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Native Residential Schools in North America

Punishment for the crime of being born Native Indian

A Church State Pogrom of Racism, Cultural Genocide and Physical, Sexual and Psychological abuse

Before: Cree child Thomas Moore, as he appeared in his traditional Cree attire when admitted to the Regina Indian Industrial School [ca. 1897] Photo: Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A8223-1. Notice the staging of the gun in hand, ostensibly symbolizing his “savage” proclivities that would be necessarily purged by a heavy dose of duplicitous white man Christian indoctrination.






After: “Civilized” Cree child Thomas Moore, the beginning of years of Christian inculcation at the Regina Indian Industrial School [ca.1897] Photo: Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A8223-2



What follows is based on my reading of the following:

A National Crime – John S Milloy

Kill the Indian, Save the Man – Ward Churchill

Shingwauk's Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools – J. R. Miller


During the long period from 1879 to 1986, the Canadian church/state residential schools were poorly constructed and ill-maintained, overcrowded, unsanitary, under-funded and operated by for the most part by incompetent teachers, staff and administrators. Native children suffered from poor diet, lack of proper medical attention, malnutrition, disease, overt racism, physical and mental abuse and from sexual predation among the staff. Their education was primarily an extremely substandard, regimented and deficient third rate vocational training, limited to preparing them for subservient wage slavery in menial jobs in the capitalist society of the White Man’s world. Similar conditions persisted in the United States. Children were literally stolen from their parents and suffered terribly from systematic cultural genocide and denigration of their own cultural and religious traditions. For even minor indiscretions children in the schools suffered cruel corporal punishment, a practice anathema to North American Native Indian Cultures. Native parents would never inflict violence upon the ir children. The children in the Residential Schools perished in alarming numbers most commonly from tuberculosis due to the squalid conditions. Many children who died were buried in graveyards near the schools and others terminally ill were sent back to their parents on the reservations to die. Many others died from exposure after escaping from these dens of iniquity in an effort to return to their families. When the children finally emerged from these dysfunctional factories called “schools” in their late teens, the vast majority had suffered severe emotional and physical trauma and returned to their reserves poorly educated and ill prepared for either the native or white man’s world. Most succumbed to alcohol and drug abuse that continued through subsequent generations. Even after the War when the patterns of abuse became evident to government officials, they continued unabated until the last school was shut down in 1986.

 In the long post-war period from 1946 on when the abuses became painfully evident to government officials, in both southern schools, and in the Northern Affairs system, the Maritimes and throughout Western Canada and the rest of the country, children continued to be maltreated, abused, undereducated, undernourished and suffer from serious multiple illnesses, primarily tuberculosis. From Turquetil Hall at Chesterfield Inlet to Kamloops School, and across the country to Shubenacadie, the voices of Inuit, Indian, and Métis adults who were chil­dren in those or other schools can now be heard describing publicly, in all media, their dreadful experiences suffered at the hands of church or De­partmental staff. Mary Carpenter, writing in 1974, in Inuktitut magazine of her time in both Anglican and Catholic schools, told her sorrowful story:

“After a lifetime of beatings, going hungry, standing in a corner on one leg, and walking in the snow with no shoes for speaking Inuvialuktun, and having a stinging paste rubbed on my face, which they did to stop us from expressing our Eskimo custom of raising our eyebrows for "yes" and wrinkling our noses for "no", I soon lost the ability to speak my mother tongue. When a language dies, the world dies, the world it was generated from breaks down too.

According to the children, whose stories local officials considered "true," these admissions were mild approximations of the real situation. One said, "[The matron] hit us on the head with her fists." And while the children scrubbed the floors, the matron "[stood] there with stick or a strap in her hand." One of the officials in fact characterized her as a "slave driver." Another student complained:" [She] grabs us by the hair and shakes us. If she sees us smiling at the table she thinks we are talking and hits us on the head with anything she can get a hold off [sic].... [She] teases the girls and if they get mad she takes them in the hall and straps them." They were locked in their dorm at night in order to keep the boys and girls apart. That was a standard practice throughout the system, which in the official's opin­ion constituted "a very dangerous fire hazard." The children were kept separated during the day, too. The matron refused to let them converse with their siblings of the opposite sex. "We only can speak to them when we see them when no one is around," one student explained. The Matron admitted, although the principal contradicted her: "Boys and girls are kept separate and are only allowed to talk in the visiting room."

