The Decolonization of Aboriginal Civilizations through Education For centuries the Canadian government’s emphasis has always been on public affairs, where the wealthy and powerful dominated and the primary inhabitants who established our lands were almost completely disregarded. In this essay, I will argue that the educational system of the Indian Residential School (IRS) failed to meet the needs of entire generations of Aboriginal peoples.
Even after the system’s discontinuation, the government continued to withhold any type of resolution for an entire decade and to this day the legacy of the IRS hangs heavy in aboriginal communities across Canada. I will prove that the Canadian federal system has failed in all accounts of Aboriginal students’ educational needs by looking at the provincial education system in comparison to the residential school system.
The IRS institutions were launched in the 1840s with aboriginal children as their principal target; through them the Canadian government hoped to “civilize” and conform the following generations of Aboriginals into mainstream Canadian society and Christianity. The IRS’s objective resulted in the imprudent violation of the Aboriginal peoples’ traditions and the denial of their fundamental human rights. Up until 1996, Aboriginal children suffered from substandard living conditions and were taught at an inadequate level of education by men and women who were not qualified to teach.
Although much has since been changed within the aboriginal education system, the legacy of the IRS system endures. It can be argued that the federal government sought to threaten the very existence of aboriginal peoples, and to annihilate the foundations on which the aboriginal ways of life were formed by replacing them with unfamiliar contemporary practice. As a nation that prides itself of multiculturalism and the legal protection of all cultures, Canada was unable to acknowledge and conserve the diverse aboriginal cultures. It was assumed that aboriginal children were the same across Canada.
Differences among tribes, bands, and individuals played no role in a federal policy that viewed aboriginal peoples as a singular object or problem that was in need of resolution. The IRS system was a dismal failure with far-reaching consequences for entire generations of aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal families were already sending their children to provincial public schools when federal policy intervened to declare IRS to be their sole educational option. The Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) guaranteed the failure of aboriginal children to compete socially or intellectually with their non-aboriginal neighbors.
I will illustrate how such a system lead to a significant gap in illiteracy rates between mainstream Canadian and Aboriginal children. The IRS system operated on a half-day curriculum during which children were removed from the classroom each day to do “occupational training” involving rudimentary tasks such as farming, harvesting, sewing, and constructing. At the root of the training was the lack of financial support available to the IRS. In a detailed comparison I will discuss the federal grants received by the IRS, which were less than 25% of the grants received by provincial public schools.
My comparison will further emphasize how the financial limitations on their federal budgets affected the Aboriginal children’s quality of education and overall life. Federal officials hoped to see the IRS system become self-supporting through the use of pupils raising crops, sewing clothes, and generally doing “occupational training”. Since the termination of the IRS system, the acknowledgment and progress of government compensation has helped to restore a sense of hope in the aboriginal community.
Although the government’s promises of a changed and better future support their efforts in alleviating the remnants of the IRS system, aboriginal peoples now face the hardships that were endured by their preceding generations with the justified belief that education is a tainted object of fear. Throughout the majority of Canadian history, the federal government utilized the IRS system to deprive Aboriginal peoples of their rights to proper living and education and have done little to reverse their damages.
Annotated Bibliography Belanger, P. (2012). Dialogic Potential in the Shadow of Canada’s Indian Residential School System. Argumentation and Advocacy, 49(1), 16. In his article, Patrick Belanger argues that although efforts are being made by the Canadian government to express their remorse to the aboriginal community, the apology they offered, presented by Stephen Harper attracted public attention that was greater in scope than the apology’s sincerity.
Belanger supports his argument by exploring incidents and statements in the past made by Harper and his inaccurate historical record. Belanger highlights how earlier on Harper had denied any “history of colonialism” in Canada, albeit admitting to five centuries of institutionalized racism and aggressive assimilation. Belanger also states how Harper narrowed his apology to the IRS system and disregarded other issues such as the violation and appropriation of Native treaties and lands.
This article is helpful to my research because it supports the argument that although the Canadian government is making efforts to resolve the past, most of the progress that they propose is heavily focused on the future without particular attention and mediation to actual past events. Elias, B. , Mignone, J. , Hall, M. , Hong, S. P. , Hart, L. , & Sareen, J. (2012). Trauma and Suicide Behaviour Histories Among a Canadian Indigenous Population: An Empirical Exploration of the Potential Role of Canada’s Residential School System. Social Science & Medicine, 74, 1560-1569.
In this article, the authors theorize that the IRS system left a pattern of suicidal behaviors that has passed on inter-generationally. The authors support their argument by conducting an empirical study to investigate the association of the IRS system with trauma and abusive behaviors. They collected data from residential and non-residential school attendees and their analyses found that for residential school attendees, negative experiences in the school were associated with a history of abuse and for those of younger age, they were also associated with suicidal attempts.
For non-residential attendees who had a parent or grandparent who was an attendee, there was also an association with a history of abuse. This history, along with age and having had parents or grandparents who were attendees, was associated with a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts. This article is helpful to my research because it helps to show how the hindrances of the IRS system still linger in today’s generation and how the damages are still not being properly reconciled today.
MacDonald, D. B. , & Hudson, G. (2011). The Genocide Question and Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 45(2), 427-449. In their article, MacDonald and Hudson explore the crimes committed against Aboriginal peoples throughout the existence of the IRS and how it compares to genocide. They support their argument by considering existing international and domestic laws on genocide and applying these laws and theories meaningfully in the IRS system.
This article is useful to my research because it discusses the interpretations of the crimes within the IRS system. It also uses a pool of evidence from survivors and documents to help me form concrete judgments on the crimes committed by the government. Miller, J. R. (2002). Troubled Legacy: A History of Native Residential Schools. Saskatchewan Law Review, 66, 357. In his article, J. R. Miller discusses the history of the IRS system and argues that there is not enough exposure of the scope of the system’s evolution over the centuries.
Miller supports his article by tracking the historical record of the IRS system and pointing out specific faults made by the Catholic Church and the federal government. He shows how inadequate government financing dating back to the late 1800s contributed to inadequate pedagogy, insufficient child care, and other forms of abuse. This article is helpful to my research because it focuses on the consequences of the system’s financial and social deficiencies and how they caused aboriginal communities to turn against the institution of education.
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