Viet Nam veteran an Indigenous liaison in prisons

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Frank Daniels lives off the Old Smith Highway. He and his wife Isabelle Auger were two of the first Indigenous liaisons in Alberta prisons. They then worked with Child Services. Daniels is now on the Wisdom Board for Alberta Health Services.

Daniels is Oji-Cree. Auger is from Bigstone Cree Nation. She speaks Northern Bush Cree and he speaks Oji-Cree. These are different dialects, but they can understand each other.

“We’re here to help our people,” says Daniels. “Free our people.”|

Daniels and Auger met in 1986. He was working in Cardston as a mechanic.

“I went to a round dance in Frog Lake,” says Daniels. “I met Alvina, Isabelle’s eldest daughter. I did an invocation, before a dance; we talk you know. I began to know her. I was with my mom and the grandchildren (Daniels’ sister’s kids), we were raising. ‘You’ve got to meet my mom’ Alvina said.”

Daniels and Auger met at Frog Lake. They got on well. They are both interested in culture.

“In ‘87, we got together,” Daniels says. “We stayed together. We got married by our elder, Pet Waskahot,” from Frog Lake.

Daniels and Auger raised four grandchildren. They worked as Indigenous Liaison with corrections for years.

“We taught our culture,” Daniels says.

In 2009, some of the inmates told Daniels and Auger that if they’d met them when they were younger, they wouldn’t have ended up in prison.

Daniels and Auger decided to become liaisons with Children’s Services. They retired in 2013.

The two of them travelled a lot. They went to Ottawa to meet with the senate.

Daniels is proud of a photo of Auger in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

On that trip, they went to fisherman’s wharf and to Esquimalt for a potlatch on the reserve, he says.

Daniels has been dancing for 65 years. Daniels and Auger enjoy traditional dancing and culture. They competed at powwows.

“I teach tradition,” Daniels says.

In 2005, Auger received an Esquao Award for culture. She also received letters from the Premier and Prime Minister on her 75th birthday in 2013.

After retirement, they became involved with the Wisdom Council for AHS.

Auger has dementia, so is no longer on the board. She lives in a facility in High Prairie. Daniels visits her every week.

Daniels is a baby boomer and residential school survivor. He was born in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan in 1944. Fort Qu’Appelle is about 60 km northeast of Regina. He was raised by his grandparents on reserve.

When Daniel’s grew up there were no vehicles on reserve, everyone used horses and wagons. Each town had a livery stable. He’d heard the train whistle, but never seen a train. His grandfather told him it was a big thing that hauls stuff. Daniels didn’t understand, until his first trip to residential school in 1949 or 50.

The one he rode on was a steam engine. He road it to Kamsack, close to Yorkton, Saskatchewan.

He first went to residential school on The Key Reserve. The school was called St. Phillips.

“It wasn’t bad because we were on reserve,” Daniels says. “It was Catholic. I grew up Catholic.”

“The next year, we went to Lebret,” says Daniels. This was when he “first encountered abuse. In the early days, it was worse. I got out of that in 1954, because they were building a school on reserve. It opened in 1957.”

“Things began to go bad on reserve,” says Daniels. Everyone carried the bad stuff back with them. “It was worse in the elder’s days. They helped us with the abuse we went through.”

In 1960, Daniels’ grandmother died.

“Then I went to pieces,” he says.

Daniels started drinking. His grandfather was concerned, so he sent Daniels to live with his aunt in Helena, Montana. |

“My aunt was a strong Christian and she lived in Montana,” Daniels says. “She helped me a lot. I was using alcohol and she got me to keep sober.”

Daniels’ aunt passed on her religious values. Daniels lived in the States for 11 years. Daniels is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Over the years, Daniels went to Remembrance Day services in Hobbema, when that became too far, he went to Wabasca. In 2019, he decided to attend the service in Slave Lake. He went to honour his uncles who fought with the Canadian Armed Forces in Korea. His uncles were George Daniels, Victor Daniels, and Laurence Bellegarde, they survived the war, but have since died of old age.

Eight or nine men from Daniels’ reserve alone fought in Korea, as did men from many other reserves, says Daniels.

Daniels is related to the national chief, Perry Bellegarde, from Fort Qu’Appelle.

“I worked on my addictions in my teens,” Daniels says. “Then I got into helping people, with all of my experience and knowledge.”

Daniels spent some time on his reserve to help people with their alcohol problems. He was also a heavy duty mechanic. He worked all over Alberta and the territories.

“That was the thing at the time,” Daniels says, about becoming a heavy duty mechanic. “All the work was in the territories.”

They lived in Edmonton for many years, before he and Auger bought the land off the Old Smith Highway.

Daniels and Auger were involved with teaching culture. The invitation to work as Indigenous liaison at the penitentiary surprised them.

The person who asked them to be liaisons told them that ‘the inmates think you people are elders, because of how you work’ Daniels says.

Daniels knew the warden at Bowden Institute. Daniel’s grandfather used to work for his family on a mink farm.

The warden was very encouraging and accommodating.

When they first went to the prison, Daniels learned that most of the Indigenous inmates didn’t know anything about their culture.

Daniels and Auger did ceremonies and prayers. They built a sweat lodge and put up a teepee by the chapel.

“We got it going,” says Daniels. “It went well. The wardens even came and joined us.”

Speaking of the first sweat lodge, reminds Daniels of the way the elders used the sweat lodge to help him as a young man.

In the old days, sweat lodges were a place to heal, Daniels says. During the two month summer holidays, the elders at his reserve had the kids use the sweat lodge.

The focus is on healing, Daniels says. “They took the residential school out of us. That’s our way of corrections.”

Traditional medicine focuses on mind, body and spirit.

Daniels is still close with some of the people he helped in prison. They come and pick him up and introduce him to their families.

“They call me ‘mushum’ (grandfather),” he says.

There’s a problem with the health services, just like there was in the prisons and child services, says Daniels. “They can’t really assess us (Indigenous people). They don’t know our language or culture.”

This is why Daniels works with the head people of AHS.

One of the projects the AHS Wisdom Board is working on is a Fort Qu’Appelle model hospital in the river valley in Edmonton. The goal is to have both doctors and elders and western and traditional Indigenous medicine. The goal is for doctors to learn Indigenous values and medicine.

Daniels is also on a board of elders from across the nation that meets twice a year. They met in Vancouver in October and will meet in Gatineau, Quebec in March. The goal is for all first nations to have united voice when speaking nation to nation with the federal government.

Frank Daniels
The couple on the left are Frank Daniels and Isabelle Auger. The couple on the right are their late friend Earl Healy (Daniels wasn’t sure of the spelling) and his wife. The photo was taken at a pow wow where they were competing in the golden age category, possibly in the 1990s.

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