The residential school system of Canada are network of residential school for Aboriginal peoples of Canada funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs, and administered by Christian churches. In the early twentieth century, young natives were removed from their families, and deprived of their ancestral languages, exposed physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their teachers and other students. In this essay, I will discuss about how those young natives affected by residential school system in their future life and what have government or organization done to help them out.
There are two opposite parties commenting on residential school system. The child welfare agencies insisted they were acting in the children’s best interest – simply moving them into better environment than they were getting in their native parents’ home. However, Manitoba family court Judge Edwin Kimelman claims that the action of taking kids away like this was totally unacceptable (Michael 445).
As we can see, residential schools have had lasting effects on aboriginal communities. We can conclude that as a removal of next generation. The documentary “Unrepentant – Canada’s Genocide” is a documentary which contains first-hand testimonies from residential school survivors. Kevin Annett – director of this documentary faced firing and the loss of his family, reputation as a result of his efforts to help survivors and bring out the truth of the residential schools. According the documentary, children were prohibited from and punished for speaking their own languages or practicing their own faiths even among themselves and outside the classroom, so that English or French would be learned ,as a result, their own languages forgotten.
They were subject to corporal punishment for speaking their own languages or for practicing non-Christian faiths (Kevin). Physical and sexual abuses were a common occurrence at the school. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and a lack of medical care led to high rates of tuberculosis, and death rates of up to 69 percent. A “Globe and Mail “examination of documents in the National Archives reveals that children continued to die from tuberculosis at alarming rates for at least four decades after a senior official at the Department of Indian Affairs initially warned in 1907 that schools were making no effort to separate healthy children from those sick with the highly contagious disease (Bill and Karen).
Even murder happened at residential school system. Steve. H, a survivor of Paul’s Catholic Day School, North Vancouver, witnessed a murder in 1966. “When I was six years old, I saw a little girl killed in front of me by a nun, Sister Pierre, whose real name was Ethel Lynn. The girl she killed was Elaine Dick, who was five years old. The nun kicked her hard in the side of neck and I heard this terrible snap. She fell to the floor and didn’t move. She died right in front of us. Then the nun told us to step over her body and go to class.” (Kevin). Irene Favel, another survivor of Muscowequan Catholic residential school in Lestock, Saskatchewan, whiteness a newborn baby thrown alive into a furnace at that school by a priest in 1944 (Irene).
It is heartbreak that this kind of tragedy happened in the past. Nuns or priests asked students to witness murder like these will definitely affect their grown up process. The worst part is that they still deny what they have done.
It is obvious that the residential school system was aimed to convert indigenous children to Christianity and to “civilize them” by different cruel ways. In “Canada’s “Genocide”, “genocide” does not generally mean killing in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, but forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. This act maybe referred to as cultural genocide.
This kind of genocide had to perform in serial criteria, by eliminating those children’s name, language, families, childhood, religion, and above all, their identities. Children’s names were changed several times. They were shipped far away from families, denied contact with parents, siblings or communities or information about their culture.
The Bringing Them Home is a contribution to the strength and struggles of many thousands of Aboriginal affected by the residential school system. The report was established by the federal Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch, on 11 May 1995.
The Bringing Them Home (BTH) report quoted that:
…the forced transfer of children to a group where they would be given an education different from that of their own group, and would have new customs, a new religion and probably a new language, was in practice tantamount to the destruction of their group, whose future depended on that generation of children.; in such cases there would be no question of mass murder, mutilation, torture or malnutrition; yet if the intent of the transfer were the destruction of the group, a crime of genocide would undoubtedly have been committed. (UN General Assembly 1948–1949:195) (Van Krieken).
The Report concluded that the policy of removing native children from Aboriginal groups for the purpose of raising them separately from their culture and people, could properly be labeled “ cultural genocidal”.
In some points, some activities executed at residential school are much serious than “cultural genocide”. First of all, emotional and sexual abuses occurred at the school, which influence those children in a bad way, led to high rate of committing suicide. Moreover, according Virginia, a survivor of St. Eugene Residential School of Catholic Church in the documentary, she was forced to play with smallpox students even the nuns knew they were sick. Some of children were even asked to sleep with sick children. The residential school system used smallpox infection to limit the number of next generation. According to the government official license doctor Peter Brice, the annual dearth rate of residential school is nearly 50% between 1894 and 1908. “They were intentionally killing native children. It is a murder, genocide” (Kevin).
A nearly 50% dearth rate of residential school, shows that the situation in those schools are terrible. Students kept dying because of infection of small pox and other diseases. It’s way more than just cultural genocide, its mass murder.
The article, “Canada’s “Genocide” which published in 1999, claims no Canadian body has ever officially taken responsibility, or apologized, for the policies (Michael 445). However, on June 11, 2008 – Prime Minister Harper offered Canada’s aboriginal peoples an official apology for the government’s involvement in the Indian residential school system and its ongoing policy of forced assimilation. Also, the University of Manitoba apologizes for the century-long assimilation policy – which means stealing a generation. We apologize to our students who are the children, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Indian residential school survivors. We apologize to our Indigenous faculty, who has also been directly or indirectly harmed by the Indian residential school system (Kathryn). However, for those survivors, they said “We can receive it [the apology], but it’s up to us as individuals to decide if we accept it. There is still healing to go on, and that may take generations to happen. This goes a long way in helping some of us.” (Kathryn).
John S. Milloy pointed out the long-term impacts for those natives. It is clear that the schools have been, arguably, the most damaging of the many elements of Canada’s colonization of this land’s original peoples and, as their consequences still affect the lives of Aboriginal people today, they remain so (Erin).
I believe official apologies made by governments and churches, reliefs some people’s pain in a short way. However, I believe there is still a long way to go. The experiences taken in past years of natives can hardly be forgotten, since it already caused huge impact towards their lives. The only thing we can do, is to study how things have already been done, we can avoid it happen again. That’s the only thing matters.
Courtney from Study Moose
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