Without a doubt, the most powerful and telling testimony about the abuse of children in this period came from six former residential school students. Their testimony could not be set aside because they were, in the Department's estimation, men and women of impeccable authority and character with successful careers in education, public service, broadcasting, and the church. In 1965, at the Department's request, they supplied written evaluations of the school system. The Department collected their responses, printed them, and circulated them with the Department's imprimatur at what was billed the first ever Residential School Principals' Conference. None of them had much of anything positive to say of their experiences in the Residential Schools and two of them were brutally frank. One described the school experience as "an insult to human dig­nity."

One of these former students, the principal of a vocational school, described conditions at Brandon during his seven and a half years' residence there and experiences that he "and hundreds of others had to endure as children." They ate food "prepared in the crudest of ways" and "served in very unsanitary conditions." It included "bread dipped in grease and hard­ened,... green liver,... milk that had manure in the bottom of the cans and homemade porridge that had grasshopper legs and bird droppings in it." They endured "cruel disciplinary measures ... such as being tied to a flag pole, sent to bed with no food, literally beaten and slapped by staff."

The second student, a broadcaster and federal civil servant, described the neglect and listed the punishments meted out at the "mush hole," the Mohawk Institute at Brantford, Ontario. There, "90% of the children" suf­fered "from diet deficiency and this was evident in the number of boils, warts and the general malaise that existed within the school population." He had seen "children eating from the swill barrel, picking out soggy bits of food that was intended for the pigs." Heads were routinely shaved be­cause of lice; lice infestations were "an accepted part of being an Indian at the Mohawk." He reported on the usual beatings and added: "I have seen Indian children having their faces rubbed in human excrement; . . . the normal punishment for bed- wetting . . . was to have his face rubbed in his own urine." And, for those who tried to escape, "nearly all were caught and brought back to face the music."They were forced to run a gauntlet when they were "struck with anything that was at hand." He had "seen boys crying in the most abject misery and pain with not a soul to care - the dignity of man!"

A common Department of Indian Affairs habit was attacking the messenger, the whistle blower. Sound familiar? In British Columbia in 1960, a female employee having reported on abusive treatment, abysmal conditions and inadequate nutrition, was fired by the principal on the charge of not being loyal to the school. Moreover, she was not labeled an untrustworthy and unreliable source because she was active in “leftist”, labor and socialist organizations, in addition to being active in the “peace movement.” Sound familiar?

For the Department and the churches, these public narratives were old news. They were the painful pulse of abuse that had reverberated, unchanged and unending, through the system and throughout its history.

In 1908 Frank Oliver, the Minister of Indian Affairs said proclaimed that the Christian education that native children received in the residential schools would “elevate the Indian from his condition of savagery” and “make him a self-supporting member of the State.” If you examine the brutal history of European and American colonialism from the racist cruel barbarian Christopher Columbus in 1492 (he literally wiped out the total population of Arawaks in the West Indies within a period of 40 years), it can only be described adequately as a Holocaust of epic proportions where recent estimates by historians are that from 100 to 150 million indigenous peoples perished in the Americas at the hands of the beneficent Christian white man. We now refer to this phenomenon as genocide. This of course was before the ugly period of the reservation system and the residential schools after the gratuitous slaughter could not be sustained. There is no doubt, to any dispassionate observer of this history, as to who were the savages.

The Genesis of the Residential School System

500 Year Genocide

“To be consciously anti-genocidal, one must be actively anti-imperialist and vice versa. To be in any way an apologist for colonialism is to be an active proponent of genocide.” – Ward Churchill

“Genocide” is a word that has only been in usage since the holocaust and unfortunately the word has been applied too narrowly in its legal context. This narrow conception has been challenged. Specifically, Jewish intellectuals have tried to hijack the word so it can’t be applied to any other historical context except their own “ethnic cleansing” (a good synonym for certain types of genocide I think) by the Third Reich. This makes no sense when you examine generally accepted dictionary definitions and even the conceptualization as articulated by the United Nations. Many historians also apply the word “genocide” to a cultural context which was also inflicted on native Indians in North America. The several criteria laid out by the United Nations are all easily met when considering the “genocide” of indigenous peoples throughout the 500 years of European colonialism and specifically the American experience. When Columbus arrived in what is now referred to as the West Indies in 1492, he was met by the Arawak Indians, whose numbers are now estimated to be 8 million. Thanks to enforced slavery and mass slaughter by Columbus and his men, within 40 years there was not a single Arawak left. And many people, so ignorant of history, wonder why Native Americans are not enamored by “Columbus Day.” The white Christian man called Christopher Columbus was a rapacious cruel barbarian.

