Residential Schools – The Canadian Holocaust
Thesis; the negative effects residential schools produced on an immense group of indigenous societies: stretching from the Yukon to Nova Scotia, enduring more then a century of cruelty and pain.
The Canadian residential school system was described by many as “killing the Indian in the child”. The first “school” was developed in the early 17th century by the Franciscans in New France, but the school had failed due to lack of students because attendance was not yet compulsory. These residential schools were primarily constructed on flat lands, in remote areas. This ensured a more difficult escape; the children could be seen for miles, seized and brought back. They came to be institutes of horror.
During the late 19th century the Canadian government took an initiative to better “educate” its first nation’s people. The department of Indian Affairs along with many religious organizations began funding these schools. Others involved were a vast list of government representatives; some still remain anonymous to this day. Various officials we know of included; local RCMP, doctors, judges, large corporations, not to mention every mainline church, including, Anglican, protestant, catholic, and the united church of Canada.
The purpose of these schools was to assimilate aboriginal youth into the Canadian-European society and better “educate” them for the fast-growing economy; it was believed they would not survive without it. What the government really wanted was to eliminate the aborigines so they wouldn’t have to deal with their “savage” neighbors while they began remolding their land.
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In reality, they were the “savage” ones. They kidnapped large numbers of indigenous children and hauled them thousands of miles from their homelands, from the distractions of family and community and later blamed the community leaders for complying.
One survivor of the Kuper Island Schools said it best when he explained, “the church people were worshipping the devil, not us. They wanted the gold, the coal, the land we occupied. So they terrorized us into giving it to them…”
Their diets had gone from eating fresh fish, wild game and nourishing berries, to practically being starved with oatmeal and even rotten food. The way they dressed, talked, and even slept and been completely altered. They were restricted from speaking their native tongues or practicing anything involving their culture. Their lives changes dramatically overnight.
Grade three was the acceptable standard of education; most students left the “schools” with barely a grade five-six average, and were discouraged from going onto a higher grade. A federal inspector cautioned Ontario Residential Schools from offering grade nine by saying, “if we let Indian people to go to grade nine, then they’ll want to go to grade 10, then to University, and that’s something we don’t want.”
Thousands of aboriginal children attended these schools, and were the only children in Canadian history forced to live in institutions primarily because of their race. They contained youth from many different aboriginal tribes all over Canada including Métis, Micmac, Maliseet and Inuit children, from ages 5-15.
The degree of their abuse was so extreme, brutal, and painful. Cruelty had no limit; even children as young as five we being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. Staff members would impregnate young girls and enforce abortions, but that is one third of the extremities that these children suffered. Here are a few examples of the torture inflicted on those young aboriginal children;
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-Tightened fish twine or wire around the little aboriginal boys genitals
-Stuck needles into their hands, cheeks, tongue, ears, and genitals for speaking their native languages;
-Immersed them in water for long periods of time
-Forced them to eat maggot-filled and regurgitated food
-Forced them to sleep outside during the winter months
-Forced them to stand upright for more than 12 hours until they collapsed
-Extracted teeth from their mouth without the use of painkillers
-Beat them until unconscious
Once the children left the schools they found themselves returning home after years of being away from families and communities. They had forgotten their traditional ways and felt like outsiders; by that time, they had completely forgotten their mother language. Suicide rates sky-rocketed amongst aboriginal communities, not to mention high rates in alcoholism, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and chronic depression.
They schools had forced the children to give up their ethnicity which in turn ruined their aboriginal way of life. They suffered from low self-esteem, because their culture was constantly put-down and teachers made them believe they were inferior to white. Some additional factors of abuse include loss of native language, culture, and traditional ways. Their childhoods are forever robbed. They were separated from family and community, love and nurturance. It is said that over 50,000 bodies of young aboriginal children have disappeared because of these aboriginal schools, “like they never existed” according to one survivor.
In 1990 Phil Fontaine, a leader of the Manitoba Chiefs demanded acknowledgement for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by the children while at the “schools”. In 2001 the Canadian government begins negotiating with the Churches involved in order to design a mean of compensation. Ottawa publicized a $2 billion compensation package for aboriginal people who were forced to attend residential schools. The government explained to the community leaders that those who were assimilated into these “schools”, and have been compensated cannot sue or take any government or religious organization to trial. In the end there were over 7200 claims and trials against churches and government.
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Aboriginal communities are still coping with the effect of residential schools today. Many of the survivors are parents and grandparents of their own today, and are biased against the education offered for their children. Who can blame them? After year of torture and genocide those adults will be affected all their lives. Which is where the aboriginal healing foundation comes in, which help survivors cope with their past, so they can live a healthy life, find hope and finally heal.
In conclusion, the residential school system was the most horrifying even to happen to Canadian history. A blurb in history that was somehow whipped clean but had still found its way to the surface; any form of government cannot commit genocide of such magnitude and disregard the consequences. There are always consequences for actions.