Isadore Charters: The Healing Pole

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"Isadore Charters" (CC BY 2.0) by SFU - Communications & Marketing

Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at the story of Isadore Charters. He was taken from his home as a young child. He lost his culture but found healing.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1 

Isadore Charters stands on a beautiful hill in the country of Canada. He looks out at the fields of grass. He sees mountains in the distance. Charters’ hair is now grey. But he remembers many happy days on these hills. When he was a child, he ran over the grass and climbed trees. But when he was young, nobody called him Isadore Charters. The only name he knew was Yenmo Ceetza. His family called him Yummo. But one sad day, officials took Yummo away. They placed him in a government school, far away from his family. And they called him Isadore Charters. Officials took Charters away from everything he knew. And it has taken him many years to find peace and recover from this hurt. Today’s Spotlight is on Isadore Charters and his story of faith and healing.

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Charters is a member of the Okanagan and Thompson tribes. These are two of Canada’s first nations – the native people who lived in Canada before Europeans arrived. Charters’ ancestors had lived in the hill country of Western Canada for thousands of years.

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As a child, Charters loved his tribe. And he loved living on their land. But when he was six years old, his life changed. One morning a truck came to his home. Officials took Charters and his brothers. They put the boys in the truck. The truck was filled with other crying children. All the children were from first nations tribes. And the government was placing them in government managed residential schools – far from their homes. The Canadian government threatened the native parents. If they did not send their children to the residential school, the government would send the parents to prison.

Kamloops Lake in British Colombia, Canada
Kamloops Lake in British Colombia, Canada; Image from Pixabay
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This is a common story for many first nations tribe members in Canada. From 1876 to 1996, the Canadian government forced 150,000 first nations children to attend residential schools. The goal of these schools was to force native children to become part of the majority culture. School officials worked to rid Canada of first nations culture. You can hear more about these schools in an earlier Spotlight program called Truth and Reconciliation for Canada.

Voice 1 

Charters lived at a residential school managed by the Catholic Church. When he arrived, a nun told him that his name was not Yummo. This female religious worker told him that his English name was Isadore Charters. And from then on, she said that he must only be Isadore Charters. The nuns told Charters that native culture was evil. They said that he needed to forget the ways of his tribe. And they did not let him speak his tribal language. Charters told the Chilliwack Progress news organization,

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“They took away who I was – my language, my traditions, my culture.”

Voice 2 

One of the nuns at the school was very kind to Charters. She talked about the love of God and her Christian faith. At times, Charters said he could feel God even at the school. Over time, Charters struggled with the idea of becoming a Christian. The school was managed by Christian leaders that did not respect him or his culture. But he believed strongly in God, and he wanted to become a saint – a holy person of the Christian church. So one day, he got on his knees. He placed his back toward the school and his face toward the grass of the fields. He told God that he wanted to become a Saint. Charters told Spotlight,

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“God was there. We were talking. He was talking to me, and I knew he was there.”

Voice 1 

But very soon after that, Charters stopped believing in God. He experienced a terrible tragedy. A worker at the school began to molest him. This person forced Charters to perform sexual acts with him.

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Charters became very angry – at the worker and at God. He began using art to express his pain and anger. He made pictures of snakes coming out of peoples’ mouths and pictures with knives and blood. After a short time, Charters began to drink alcohol. He thought alcohol would help get rid of his pain. By the time he was 12 years old, Charters was an alcoholic. He could no longer control his use of alcohol.

Classroom building of Kamloops Indian Residential School, Kamloops, British Columbia, around 1950;
Classroom building of Kamloops Indian Residential School, Kamloops, British Columbia, around 1950; Creator: Unknown / InconnuCanada. Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Library and Archives Canada, PA-207641, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Voice 1 

As an adult, Charters recognized that he needed to stop drinking. After many years, he decided to seek help. He looked to God and his native culture. Members of other tribes helped him. They prayed with him and encouraged him. This time was very healing for Charters. He came to recognize that he did not have to give up his culture to be a Christian. And he did not have to stop being a Christian to honor his culture.

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Charters believes that God was speaking to his first nations people all through their history. He thinks that their beliefs prepared them to hear the message of Jesus. He told Spotlight,

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“Our people already knew there was a special person on the earth. That is why it is easy for them to believe in Jesus.”

Voice 1 

After he stopped drinking, Charters went to art school. Today, he uses art to express the healing he has experienced – instead of only pain and anger. He paints pictures of first nations stories that he remembers from his childhood.

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Charters also believes that there needs to be healing between the larger Canadian and first nations cultures. So, Charters proposed an idea to help share his story and encourage healing. He decided to carve a totem pole. Totem poles are important in the native culture of Western Canada. A totem pole is a tall piece of wood. An artist uses sharp tools to carve pictures and symbols into the pole. These pictures tell a story.

Isadore Charters, carving his totem pole;
Isadore Charters, carving his totem pole; “Isadore Charters” (CC BY 2.0) by SFU – Communications & Marketing
Voice 1 

Charters decided that he would carve a totem pole that told the story of his healing. And he wanted other people to help him carve it. So, Charters traveled to schools, universities, churches and public places. He told his story, and then he invited people to help him. He gave them sharp tools to carve. Then, they could be a part of the healing – not just Charters’ healing, but Canada’s healing.

Isadore Charters (in blue) watches as a woman helps carve a totem pole at Simon Fraser University in Canada;
Isadore Charters (in blue) watches as a woman helps carve a totem pole at Simon Fraser University in Canada; “Isadore Charters” (CC BY 2.0) by SFU – Communications & Marketing
Voice 2 

When the healing pole was finished, Charters took it to the residential school where he lived, the school in Kamloops. This particular school was one of the largest residential schools in Canada. The pole was permanently placed in the ground. When it was installed, the community held a celebration to honor the totem pole. The community performed a first nations power dance. Then, they prayed together. And the very place that caused so much pain can now be a place of hope for the future.

Voice 1 

Have you ever seen art help in the process of healing? Do you think hope for the future is possible in all harmful situations? Tell us what you think. You can email us at You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Jennifer Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, “Isadore Charters: The Healing Pole.”

Voice 1 

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


What are some wonderful things about your culture? What part of your culture would you be sad to lose?



Join the discussion

  • Our culture here in Saudi Arabia it has many wonderful things, for example, people here still interested submitted to the best food or sweets to the guest in every celebration even if they don’t have anything to eat for them, they sacrifice by anything considered a value for them just to gain the money to pay the food and sweets to the guest. Sure I will be sad if this disappears.

  • Hi from Venezuela. One of the more wonderful thing of the culture of my country is the respect for the nature that the first nations showed in ancient times. They believed, for example, that the greatest mountains were Gods and they had many interesting stories about it. Other wonderful thing that there is in my country is a variety of traditional music and would be very sad that this manifestations of culture disappear. Thank you for this interesting program.

  • there are many people using art to reflect their healing like schizophrenia patients , i hope you make a broadcast about that ,
    and i want to thank you about your efforts in this amazing website and channel in you tube.

    best wishes

  • I’m Iraqi ,
    Our cultures here are more than one !
    One of them is to appreciate any guest from any culture , color and ethics
    Also we have what called “Iraqi tea”, consider the most delicious tea in the Arabic countries , finally we love each other incredibly,
    I will appreciate my cultures for ever .

  • Actually I don’t know anything about my culture cuz I didn’t live in my motherland before or seen it even cuz my country is so weak and poor it’s part of Africa you can imagine the rest

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