Reconnecting and sharing family’s story of survival
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It’s odd, I’m sure, to be a miracle.
It’s probably even more odd not to know you are one.
Janelle Delorme, a Métis researcher, historian and activist, is a miracle.
I recently attended an incredible presentation at the Université de Saint Boniface in which Delorme told over 200 people about her two-year journey to find her family history through French, Métis, and First Nations oral traditions and archival records.
She has been able to trace her lineage back more than 150 years.
This is where the miracle comes in.
Janelle’s great-grandfather is Fulgence Delorme, born in 1887 to Alexis Delorme and Justine Boyer, Métis parents from St. François Xavier. They had nine children.
Fulgence and his wife, Marie Rose Anna Nault, had only one child, Albert, when they lived in Fisher Branch, before he died of tuberculosis at age 32.
Albert is Janelle’s grandfather.
For years, Janelle thought she had no cousins because the Delorme family had scattered.
Questions about her family nagged at Janelle while she was at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I found a long-lost cousin, Shirley Delorme, through social media,” Janelle tells me, “And that’s when more pieces of the puzzle were put together.”
Shirley is a Métis librarian and activist. She works with me at the University of Manitoba in the Dafoe Library as the Indigenous librarian intern.
Together, the two of them reconnected their family through chat groups.
One night, Janelle was in a family chat when they discussed Fulgence. She describes this moment as “the bomb” that hit her family.
“My cousin Henry wrote to me: ‘I don’t know if you know but the Delorme kids went to one of THOSE schools.’”
That’s when Janelle discovered she was an intergenerational residential school survivor.
Through savvy detective work, Janelle and Janet LaFrance, the executive director of the St. Boniface Historical Society, alongside renowned archivists Anne Lindsay and Darian McKinney, found proof Fulgence was enrolled at the age of 14.
She has even uncovered a photograph taken on Winnipeg’s Main Street in 1892 that likely shows her great-grandfather.
If you haven’t heard about the St. Boniface Industrial School, I’ll ask you to draw upon some of the excellent work done by the Free Press when the story broke in the summer of 2021.
Here are the basic facts.
The Catholic school, which opened in 1890, was first run by the Grey Nuns and then the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In total, 280 students (150 First Nations and 130 Métis) were enrolled and head of the institution was Monseigneur Alexandre-Antonin Taché, who has a St. Boniface street named after him). There was a boys school and a girls school, where students learned mostly farming, carpentry, shoemaking, sewing, washing, and cooking.
Abuse was a daily part of life. We know this because many children ran away from the school and told their parents about atrocities that happened there.
A Winnipeg Tribune article in 1895 speaks about chief William Prince (from my community of St. Peter’s Indian Settlement) who “threatened violence” at the RCMP office after officers tried to take his child back to the school. There is also a document among Taché’s records detailing that numerous parents refused to send their children back to school after they had returned home.
In other words, Taché — yes, the individual our city holds up as so important to name one of our most important roads after — clearly knew something was up at the school.
Supporting these claims of abuse was the fact the St. Boniface Industrial School closed in 1905 because of a lack of students.
The claims of abuse by survivors of the school could be chalked up as hearsay until this fact hits you: 31 per cent of students died at the school or shortly after attending it.
That’s right: out of 280 students over 15 years, 87 died.
How they died is the kind of stuff out of a horror movie. The worst was erysipelas, an extremely painful skin infection caused by insect bites, cuts, burns, or bed sores. This it not to mention deaths from measles, pneumonia, fevers, bronchitis — and, of course, tuberculosis.
Anyone who knows how tuberculosis works, reoccurrence is common and often fatal, especially if not treated, or mistreated, the first time.
In all likelihood, Fulgence was a tuberculosis survivor who died of the disease a couple of decades after attending the school.
He lived just long enough to have one child, Albert, Janelle’s grandfather.
Janelle Delorme is a miracle.
A living miracle who is telling the story of her family’s survival.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, February 13, 2023 10:05 AM CST: Correts spelling of St. François Xavier