The mass extermination of indigenous peoples in the Americas and elsewhere meets all the condition(s) laid out by typical dictionary definitions as well as the United Nations rendering. The only difference between the Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing of native peoples in the Americas for example is a matter of scale and technology available to do the exterminating. Most native peoples were subjected to slavery right from the time of Columbus (once he saw the gold necklaces on the millions of natives in the West Indies it was all over for them) and when they didn’t die in the mines or when they were no longer useful as slaves, they were systematically murdered in the most horrific ways. Many were fed to Columbus’ dogs. This sort of mass decimation continued unabated until the onset of the 20th century. Also, once the good Christian white man realized the natives had no immunity to their diseases, they deliberately spread the diseases to them. Many tribes were totally obliterated using this sordid method. You can read all about this slaughter on my web site by going to the section of Native American History. (www.skeptic.ca)

I’ve read dozens of histories of my native heritage. My great grandmother was a Northern Alberta Cree. They all conflict dramatically with the feel good fairy tales spoon fed to us in Hollywood movies and the ethnocentric racist tripe in our high school history courses. Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States), David Stannard (American Holocaust), Ronald Wright (Stolen Continents: The "New World" Through Indian Eye) and Ward Churchill (A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust Denial in the Americas from 1492 to the Present) are very much in agreement that the total number of indigenous peoples that died as a direct consequence of the European invasions and ethnic cleansing of the United States government policies was about 100 million as their low estimate. That’s over a long period of time of course because it continued from the brutality of Columbus right to the end of the 19th century. Then they were subjected to the Reserves (nothing more than concentration camps), the horrible racism and the residential schools where “savage” children were stolen from their “savage” parents to be indoctrinated into Christianity while their own religion, language and culture were obliterated. Any child speaking his native tongue was severely punished. Not a pretty story. Watch the documentary shown on Google video about a British Columbia experience of the racism and neglect that continues to this day by Pastor Kevin Arnott called Unrepentant: Canada’s Genocide.

“Imagine the effects upon survivors, their children and the groups of which they are part, if, rather than being confined to the ravings of a much-reviled lunatic fringe, such denial, offi­cially ordained as "truth," were asserted as a socially-normative viewpoint. Imagine in the alternative that, although it was conceded that "something -like" the Nazi genocide had indeed occurred, it was merely an "understand­able mistake," carried out with "the best of intentions for all concerned," including the victims (who, ingrates that they are, habitually "exaggerate" its negative effects). Absurd as such scenarios may sound, this is exactly how the genocide of American Indians is treated by virtually all sectors of the U.S./Canadian settler society.

The nature and magnitude of the ongoing traumatic impact of this seamless wall of perpetrator/beneficiary denial upon the continent's native people, both individually and collectively, may be left to simply speak for itself in many respects. There is still more to it, however. That the "shame" attending the irrational but pervasive social stigma assigned to rape and incest victims greatly compounds/amplifies the original trauma is a matter much remarked by feminist psychologists and others. Imagine the effects if, rather than merely stigmatizing them, society as a whole elected to deal with the uncomfortable fact of their existence by subjecting such victims, not just individually but as a "class," to a continuous and all-encompassing process of denigration and ridicule in which even the most flagrant of their abusers was invited to participate, openly and with obvious glee.

That native people are routinely subjected to precisely this sort of humiliation is apparent at every turn: the evidence will be found among the hundreds of sports teams that have "adopted Indian mascots" and/or anointed themselves with names like the "Chiefs," the "Redskins" and the "Braves"; it will be found again among the hundreds of North American place names now bearing the word "squaw," and the cavalier manner in which settlers of all social stations apply the same unspeakably derogatory term to any and all American Indian females; again, it will be found among the thousands of cinematic releases—worst of all the "comedies"— rerun endlessly on television, by which the settler society portrays native people for its own amusement; and still again, it emerges from the eternal procession of brand names—Jeep "Cherokees," "Winnebago" recreational vehicles, "Big Chief" writing tablets, "Red Man" chewing tobacco, and on, and on—through which the dominating society converts indigenous dignity itself into a marketable commodity. Suffice it to observe that no other group in either the U.S. or Canada is degraded in anything remotely resem­bling this comprehensive a manner.

