?
Yves Pinette: There were four of us. But I knew many of my neighbours, my family members, who had 10, 12, even 14 people living in these tiny houses.
Benoit Trottier: What impact does that overcrowding have?
Yves Pinette: The overcrowding has an impact because it was also a time when there was a lot of alcohol in the communities. Even though it was banned, there was alcohol in the communities. Many parents drank quite excessively. My parents drank a lot, too. This led to a bit of neglect among families, many families.
Benoit Trottier: You talked earlier about the fact that you considered yourself an indirect victim of residential schools. What impact does that have in the head or in the heart of a 14-, 15- or 16-year-old whose social circle is made up of people who are victims of that system, intergenerational victims?
Yves Pinette: It has an impact. As soon as I had the opportunity, as a young teenager, it also led me to have problems with drugs. Not only alcohol use, but also the use of somewhat illicit drugs, while trying to understand the world and trying to find my values. Because a lot of young people like me were in a bit of a dilemma, not knowing too much about our traditional values, but also not knowing too much about what the future might hold for us academically or professionally.
I had a lot of friends older than me who went to residential schools. I think it's too bad that, during those years, many people were silent. No one wanted to talk about what the residential schools had done to them, regardless of how bad or good it was. Because there were still some things that were good. The nuns were still the most competent people, in a way, to educate us with their knowledge of Western teachings.
In terms of traditional teachings, many of my friends, relatives of my friends, have somewhat abandoned these traditional and spiritual teachings for fear of suffering consequences from the Church or the authorities, who said it was a teaching that was outdated. However, it's not true that it's obsolete. There are so many beautiful values in traditional Indigenous teachings.
Benoit Trottier: Have you been part of any groups whose conversations may have led to thoughts of suicide?
Yves Pinette: I've heard of it. I've had friends, many friends, who have committed suicide. Some committed suicide because of heartbreak. Some committed suicide because of drug addiction. Others because of alcohol, because of the aimlessness of living on a reserve. But there is also the fact of being broken inside, spiritually. I have acquaintances who have been badly abused by priests and brothers and have never gotten over it. They have lived with alcoholism all their lives.
Some of them are getting over it, but it took a return to Indigenous spirituality to get over it. Some of them needed to consult many psychologists, try many therapies, to deal with their alcohol or drug problems. In fact, I've also been in therapy twice in my life. The effects of alcoholism are still present in me. I grew up with far too much freedom.
It's paradoxical because freedom is something I cherish today from my childhood, from my youth. Living free is good. It also has negative effects. Being overly supervised also has negative effects; many people will rebel later on.
Benoit Trottier: What solutions can federal policy-makers consider to reduce the impact of decisions that were made a very long time ago?
Yves Pinette: I believe that for too many years, governments, whether provincial, federal or municipal, have often forgotten about Indigenous People. They have not involved them enough. Too often, they have wanted to make decisions for them and very often without consulting them.
Today, the projects that work are the ones in which Indigenous People are involved and consulted, especially when it concerns their well-being and their way of doing things.
Today, there seems to be an awakening among Indigenous People. Many young people are waking up and want to end the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction. They want to solve their social problems, lower their unemployment rate, lower their pregnancy rate, lower their suicide rate. More and more young people are taking charge of their lives today. That's the wonderful thing about Indigenous youth: many of them are becoming very aware of the facts and they want to get away from the way we're often labelled. We always see that episode as something bad, but it's part of our journey and [it's what] will enable us to not repeat the mistakes of the past, but to move forward.
Especially with non-Indigenous People, hand in hand, and to undertake wonderful projects together. This is what will help us solve the social problems that persist in Indigenous communities.
Benoit Trottier: Giving meaning to Indigenous life, giving a sense of identity.
Yves Pinette: In many Indigenous communities, there is a need for balance, and we are in the process of finding that balance, of validating that balance, by personally trying to keep Indigenous traditional spiritual values, but also to perform very well in the Western non-Indigenous world. An example is when a student graduates and is able to find work in his or her field and perform academically and professionally. Every individual is very proud, takes pride [in themselves]. On the other hand, if that Indigenous person can't go hunting, doesn't have the know-how in the forest, he's always going to be proud to be able to succeed professionally, but something will be missing. This spiritual side is very important in the balance. You have to find a way to give each student the best of both worlds. I've been hunting. Unfortunately, today I practise my traditions a little less. I remember when I was young and I would go out in the bush, hunting, and bring back fish, game, that made me feel just as proud as graduating, whether it was college or university or even high school. That pride is very important to Indigenous People. That's what we need. We know that the Innu need to be proud in order to be happy.
To laugh, to keep on laughing.
Yves Pinette: To keep on laughing because humour is part of Innu culture. It's part of all cultures, but among the Innu, it's something that has been remarked upon for a very long time. Also, you have to find Indigenous role models.
That's important, because young people need role models. Every society has its role models. So do Indigenous People. It's natural to have role models, but it's important to have successful Indigenous role models, to invite them and listen to them so that they can share their experiences. Because a lot of young people want to break free from the reserve, they also want to become self-sufficient.
For me, seeing my role models, for example, Max Gros-Louis, on television and seeing him make his speeches, hearing his speeches. I said to myself, if he can succeed, maybe I can succeed. You have to push yourself. Personal motivation is important.
