January 17, 2022

Aggie and Mudgy: The Journey of Two Kaska Dena Childen

Written by Wendy Proverbs
Wandering Fox (Heritage House)
144 pp.
Ages 8-12
November 2021

They were lost in a void, 
not understanding where they would end up. (pg. 99)

While there are an increasing number of middle-grade books about residential schools, few discuss the journeys that Indigenous children were forced to take from their home to get to those residential schools. Aggie and Mudgy is one such story. But it's also a tale of loss: of family, of names, of culture. And it is as painful as their journey.
In contemporary Vancouver, eight-year-old Maddy has found an old photo in her Nan's desk and begs her grandmother to tell her the story of the two little girls. And so Nan does, recounting the story of two young sisters from Daylu, a Kasha Dena community on the BC-Yukon border. As history has shown us, the arrival of those of the Catholic church brought much change, as it did in Daylu, where the First Nations people were first forcibly assimilated by being renamed. 
When we name something, it gives us a kind of ownership, doesn't it? (pg. 96)
Sisters Mac-kinnay and Beep were renamed Agnes and Martha but they called themselves Aggie and Mudgy. Then two years later, the young sisters, only 6 and 8, were taken away by Father Allard to go to school far away. How far away they could not have known.

Though leaving their home would have been frightening, the beginning of their journey starts with some comfort and familiarity as the priest employs two Indigenous brothers to transport them down the Liard River. The landscape, the food and the language are still their own. But after 300 km, their journey after Dease Lake becomes one of newness. As the priest and the girls travel six weeks by mail truck, paddle wheeler boat, steamship and train to the Lejac Residential School at Fraser Lake in central BC, the girls soon realized that their old ways would not be tolerated. Not the language they spoke, not the way they looked, nor the joys they savoured in the outdoors. And if Priest Allard and the nuns who aided them in their journey were not pleased, the children were shamed and beaten.
They couldn't respect different people and cultures, and if the children didn't obey, some priests and nuns could be very cruel. (pg. 47)
The girls' journey with Father Allard was just over 1600 km but it was just the beginning of the inevitable trauma that would be their residency at the Lejac school. Wendy Proverbs could have walked us into that school with Aggie and Mudgy but she knew that the journey of these two Kaska Dena children was important enough to be highlighted. Still, the story is told to enlighten and to acknowledge, not traumatize-it doesn't, though it could have– and by revealing her own personal connection (see "Author's Note" and "Acknowledgements" in Aggie and Mudgy), and giving Nan one as well, Wendy Proverbs has made the sisters' story both restrained and profound. Don't be surprised if a tear is shed.

Because Aggie and Mudgy tells a story within a story, with fiction embracing history, Wendy Proverbs, herself of Kaska Dena descent, has honoured her heritage and her ancestors. In fact, a nod of appreciation should be given to her as she does to others in her acknowledgements for sharing Aggie and Mudgy and purposefully shaking up the universe with truth.
Final appreciation to all of our ancestors who led the way for future generations to speak, dance, create, and indeed disturb the universe. (pg. 130)

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