Suppose now that "average" rape and incest victims - or concentration camp survivors, for that matter - even as they were relentlessly pilloried from all sides, found that both official policy and social consensus held that those who had raped, brutalized and otherwise horribly abused them were as a result entitled to "own" whatever property they themselves had previously possessed, and that they - unless, of course, they could somehow "suck it up," "get over it," and go to work for those who had maimed, defiled and dispossessed them - were correspondingly relegated to living out their lives in utter destitution. Would it be at all reasonable to expect that the circumstances just described might tend to accentuate the complex of trauma-induced symptoms already besetting victims of incest, rape and Nazi-style social engineering? It works no differently for those devastated by RSS, other than that where the effects of such factors on each of the other victim groups are for the most part hypothetical, for those traumatized by what was done to them and/or their parents in the residential schools, such things comprise the concrete matrix of day-to-day existence.” (Ward Churchill, Kill the Indian, Save the Man, pp. 75-76)

Cultural Genocide

Taken, often by force, from their homes at ages as young as four, transported to facilities remote from their families and communities, confined there for a decade or more, relentlessly stripped of their cultural identities while being just as methodically indoctrinated to see their traditions—and thus themselves—through the eyes of their colonizers, chronically malnour­ished and overworked, drilled to regimental order and subjected to the harsh­est forms of corporal punishment, this was the lot of one in every two native youngsters in North America for five successive generations. Of those ushered into the steadily expanding system of residential schools during its first forty years or more, about half did not survive the experience. In other words, roughly one-quarter of the American Indian population during the early twentieth century was physically destroyed by the process of schooling.

It is well to reiterate that this protracted horror was for the most part perpetrated by self-styled progressive politicians and liberal churchmen, not the ostensibly less sensitive "conservatives" among their peers. Worth noting, too, is the fact that, for all their humanitarian veneer, the "enlightened" set­tler elite which advocated, implemented and maintained the system suffered no discernible qualms in hiring the very dregs of their society - sadists, pedophiles and the like - to preside over the indigenous youngsters con­signed to residential institutions. Thus, as John S. Milloy, J. R. Miller and Ward Churchill recount in ago­nizing detail in books cited above, the "discipline" visited upon native children often assumed the form of outright torture. Native North American families after all did not believe in any sort of corporal punishment for children. As well, sexual predation in the schools was common in most, if not all the schools. At some, it appears that every student, without excep­tion, was raped, many of them regularly, over periods of years.

Such things did not happen to all children who passed through the sys­tem, of course. Equally true, however, is the fact that virtually every child knew another—or several—to whom it did happen, or was happening. Thus were they forced to face on a daily basis the nature of their own/their par­ents'/their people's powerlessness to prevent it, and thereby to confront con­tinuously the grim truth of their own vulnerability. The knowledge that the same thing(s) could happen to any—or each—of them, at any moment, and that the choice of whether or not it happened was entirely in the hands of the predators who served as their overseers, was unavoidable. This awful real­ity, taken in combination with the "normal" techniques employed by school authorities to achieve the desired demolition of the native cultural and religious existence and subsequent indoctrination of their charges into the capitalist Christian ideology, all but guaranteed that every student would suffer the effects of severe emotional trauma.

Thus we endure the ubiquitous "residential school syndrome" - a complex and intractable blend of devastated self-concept and self-esteem, psychic numbing, chronic anxiety, insecurity and depression. It must be understood, moreover, that such results embody the best case scenario. For those who were directly assailed with serious physical violence, sexual abuse, or both -and they were/are legion - the psycho-emotional desolation was - or remains - worse still. And this goes far towards accounting for the endemic alcoholism, catastrophic suicide rates, pervasive domestic violence and a host of related maladies with which Native North America has been afflicted, in some ways increasingly so, for the past century or more.

In 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott, head of the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs said, "I want to get rid of the Indian problem. Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed. They are a weird and waning race...ready to break out at any moment in savage dances; in wild and desperate orgies."

