At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony Mount Royal University bestows an honorary doctor of laws on Blackfoot elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

CALGARY — Clarence Wolfleg remembers the day his mother took him to school.

It was 1956 and for the next 5 1/2 years he attended the Old Sun Residential School outside Gleichen in southern Alberta.

“My first memory was when my mother suited me up in my finest — my GWG denim jacket, my new pants and my little fedora hat. I said, ‘Where am I going?’ She said, ‘We’re going to go to that place.’”

Wolfleg was 6 1/2 years old. He was able to earn high enough marks to attend a public school when he was 12.

He doesn’t say the name of the residential school. It’s simply “that place.”

Wolfleg, 72, shared some of his not-so-fond memories on Tuesday before Mount Royal University in Calgary bestowed him with an honorary doctor of laws degree for his efforts as an elder and spiritual adviser.

“It was horrible in a sense that I could not connect with my language to soothe my pain. I couldn’t cry because they told me you can’t cry, so my emotions was hidden inside of me,” he said.

Wolfleg’s mother gave some older boys “a few dollars” to protect him from some of the priests and other students. Leaving the institution is one of his better memories.

“The most happiest moment I had was when I left there and … I wasn’t going back. I looked back and said, ‘Well, you didn’t get the best of me. I’m still alive. My spirit is still with me.”’

Wolfleg said when he first entered the school, he committed to following his father’s example of joining the military and becoming a spiritual leader to his people.

He accomplished both.

Word that remains believed to be of Indigenous children were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has reawakened other memories for Wolfleg, known as Miiksika’am in Blackfoot.

“I had to think about three girls that were found not even 300 yards from (my) school,” said Wolfleg.

“They ran away from school and the house they went to was just a quarter mile down the road. A heavy snowstorm hit and they were found huddled on a hilltop south of the school.

“A little girl in the middle, she survived, but the other two passed away.”

University president Tim Rahilly said Wolfleg has become an icon at the institution and helped many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with his wisdom. He said the degree is the highest honour the school gives out and the decision was made long before the news out of Kamloops.

“We have been working for a long time on trying to recognize Indigenous ways of knowing and to recognize longer service of Indigenous folks in our community,” he said.

“I think the emotional weight of what’s happened recently is something that is on all of our minds.”

The graduation ceremony was not unlike a drive-in movie. Graduates sat in their cars watching the stage.

Chancellor Dawn Farrell paid tribute to residential schoolchildren as she addressed the graduates.

“Our hearts break for them, for their family, for their communities, for all of our residential school survivors and all of our Indigenous and First Nations people.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2021.


The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

residential schools

Just Posted

A small selection of shoes line a step at the municipal government building in Sylvan Lake, with each pair representing a vicitm of residential schools in Canada. Tracey Greinke placed the first pair of shoes on the steps, hoping more would follow. (Photo by Megan Roth/Black Press news services)
Sylvan Lake woman sets up small memorial for residential school victims

Tracey Grienke placed a pair of moccasins on the steps of town hall, and a few more followed

A section of the eastern slopes south west of Longview, Alta., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. A new report finds big differences in how different governments have responded to Canada’s promise to increase the amount of land it protects. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
A for Quebec, F for Alberta: Study rates Canadian governments on conservation

Report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony in memory of those killed during WWII as he takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, marking the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Putin hails WWII heroes, warns of degrading Europe security

Kremlin anxious to see international recognition of wartime sacrifices and its role in defeating Nazis

FILE - In this May 19, 2021, file photo, mice scurry around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham, Australia. A mouse plague that has ravaged vast swathes of eastern Australia has forced the evacuation of a prison while authorities repair gnawed electrical wiring and clear dead and decaying mice from wall cavities and ceilings, Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Australian prison to be evacuated after mice move in

Plagues usually happen when rain follows several years of drought

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell looks at his papers as Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, background left, talks to Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides during a European Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting at the European Council building in Luxembourg, Monday, June 21, 2021. EU foreign ministers were set to approve Monday a new set of sanctions against scores of officials in Belarus and prepare a series of measures aimed at the country’s economy. (Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP)
EU, US, UK, Canada join forces to slap sanctions on Belarus

Asset freezes and travel bans also imposed

Black Horse Singers performed for students at Ecole la Prairie on Monday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Students remind Red Deer that every child matters on National Indigenous Day

Heart-shaped messages to decorate trees at Ecole la Prairie through the summer

FILE - Canada’s Cyle Larin (17) scores past Haiti’s Josue Duverger, bottom left, during the second half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Bridgeview, Ill. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Toronto FC’s Zavaleta wastes little time settling in with El Salvador national team

Indiana-born Zavaleta qualifies for El Salvador through his father

Summer McIntosh swims her way to first place in the Women’s 800m Freestyle at the 2020 Olympic Swimming Trials in Toronto, Monday, June 21, 2021. McIntosh, who edged Rio Olympic star Penny Oleksiak in the 200-metre freestyle final a day earlier, picked up where she left off in the women’s 800-metre freestyle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Summer Time: 14-year-old McIntosh wins again at Olympic swim trials

McIntosh will be one of the youngest athletes in Tokyo

This undated photo provided by Walt Disney World shows Disney characters at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Walt Disney World is planning an 18-month celebration in honor of its 50th anniversary, starting in October 2021. Disney announced Tuesday, June 22 that all four parks at the resort will take part in “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.” (Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World via AP)
Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts Oct. 1

Favorite Disney characters will be part of a collection of special golden sculptures at all four parks

Columnist Treena Mielke
Family: When rain cancels ball game

The wild roses are out, blooming in roadside ditches, their gentle beauty… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson, center, tries to get position for a shot against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the second period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Stamkos, Vasilevskiy pace Lightning’s 8-0 rout of Islanders

Lightning 8 Islanders 0 (Tampa Bay leads series 3-2) TAMPA, Fla. —… Continue reading

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he’s ‘convinced’ the city will be able to get rid of the mandatory mask bylaw in July. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
‘Made in Calgary’ approach will keep mask requirements past Alberta’s total reopening

Calgary won’t be following provincial recommendations on the mandatory wearing of masks… Continue reading

Most Read