‘Simply a savage’: How the residential schools came to be

‘Simply a savage’: How the residential schools came to be
…decades of human misery. The Canadian government, in line with a goal eventually described as a plan to “kill the Indian in the child,” established a system of Indian residential schools.
It began in 1883, when Macdonald passed a cabinet measure to create three residential schools in the West to be operated by the Catholic and Anglican churches.
The plan was announced in the House of Commons by Public Works Minister Hector Langevin, who said:
“In order to educate the children properly we must separate them from their families. Some may say that this is hard but if we want to civilize them we must do that.”
The same year, Macdonald told the Commons: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.”
An historical shot of the Anglican-run residential school in Alert Bay, B.C. Natives have filed lawsuits alleging abuse while detained in the school. The intent was clear: assimilate Canada’s indigenous people into European culture.
Beginning in the 1880s, about 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and shipped off for 10 months of the year to federally established residential schools run by various churches. There were 130 residential schools throughout the country; the last one didn’t close until 1996.
In them, children were stripped of their culture and forbidden from speaking their aboriginal language. Many endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Long hair, often tied in braids in accordance with sacred beliefs, was shaved. Children had their names changed or, worse, were simply given a number. Brothers and sisters were separated and punished if they waved at each other.
The system ravaged Canada’s aboriginal communities, worsening or leading to abject poverty, and causing social problems from alcoholism to crime and dysfunctional families where basic parenting skills were missing.
About 80,000 former students of these schools are still alive.
Dene children at work in this undated shot from the Catholic-run residential school at Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories. The academic quality in most of the schools was very low.
The physical abuse was often a public spectacle: children who misbehaved were strapped while everyone watched.
The sexual abuse occurred in darker places. Young says children “intuitively” knew what happened every time someone was dragged away.
Children wanted to tell someone about the sexual abuse, but there was no one to tell. One thing was made clear: children were not to tell anyone about the deaths they witnessed.
One day, says Young, a boy ran away after being beaten. The school sent a pack of dogs after him. Young says she saw him mauled and killed by the dogs. When the RCMP arrived to investigate the case of the missing boy, “I knew they wouldn’t find evidence. Nobody would.”
St. Eugene Mission residential school kids work in the fields around the facility.
The school system was dramatically underfunded. Food was often spoiled and in short supply. Children went hungry.
Many the schools were badly built; poor ventilation led to high rates of deadly tuberculosis. The buildings, many with locked windows and no fire escapes, became firetraps in which children perished.
About 7,000 children died in the schools, according to available records. But the real death count, says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission probing the history and impact of the schools, is much higher and may never be known.


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