Maggie Smith on Feb. 2, 2020 in front of the building she lived in as a young girl from 1968 to 1971 at St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission. (Facebook)

Maggie Smith on Feb. 2, 2020 in front of the building she lived in as a young girl from 1968 to 1971 at St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission. (Facebook)

Maggie and Tim: B.C. residential school survivor turns to faith, forgiveness in mourning son

A young man’s tragic death and his mother’s survival through hardship

Part two in a two-part story about Maggie and Tim. An Indigenous mother who lives proudly with determination despite her many hardships endured over her 57 years, and a son who didn’t survive his own troubles over his 25 years. See part one here.

•••

More than 50 years ago, Maggie Smith lived in the tiny and remote community of Port Douglas at the north end of Harrison Lake where she and her siblings heard and spoke the Halq’emeylem language.

Then, one day she was gone.

Maggie doesn’t remember how or exactly when, but she and her siblings, like approximately 2,000 Indigenous children in British Columbia, were taken to the St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission.

“I don’t know how I got there,” Smith said. “I just remember being there.”

Born in 1963, Maggie was at St. Mary’s from 1968 to 1971, a time that had a lifelong impact on her.

Two classroom experiences are fresh in her mind as examples of trauma that impacted her greatly. One time she recalls a teacher over her desk holding a pointer stick. The teacher was yelling at her, trying to get her to tell the difference between a capital “I” and a small “i”.

“She slapped the pointer stick on the desk and she scared me so much that I wet my pants,” Maggie said. “All the kids were laughing.”

Then there was the time when she got all her math answers wrong. She was sent to the principal’s office and got strapped for it.

Two examples of a learning environment that might not be uncommon in any school in the 1960s. But to be so far away from her family, so far removed from the culture she was born into, made everything worse.

“The hardest part was being away from your family all the time,” she said. “It was hard to understand why we needed to be taken away. You are there and you are lonely because your family is far away.

“They made us go to church and do confessions. I don’t remember my language at all. We weren’t allowed to speak our language.”

After her time in the residential school, her father, who was an alcoholic died when she was just 10. She then lived with her mother in Chilliwack where she endured all-too-common racism towards Indigenous people.

What saved her was her Christian faith. She started to go to church as a teenager and it stuck.

“Having faith helped me to overcome my past,” she said. “I think I needed that in my life.”

And while she did not suffer some of the more serious abuse many residential school survivors report, she knows some of her siblings suffered greatly. But no one much likes to talk about it.

“I don’t know what they went through.”

One younger sister is still dealing with her trauma. Her brother Lloyd lives in Pemberton but he doesn’t like coming off the reserve.

Flanked by her daughter Sarah and eldest son Jared, Maggie White holds a photograph of her son Tim Postma who died on the streets of Chilliwack on Jan. 22, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)


Eventually Maggie got married and moved to Ontario. She had three children, Jared, Sarah and Tim, all with their father John Postma. The marriage deteriorated and while the children stayed in Ontario, in 2008 Maggie came back to Chilliwack.

“I came so I could have a better life and start over,” she said.

A petite woman, Maggie has a strength of spirit that she shares with all who meet her. She works long hours, sometimes six days a week at a retirement home. She goes to church, and she bakes and does crafts which she shares with friends and even strangers.

Maggie’s fear of learning persisted until about a decade ago when counselling helped.

But it was her son Tim’s struggles with substances and homelessness that captured much of her attention. Tim lived in various communities, but was mostly homeless here in Chilliwack. Maggie would go look for Tim in between shifts at work, sometimes to invite him home for a meal or to clean up, sometimes she would sit with him and his friends.

Her life of experiences, from her own trauma to her faith, helped inform how she dealt with not only Tim but with his friends. And she learned from them.

“Tim taught me not to judge,” she said. “All they need is someone to listen to them and not judge.”

She wanted him to get help, but she couldn’t make him, so she just did her best to help him day by day. But on Jan. 22 at approximately 3 a.m. Tim was found by an RCMP officer on a side street inside a commercial trailer that was on fire. He was taken to hospital but he died of hypothermia and asphyxiation.

