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The movie “Where the spirit lives” is a very touching story about a teenaged aboriginal girl and her brother, who are kidnapped-legally under the laws of the Canadian government, and were brought to a residential school to be educated to be non-Indians. There, they were forced and misled into giving up their language, heritage and very identity. But the girl’s finds a friend in one of her teachers who became her mentor. She eventually escapes from the school and tries to find her way back to her family.
In the residential schools there were many abuses that had taken place. There were physical, mental and sexual abuses done to the native children who were sent there. In the start of the whole course of action the children were kidnapped from their family and home. Then they get shipped off to different residential schools sometimes separating brothers and sisters. This beginning of the process in itself was a mental abuse.
The children had no idea what was going and they were terrified. Not to mention the separating of brothers and sisters. It would be horrible enough to get separated from your home but to separate you from your only connection left with family is awful. The people who handled the children weren’t all that nice either. They had no concern for the wishes of the children and often times show contempt for them and repugnance.
They’d get called names like “Ignorant savages” or “Heathen children”.
The children couldn’t understand their derision and were very confused. After that they were “cleaned up” which meant their hair would be cut (which is very bad since in many aboriginal cultures their hair has spiritual meaning), clothes were discarded, then they were scrubbed up, and given new Christian names. They were prohibited from speaking their native language, forced to stop practicing their culture and basically were being “turned white”. The whole process is awful for the children who had never known such brutal regard and maybe some of them thought it was their fault.
There was also the loss of their culture to be considered which essentially meant the loss of their identity. The reverend who runs the school even used an analogy of knocking the old soil from a plant’s roots to help it grow to justify taking the children from their families and way of life and forcing them to forget about their heritage. Even when they got to the schools some of the other children were being cruel as any of the other people who ran the school. Which made the children even more confused that one of their own kind could be so cruel. The teachers were also constantly beating up the kids.
In that way, it was almost impossible to learn because they were terrified of them and the kids lived in constant fear, which is a terrible burden on anybody especially the children. Whenever any of them ran away they’d get brought back and punished either physically or by locking you up in isolation for a while. Then they pile up the guilt on them and manipulate them into submission. There was also chaos within the children themselves in that they were divided into the kids who were trying to assimilate and those who refused to as a result they’d fight with each other. The kids were also told sometimes that their parents have died or refused to let them see their parents. All of these contribute to the mental abuses towards the children. They were terrified, confused, felt guilty, and were losing themselves along with their heritage.
As mentioned above there was physical abuse being practiced daily in the residential schools. Kids got lashed frequently on the benches for simple misdeeds. They got tied up in bed if they got unruly. As punishment they let them starve. At one point the girl’s brother in the story was almost beaten up with a cane and was pulled around by his hair but a friend of theirs helped him and that friend was almost beaten with a baseball bat, which could have killed him. Its horrible for physical abuse to happen to anybody but the fact that this happened to children makes it doubly horrifying. These are not adults who can at least defend themselves a bit but little children who cannot defend themselves.
Another form of abuse that was the sexual abuses done to the children by both male and female teachers or significant others towards both the male and female children. In the film one of the young girls in the school was sexual abused by a female teacher. This combined with the fact that she was being kept away from her parents eventually lead her to running away to follow her tribe but she could catch up with them and she dies. Sexual abuse is particularly damaging to a child who feels guilt and ashamed at their selves and could eventually lead to suicide in one way or another.
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