"Scott saw himself as Canada's Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps he shared Kipling's vices, but not his brilliance or his irony; for Scott, natives were indeed lesser breeds without the law. His writing admired in their day now seems so much Edwardian bric-a-brac: florid, ponderous, unabashedly bigoted and racist....Most revealing of all is one short line: 'Altruism is absent from the Indian character'. Only someone deeply ignorant, deeply prejudiced, or both could have written that."  - Ronald White, Stolen Continents, pg. 321

1909, Dr. Peter Bryce, general medical superintendent for Indian Affairs reported to the Ministry that between 1894 to1908 the mortality rate in western Canadian residential schools was between 35%-60%! The statistic became public in 1922. Dr. Bryce retired from his position in DIA and wrote a book, The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921. He also alleged in his book that he felt the high death rate was deliberate because healthy children had been exposed to diseases such as tuberculosis which was rampant throughout the residential school system.

In the early 1920's another doctor, F.A. Corbett while working in Alberta, found similar startling statistics at various residential schools, including Hobbema and Sarcee. At Sarcee, only four kids from over thirty did not have tuberculosis. Moreover, with such a high illness and near death rate, the children still had to attend classes.

"The traditional way of native education was by example, experience, and storytelling. The first principle involved was total respect and acceptance of the one to be taught, and that learning was a continuous process from birth to death. It was total continuity without interruption. Its nature was like a fountain that gives many colors and flavors of water and that whoever chose could drink as much or as little as they wanted to whenever they wished. The teaching strictly adhered to the sacredness of life whether of humans, animals or plants." - Art Solomon, Ojibwe Elder, Residential School Survivor

Some Recent Testimonials of Native Canadians:

“Residential School survivors made a choice to save their own lives; probably the bravest thing one person could do. Sometimes events, like the horrors of residential school are imposed; the choice occurs when the individual decides to live or not."  - Gandoox, Coast Tsimshian Elder

(1) 'I accept the Prime Minister's (Stephen Harper) apology' - STEPHEN KAKFWI, Former Premier of the North West Territories and Residential School Survivor

"A century and a half ago, an imported government declared itself “Canada” – a strong aboriginal word. Almost immediately, it began the torturous process of destroying all other aspects of aboriginal culture and identity it did not value. The policy of horrific religious and cultural indoctrination and attempted assimilation through Indian residential schools is the most destructive example.

Finally, Canada admits this shameful history. Earlier this year, a Canadian Prime Minister finally apologized for the devastation caused to aboriginal children and families. He also asked for forgiveness. That message was no small mouthful. It took personal courage and political will to utter it. I know, because in 2002, as premier of the Northwest Territories, I offered my own apology to our residential school survivors.

I did it despite resistance from the bureaucracy and my own ministers and colleagues. It was difficult and humiliating to face the survivors and their parents and children. I know what Stephen Harper and the other national party leaders must have been feeling on that day. As a residential school survivor myself, I also understand the importance of the apology offered, and the strength and courage it will take survivors to consider and accept it.

At age 9, I was sent to residential school. A nun shaved my head and stripped me bare in front of all the other boys, followed by months of repeated beatings, whippings, sexual abuse and solitary confinement in a dark, locked closet. Why? Was it because I was bad and deserved it? That's what they told me.

But this is not just about me. It is about my father, brothers and sisters … and my 87-year-old mother. We always wondered why she never told stories of her family. Recently, she finally told us she was taken away at 6 and never returned home until she was 14. She left with baby teeth, and returned a young woman. Her family all died within five years. She has no childhood or family memory, no stories to tell.

So many aboriginal brothers and sisters across the country have their own versions of this same sickening story. Twenty-five per cent of us did not survive residential schools. What a crippling loss to our people. Even in times of active warfare, Canada has never faced such a high death toll. Generations have been ruptured from each other. Lives have been shattered. Spirits have been broken. Our communities are haunted by so many of the living dead. I was lucky. I survived. Many survivors learned to fight, we had to. Over the past 30 years, every single gain for aboriginal peoples has been hard-fought.

In school, we learned nothing about our histories, our culture or religious beliefs - or ourselves. We were told we had no rights. We were the last Canadians to get the vote, in 1960. Before then, to vote we had to give up our treaty rights. In the 1970s, it took a Supreme Court judge to say we had aboriginal rights for governments to listen! In the 1980s, during constitutional talks, governments begrudgingly referred to aboriginal rights as an “empty box” that could be filled with specific rights only if they agreed. Over and over in our history, the recognition, negotiation and implementation of our rights has consistently been met only with great reluctance.