Maggie was at work when they told her.

READ MORE: One dead after early morning fire in commercial trailer downtown Chilliwack

Tim’s death has been very hard for Maggie. She is losing weight, she says, and doesn’t have much to lose. She is grieving and will be for some time.

She wanted to tell Tim’s story, and her own, to honour him so his death was not forgotten, so that Tim was not left to be just another statistic in the opioid crisis or the homelessness epidemic.

His death is one more thing Maggie will have to endure, but endure she has. So much was taken away from her and all of Canada’s Indigenous people through the residential school system, but Maggie wants to claw some of it back.

Through counselling she has overcome the fear imbued in her at St. Mary’s, and one day she is thinking of learning her traditional language.

“It took me a long time to overcome those fears. I had to find myself after being in a residential school. You don’t know which way to turn. You don’t know who you are. You have to find yourself and see who you are.

“I am now seeing myself as a person, not as that little girl who was living in fear.”

With faith and forgiveness she has overcome sexual abuse and cultural destruction, both are what she will need moving forward to get over the death of Tim.

PART ONE: A residential school survivor and her son who died on Chilliwack’s streets


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

@PeeJayAitch
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Fatal FireHomelessresidential schools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jogas Espresso Café was one of three Grand Forks establishments targeted in Sunday’s vandalism spree, Jan. 17. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Vandalism spree targets Grand Forks businesses

City RCMP said they arrested a male suspect Sunday, Jan. 17

A map released by the BCCDC Friday, Jan. 15 shows five diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks health area. Photo: Maps: COVID-19 cases in BC, British Columbia Centre for Disease Control website
Five COVID-19 cases reported in Grand Forks area

The BC Centre for Disease Control announced the cases in a weekly update Friday, Jan. 15

Zoey Uniat is now three months old. Photo: Submitted
Castlegar baby with rare disorder progressing towards coming home

Fundraiser for Zoey Uniat has raised more than $50,000

Pioneer Arena is closing for the season. Photo: John Boivin
Castlegar’s Pioneer Arena and Nelson Civic Centre closing for season

RDCK is closing the ice at two of its arenas due to financial concerns related to COVID-19

Les Cleverly, formerly of Grand Forks Fire/Rescue, is suing the city as well as current and former city firefighters over alleged workplace bullying and defamation. File photo.
Former Grand Forks firefighter suing department, city over alleged conspiracy, constructed dismissal

Plaintiff Les Cleverly filed a notice of civil claim with the Supreme Court of BC in last week

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Heather Lucier, a pastor at Kelowna Harvest Fellowship, speaks to an RCMP officer outside of Harvest Ministries on Sunday, Jan. 10. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna church fined 2nd time for violating public health order

Harvest Ministries in Kelowna has previously said they will fight the tickets in court

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons was appointed to the NDP cabinet as minister of social development and poverty reduction after the October 2020 B.C. election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. job training fund increased for developmentally disabled

COVID-19 has affected 1,100 ‘precariously employed’ people

B.C. driver’s licence and identity cards incorporate medical services, but the passport option for land crossings is being phased out. (B.C. government)
B.C. abandons border ID cards built into driver’s licence

$35 option costing ICBC millions as demand dwindles

sdf
2nd in-school violence incident in Mission, B.C, ends in arrest

RCMP notified of local Instagram page with videos (now deleted) showing student assaults, bullying

BC Emergency Health Services has deployed the Major Incident Response Team (MIRRT) as COVID-19 positive cases rise in the Williams Lake region. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
B.C.’s rapid response paramedics deployed to Williams Lake as COVID-19 cases climb

BC Emergency Health Services has sent a Major Incident Rapid Response Team to the lakecity

(Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
RCMP say ice climber seriously injured after reportedly falling 12 metres near Abraham Lake

Police say man’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening

U.S. military units march in front of the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in Washington, as they rehearse for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, which will be held at the Capitol on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden aims for unifying speech at daunting moment for U.S.

President Donald Trump won’t be there to hear it

Most Read