Benoit Trottier: Do you find it a heavy responsibility, to have to, without necessarily having wanted to, be a model, especially for your children, if I may ask?
Yves Pinette: I hope my children are proud of me [laughs]. I think they are, even if they don't say so. I hope they feel some pride. Personally, I have a certain pride in my accomplishments, in my journey. My journey has not been very easy. I grew up on the reserve, I lived with a lot of freedom. My father was a cod fisherman. My father was a trapper, and he would go away for two or three months, trapping, in September or October, and come back at Christmas. He would leave at the end of January and come back at the beginning of April. He would go trapping. For him it was—
Benoit Trottier: His livelihood...
Yves Pinette: His way of life. It was his way of life, his way of supporting me economically. For Christmas, my father would often give me beaver pelts as gifts so I could go to the Hudson's Bay counter and get a bit of money for them. I was happy because I was selling my beaver pelts and I had money [laughs] to go and eat at McDonald's [laughs]. That was a gift for me. It was nice.
In the summer, I would go cod fishing with him. It taught me survival values. For the Innu, those values of survival are important, being able to become independent, being able to go fishing and bring home fish, being able to go hunting and bring home game. It is a source of pride, as I said, just like a diploma. Despite the poverty, the bare minimum, I still grew up with great values. I learned how to hunt when I was young and how to trap. Then, like it or not, I had to leave the reserve to get an education, to continue on my path, because my parents always wanted me to be able to read and write. They pushed me. I went on, then I finished high school and I had to move outside the town of Sept-Îles to go to CÉGEP.
I went to study in Montréal and unfortunately I wasn't ready and I didn't have the tools. I don't blame my parents; they had limited means, not knowing themselves [what] college is like, urban life in large centres like Québec City and Montréal. [Not] having been in school for a long time meant that they couldn't give me the tools I needed to succeed. Unfortunately, I had to go through a few failures to be able to accomplish what I wanted. I ended up in Montréal when I was 17 years old, I studied two, three years at Cégep de Rosemont. Unfortunately, I didn't finish. I went back to my community because in Montréal I was a bit lost, it was too big [laughs]. I couldn't help missing my part of the country, too. I went back to my community in Maliotenam. I had various small jobs: cook, caretaker, a little bit of everything. Then I moved to another community, the Naskapi community of Kawawachikamach, where I decided to settle down and start a family.
I lived there for five years and had several odd jobs as a caretaker, assistant cook, cook and court worker. [I] worked as a paralegal [in a] provincial justice program, a program for Indigenous defendants, to better understand the criminal and penal justice system in Quebec.
I would explain it to them. I worked there for two years. I was working with the itinerant court, I saw lawyers, prosecutors and judges working and judging Indigenous People. That led me to want to become a lawyer. I left Schefferville and went back to Sept-Îles to finish my studies in social sciences. It was a university prerequisite to get into law school. After completing college, I moved to Ottawa because I had been accepted at the University of Ottawa in the civil law program. Unfortunately, once again, I did not finish. On the other hand, I did three years of law, two years of sociology, a year of criminology without ever completing [laughs] a law program, but that doesn't mean I didn't learn anything, with all the professors and all the courses I took. I learned many, many things, things that later allowed me to find a job with the Public Service of Canada, at the Privy Council Office. I am responsible for sorting the Prime Minister's mail, whether it be e-mail or mail from the post office. I am proud of that because I have been in that position for 18 years.
Benoit Trottier: Do you consider yourself a happy person?
Yves Pinette: I still consider myself happy. The fact that I've had a lot of obstacles in my life, whether personal, social, community or family, means that I still consider myself happy and equipped, above all, to face the future or to be able to help people. Being able to help is what gives me the greatest pleasure, when I can help someone. It makes me feel good about myself, it makes me proud. Either through my experience, or by sharing my experiences, if it can help someone, so much the better. I've had a lot of problems myself. There have been moments when I've hit rock bottom a few times in my life. It's happened a lot. A couple of times it happened. It's pretty hard to get out of—
Benoit Trottier: From that barrel there—
Yves Pinette: From that barrel there, to rise to the surface, as they say. It's hard, there are hard times in life. The fact that I may have had too much freedom in my youth, [not having] enough rules, or being separated from my community is hard, very hard. You get bored, you get really bored. You learn to live alone and then you are alone. That solitude can be harmful to an individual. It can even lead to thinking about suicide. You have to keep in touch. When I was talking about balance, I also need to go and recharge my batteries. Every time I do, it makes me very proud, and when I don't, that's when I become unhappy.
Benoit Trottier: If you were invited to speak to a class of young people in your community, and you knew that some of those young people were suffering, what would you tell them?
I would tell them never to give up, and especially to talk about it. Never keep it inside. That's what gnaws at us, [what] destroys us is when we keep it inside. I would tell young people to talk about it and I would tell us, the adults, to give them the means to talk about it.
Benoit Trottier: Yves, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today.
Yves Pinette: Tshinashkumitin [thank you in Innu language], Benoit. It gives me great pleasure to share a little bit of my experience with you.
Annie Leblond: This podcast is a production of the Canada School of Public Service.
To learn more about what the School offers in its Indigenous Learning Series, visit our website at www.efpc-csps.gc.ca.
This is Annie Leblond. On behalf of the School, thank you for listening.