Is this the dramatic turning point we have all been fighting and praying for? The Prime Minister has said he was sorry to the First Peoples of this country. I don't know exactly what motivated him. I imagine that political and legal factors were carefully weighed. Or is it because he understands what it is to be a father? Surely all parents can imagine the horror of having your children forcibly stolen as little more than babies, to return as young adults – strangers, who no longer speak your language. You completely missed their childhood … they did, too.

Whatever the PM's reasons, I hope the Canada he represents will now work with us to restore strong, healthy and vibrant families, communities and nations, not begrudgingly, but because it is the right thing to do. You offer an apology, which I accept. But that restoration work will deliver the forgiveness, which you also seek. This apology marks us all. It is the end of national denial, the beginning of truth. It opens us to the promise of new relationships. Making amends takes longer; it requires sustained commitment over time to heal wounds and return spirit and dignity to survivors and their families. Reconciliation, with action, can take us there. Together, we can work to make this the best place in the world for all who call Canada home.

I am proud of this moment in Canada's history. I accept the Prime Minister's apology. It is what my father and grandfather would have done. We are about to write a new chapter of Canada's history. Twenty-five years from now, may children across the land be proud of it, and proud also of all their grandparents, who today began a journey together to make things right.

Globe and Mail - June 12, 2008

(2)  "A chilling wind stirred the magnificent autumn forests where the two rivers meet as the Dene Elders with faces etched deep gathered to witness the second coming of the Father of Fathers. It was September 1987, and Pope John Paul 11 was revisiting far northern community of Fort Simpson, a previous appearance three years before thwarted by fog. The Native Elders were among the more than 5,000 aboriginals who had traveled for days, some for weeks, mostly in rusting pickups, but many by canoe, all to catch a glimpse of the Pope. The more I talk to them the more I wondered why they had bothered. Almost everyone I interviewed had horror stories of Indian residential schools run by Roman Catholic missionaries and other churches. Through tears they talked of literally being torn away from their families as young children, isolated far away in church-run boarding schools, and subjected to years of emotions, physical and sexual abuse. "I was only six years old when the priests loaded me on a barge and sent me to mission school at Fort Providence," one of them told me. "I didn't see my parents for four years."

A mother told me, "it was every parent's nightmare. My children were taken away as little ones. I couldn't hold them until they were teenagers." Even when children were reunited with their families, they were divided by language and culture, the schools having forbidden all things Indian. All, over 160,000 helpless aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes put into this grotesque attempt at cultural engineering through assimilation -- "to kill the Indian in the child," as the saying went. In fact, it is believed thousands of the children actually died before they could see their moms and dads again.

If the elders who gathered in Fort Simpson that autumn day were hoping for a papal apology; they didn't get one. In fact, the hypocritical pontiff praised the Catholic missionaries who "taught you to love and appreciate the spiritual and cultural treasures of your way of life." Right. For over a century, the federal government was no better until victims of residential school abuse began turning to the courts in the 1990s, courageously sharing their horrific stories with all Canadians. In 1998, Jane Stewart, the then Liberal government's Indian affairs minister, expressed "profound regret" over the past actions of the federal government. But it was a $2-billion legal settlement with residential school victims in 2005 that finally opened the way for what became yesterday's emotional national day of mea culpa. With clarity, class and a rare depth of emotion that brought him close to tears, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a full and profound apology for every aspect of the fiasco. In many ways, Harper was admitting the obvious: Who today would doubt that "it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes"? Or that "far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled"? But judging by the tears on the faces of those receiving the apology, the PM's words were exactly what they had waited a lifetime to hear. The apology doesn't suddenly cure the problems plaguing our aboriginal communities."

Edmonton Sun, Greg Weston

(3) "For three decades, Willie Blackwater suppressed the pain. At age 39, he released his torment when a compassionate RCMP officer named Al Franczak asked if he'd ever been sexually abused. What poured out was a horrific account of repeated rape and beatings 30 years earlier at the Port Alberni residential school on Vancouver Island. Blackwater's courageous revelations, along with those of 17 other former students, helped seal some of the very first related criminal convictions against Arthur Henry Plint, a sadistic dormitory supervisor.

