Landing : Athabascau University

Cecilia Louis: Resilience in Education

Content Warning/TW: Violence, Residential School, Genocide

The following is a brief account of the life story of Cecilia Louis and the desire of the AU Social Justice Committee for CPA-BC to acknowledge Cecilia's legacy and commitment to education.

In 1945 when Cecilia Louis was 18 months old she was apprehended from her family near Merritt, BC and taken to live at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. During the eleven years that Cecilia spent at school she was deprived of her family, her language, her culture and security of person. She was starved, beaten and verbally abused by the Catholic priests and nuns that administered the school.

Cecilia and approximately 150,000 other indigenous children suffered through this institutional genocide disguised as education. Attendance in residential school became compulsory for all indigenous children through the Indian Act legislation in 1894.

I originally read about Cecilia’s story in a community newspaper as I sat in my accounting office only a few towns away her former home in the North Okanagan. The last paragraph floored me: Cecilia had passed away being only a few credits short of her Charted Accountancy designation, a credential she had pursued for 37 years. As a Chartered Accountant and settler woman, I was devastated that despite her exceptional tenacity, Cecilia was never able to complete her goal.

37 years. How could that be right? Most students of Chartered Accountancy spend around 8 years to achieve their credentials. Immediately I decided to contact the family to learn more about Cecilia’s exceptional commitment to accountancy and lifelong learning.

Cecilia’s son Leo told me his mom and dad escaped Residential school and ran away to Washington State over the border. Here, they labored as orchardists until his mother informed everyone she was going back to school. For Cecilia, it was matter-of-fact, and without fanfare.

“Just like that?” I implored. Yes, Leo assured me, just like that. Cecilia was a stoic, a leader, a mother-to-everyone. She never spoke of her Residential School trauma for 66 years, save for the heart wrenching accounts she managed to give the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. For Cecilia, life was about doing what needed to be done – for her children and all her relations. Residential school never got the best of Cecilia Louis.

Starting school is intimidating enough for those who have never been kidnapped and tortured by education. Intergenerational Residential School trauma has caused many indigenous folks to be apprehensive of settler education. 37 years. Imagine the courage to spend that long in a system that tried to break you; that robbed you of your parents and your language.

I asked Leo what delayed Cecilia in the pursuit of her designation. The answer was complex and multifaceted: poverty, work obligations, raising children, fostering children of her nation. Cecilia was rebuilding her community brick by brick – there were priorities. Sometimes education just had to take a backseat.

The morning her story came out, more children’s bodies were being found in unmarked residential school graves all across Canada. I looked across my office wall, at my Chartered Accountant parchment. Why did I get this, when Cecilia clearly deserved it just as much? As settlers we must ask these questions of ourselves, our professional bodies and educational institutions. As a gesture of reconciliation, we have asked CPA-BC to join us in honoring the tremendous efforts of Cecilia Louis. So far, we have not been successful. Please join us in petitioning for the story of Cecilia to be shared while so many are watching.

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