RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS - (1)What were the Native American schools in Canada? Why were they established as separate schools for Native Americans? Who was responsible for them? And why do they have a bad reputation today?

These are questions that concern many people, especially outside of Canada, and about which most Canadians know very little.

In this publication I have purposely not used the contemporary term "First Nations" as it did not exist in Canada in the situations described here, although a royal proclamation from 1763 refers to the indigenous peoples of some Commonwealth countries as "tribes" or "nations". .

However, the term First Nations has other meanings. Describes the Native Americans (Native Americans) of Canada (the Amerindians). Inuit and Métis do not consider themselves "First Nations" but rather "Aboriginal" (source: Assembly of First Nations).

The term "First Nations" originated in the 1970s to replace the name for Native Canadians as "Indian bands" as it was offensive to Native Americans. Banda in "government language" is a group of people whose right to inhabit a certain area has been reserved by the government through "Indian law" (hence the term "reservation").

There are 634 First Nations reserves in Canada with distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics.
Its inhabitants speak more than 50 different languages.

Now to the "Residential Schools":

Who ran these schools?

The administration of this separate school system was turned over by the Department of Indian Affairs to the Christian churches, mainly Catholic but also Anglican, Presbyterian and United (United Church).

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The goal of this educational system was to remove children from the sphere of influence of their parents and their culture and to assimilate them into Canadian culture. The schools were deliberately built outside of parental reservations to minimize children's contact with them, which was further reduced with visitor passes. Parents could only leave reservations in exceptional cases.

During its more than 100 years of existence, approximately 30% (about 150,000) of Native American, Métis, and Inuit children were forced to attend these schools. Student mortality is estimated between 3,200 and 6,000. They died of smallpox, measles, pneumonia, and tuberculosis due to the often unsanitary conditions in the unventilated premises. Many were buried in unmarked graves or were discharged, escaped, or missing. The Canadian government stopped cataloging dormitory deaths in the 1920s because there were simply too many.

Schools existed in every Canadian province except New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The last boarding school in Canada in Punnichy, Saskatchewan closed in 1996.

The term "residential" actually means that students attend these schools on a private and voluntary basis. Therefore, they are private schools outside of the public education system and are very expensive for students (or their parents) to attend.

However, the reasons for attending Indian 'private schools' varied greatly.
The government forcibly separated children from their parents and forced them to continue their education in areas very different from the normal school system.

The reason for this stark difference was enshrined in Canadian law before the Confederation of Canadian Provinces was formed in 1876. An amendment to the Indian Constitution Act in 1884 made it legal for all Indian children to attend residential schools.

Initially around 1,000 boys 69 attended the established boarding schools. By 1931 there were 80 such schools in every Canadian province except Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

In the mid-1960s, Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes by agents of the Department of Indian Affairs (mainly the RCMP) because Canada's welfare system applied to Native American families. The children were supposedly placed in foster families, but in reality they were housed in the boarding schools that existed at the time (source: TRC).

The RCMP, as the police force in charge of the reserves, played a significant role in the forcible removal of children, particularly when the parents rebelled (source: RCMP).


Theodore in the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School classroom circa 1949. He is standing in the second row, visible between the two children in the front row. (Theodore Fontaine)


How did the children live in the dormitories?

The children lived in inappropriate conditions and were emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by the priests and nuns employed as teachers. Most of the abused children (girls or boys) were ordered to offices by male or female public officials to be coerced into sexual acts (including intercourse) (source: TRC).

They had no way of reporting these events to anyone as they were completely cut off from the outside world and spent at least 10 months of the year away from their parents and families in schools. Therefore, there was no opportunity for them to experience examples of a normal family relationship,

Even brothers and sisters in the same schools didn't get a chance to meet each other because they were housed and taught separately. Interactions between boys and girls were prohibited.

Letters to her parents had to be written in English and were censored. Native languages ​​were prohibited, although their parents could speak or read little to no English. What the children learned was inferior to, and not comparable to, the regular school curriculum in Canada.

Feeding experiments have been carried out in some schools with newly admitted and malnourished children (source: CBC documentary).


What influence did the school have on the children?

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When the boys returned to their families and reservations after completing boarding school, they felt displaced (largely due to their religious indoctrination) and unable to reconnect with their old world, families, and friends.

Residential schools left an indelible damage on many students. They were separated from their families and their languages. The physical and sexual abuse of the nuns and priests caused traumatic stress that later in life led to alcohol and drug abuse and suicide, events that continue to this day in indigenous communities.

When did the truth about boarding schools come out?

On June 11, 2008, then-Prime Minister of Canada Stepen Harper publicly apologized on behalf of all Canadians for the harm inflicted on Native Americans under the boarding system. Shortly before Harper's apology, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established which, after interviewing some 7,000 boarding school graduates between 2008 and 2013, provided the government with full details about the widespread physical and sexual abuse of students.

The later-founded National Center for Truth and Reconciliation published the commission's findings, ruling in 2015 that running these schools amounted to virtual cultural genocide (or cultural cleansing, as opposed to ethnic cleansing).

The Canadian government spent several years negotiating with the four religious organizations that have run the boarding schools throughout their existence to develop a system of reparations for former students.


What has the Canadian state done to compensate?

In 2007, the government launched a plan that included $1.9 billion in repairs.

Each eligible student who survived May 30, 2005 received $10,000 for part or full year in boarding school, plus $3,000 for each additional year. As of September 30, 2013, 105,548 alumni had received $1.6 billion upon enrollment.

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The Residential Schools period is one of several political moments that the Canadian government cannot be proud of.

It is one of the blots on Canadian history, along with the $50 per capita tax on Chinese immigrants (1885, increased to $500 in 1903); Canada's refusal in 1914 to allow 367 Sikh Indians to land on the "Komegata Maru" in Vancouver; Canada's 1939 decision to prevent the MS St. Louis from disembarking with Jews fleeing Germany; and the long-term internment of Japanese-born Canadians during World War II.

These facts have been recognized as serious errors by the Canadian government. State recognitions were held at various times, and monuments and memorials were held and erected at various locations across Canada.

On Wednesday July 11, 2008, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to First Nations for failures in the boarding system. Current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized on November 24, 2017.


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Peter Iden

I was born on March 25, 1937 in Hamburg-Wandsbeck, attended elementary school, then technical and scientific secondary school and high school. My college ambitions ended when we immigrated to Canada in 1954. In Canada, like many early immigrants, I worked jobs offered by the employment office and acquaintances: squeegee worker, furniture mover, journalist, asphalt salesman, among other things as "postman" at the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories at the University of Toronto (for 3 years). I then worked for various import companies (including Bell & Howell, Braun Electric, Dr. Oetker, and Leica) before setting up my own business with my wife and family in 1974, first as a customs consultant, then as an importer and "client" . corridor". My interests are very broad and include travel, photography, natural history, writing, languages, gardening, and collecting various objects (pelican statues, original paintings, stamps, books, travel memorabilia, etc. etc.) My wife shares (almost) all these interests with me, but our special focus is our family cohesion.


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