They also bolstered the class-action claims that would ultimately lead to a massive compensation settlement and a historic apology to be offered Wednesday in Parliament. Blackwater will be in the House of Commons when the prime minister finally stands to atone on behalf of all Canadians for what so many terrorized, isolated children endured. Ottawa conceded 10 years ago that physical and sexual abuse in the defunct network of federally financed, church-run schools was rampant. But no prime minister has ever officially apologized.

"I have a lot of mixed emotions," Blackwater said. "I'm looking forward to it, yet fearing it due to maybe wrong wording or whatever. But I think it will be one of the humongous chapters in my life that will help bring completion to a lot of...my trauma - and the trauma I've inflicted on others - from the residential school legacy. It's got to come from his heart," Blackwater, now 53, said of Stephen Harper's statement to be delivered as 10 native guests encircle him in the Commons. "That's where we as aboriginals talk from, it's from our heart. We will hear the difference."

His ailing grandmother, who cared for him when his own mother died while he was a toddler, was pressured by government officials to enroll him and his brothers in the school. Blackwater was swiftly singled out by Plint. He recalled how the potbellied, chain-smoking dorm supervisor awoke him in the night, saying he had an emergency phone call from his father. Blackwater would testify years later about how Plint led him into a bedroom behind his office. Plint forced him to perform oral sex and, days later, raped him, inflicting "the worst pain I ever felt in my life."

Those attacks would go on at least monthly for the next three years. When Blackwater sought help, he was beaten by Plint so badly it kept him quiet for the next 30 years. Franczak, who retired from the RCMP two years ago, first interviewed Blackwater as part of a task force researching the earliest reports of abuse at Port Alberni. "To this day I keep thinking how could we, as a society ... allow this to happen? I don't get it."

Daily parliamentary business has been called off for the apology beginning just after 3 p.m. ET, to be followed by opposition response but no statements from native leaders. Liberal MP Tina Keeper, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, led off Tuesday's question period pleading with the Conservatives to reverse their contentious refusal to allow such reaction in the Commons.

"For many aboriginal people, the apology tomorrow will be one of the most emotional moments of their lives," she said in a rare turn for a backbench MP as lead questioner. "But they must not be voiceless."

Harper inspired catcalls from the opposition benches, citing parliamentary tradition for his refusal to allow immediate aboriginal comment for the official record. He further advised rival parties not to "play politics" with the somber event. Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl urged Keeper to treat the apology with the "gravitas it deserves." Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Phil Fontaine, who has spoken publicly of his own sexual abuse in residential school, was still hoping Tuesday that Harper would change his mind. Nonetheless, he put a bright face on what has been a tense several days of negotiations with a government accused of not treating the apology with the respect required."

Canadian Press - Sue Bailey


A misguided Church and State led by Canada's extremely racist Christian government leaders, endeavoring to civilize the “'savages” in the ways of the Europeans, combined to create a diabolical set of circumstances that from the outset were doomed to failure. Seriously underfunded, poorly paid and morally bankrupt student teachers and missionaries, who were at best barely functional illiterates, were put in charge of “educating” Native children in buildings that should have been condemned when they were built and in conditions of squalor and disease.  

In fact, thousands of children between 1880 and1988 were exposed to kidnapping, unimaginable physical and sexual abuse, starvation, disease and virtual slavery that until recently had been Canada's dirty little secret. The Residential School debacle reached its zenith in 1931. The savagery, however, continued for decades leaving physical, emotional, mental and spiritual scars that reverberate to this day. 

As a direct result of this horror, at the present time, alcohol and drug abuse among Native people is five times the national average; sexual and family abuse eight times the national average; suicide rate among Native teens five times the national average. 

"Sometimes my tears were brought on by desperate longings to be home. At other times, I cried because of Sister Superior's sadistic punishments which she arbitrarily inflicted on those of us who 'spoke out of turn...,or showed disrespect...by asking for proof of the existence [of God[....And on other occasions, I cried because I was terrified by the footsteps that regularly crept up the fire escape to our dorm. Those nights I'd jump in bed with my sister, Carla. As we clung to one another for protections, we'd hear frantic whisperings, and moaning over top of crying. Years later I became convinced that poor little girls were being sexual victimized."  - (Anishinaabe, Janice Acoose and her memories of her time at Oblates Of Mary Immaculate's Cowessess' Indian residential school in Qu'Appelle Valley north of Regina. From Sing the Brave Song, J. Ennamorato, pg. 162)

The four main churches responsible for this debacle had a variety of things in common when it came to the infrastructure of the prisons.

"All aspects of First Nations culture were eliminated from the schools. Children were forbidden to speak their native language and were severely punished for doing so. Corporal punishment was never practised within North American indigenous families so the effect was especially traumatizing for native children.

Boys were segregated from girls, and siblings were intentionally separated in an effort to weaken family ties.

Children were required to wear school uniforms instead of traditional clothing. Hairstyles were cut short in European style. The children ate primarily Euro-Canadian food." (if they ate at all).
John Roberts, First Nations, Inuit and Metis People, pg. 120)

It was not the intent to scholastically educate the children, but, rather, teach them menial tasks so they could potentially acquire positions as scivvies, maids, labourers. Therefore, upon release most children were lucky if they achieved barely a Grade 5-6 education. Also, during summer breaks or other so-called vacations, children were forced to billet with white families "in order to prevent them from renewing cultural connections with their families." (Roberts, Ibid,)

The Nicholas Flood Davin Report of 1879 noted that "the industrial school is the principal feature of the policy known as that of 'aggressive civilization'....Indian culture is a contradiction in terms...they are uncivilized...the aim of education is to destroy the Indian."

The genocide of native peoples in North America is a lesson that was not wasted on Adolph Hitler and his “final solution” of the Jewish problem.

 “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential schools and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this does not justify a change in the policy of this Department which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem."  - Duncan Campbell Scott

Children were kidnapped and taken long distances from their communities in order to attend school. Once there, they were held captive, isolated from their families of origin, and forcibly stripped of their language, religion, traditions and culture. Many Native children grew up with little knowledge of their original culture. Being forced to live with no culture resulted in high suicide rates, difficulties with parenting, drug and alcohol problems, family abuse.

"Then there are testimonies of hundreds of former students whose list of abuses includes kidnapping, sexual abuse, beatings, needles pushed through tongues as punishment for speaking Indigenous languages, forced wearing of soiled underwear on the head or wet bed sheets on the body, faces rubbed in human excrement, forced eating of rotten and/or maggot infested food, being stripped naked and ridiculed in front of other students, forced to stand upright for several hours -- on two feet and sometimes one -- until collapsing, immersion in ice water, hair ripped from heads, use of students in eugenics and medical experiments, bondage and confinement in closets without food or water, application of electric shocks, forced to sleep outside or to walk barefoot in winter, forced labor and on and on."  - The Healing Update Has Begun, from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, May 2002)

A Brief History of Neglect and Abuse: Recent History

The Roman Catholic Church ran more than 70 percent of the 130 Indian Residential Schools in Canada. In British Columbia, the first Indian Residential School was established in 1861 at Mission and was operated by the Roman Catholic Church. It would also become the last operating school in the province, finally closing in 1984.

Elsewhere in Canada, Indian Residential Schools dotted the nation. Around 130 residential schools herded aboriginal children like cattle to teach them how to become productive members of "white society." The former Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Matthew Coon Come, calls this system genocide. "Basically, the goal was to take the Indian out of the Indian," he says.

There is no doubt that a holocaust – a genocidal program by Christian White men existed throughout the colonial world from the time of Columbus to the onset of the 20th Century. Ward Churchill has argued this position brilliantly in his scholarly book A Little Matter of Genocide as has historian David Stannard in American Holocaust. Churchill, his book Kill the Indian, Save the Man, also presents extensive arguments for the genocidal nature of the residential school system.

This bold state-funded enterprise was for the most part carried out in Western Canada with tremendous bureaucratic and missionary zeal for over a century. Christian ideology insisted it was acceptable to "obliterate" indigenous peoples’ distinct cultural "habits and associations" while simultaneously fostering the colonial "process of nation building."

"Children were frequently beaten severely with whips, rods and fists, chained and shackled, bound hand and foot and locked in closets, basements, and bathrooms." - Crowstand School, 1907
quoted in RCAP, 1996

In 1920, Canada amended the Indian Act, making it mandatory for aboriginal parents to send their children to Indian residential school. Children were literally kidnapped from their families.

"Every Indian child between the ages of seven and fifteen years who is physically able shall attend such day, industrial or boarding school as may be designated by the Superintendent General for the full periods during which such school is open each year."

The children were sent thousands of miles away where their parents could not reach them. These schools would become institutions of cruelty and horror for aboriginal boys and girls. Forced to learn and speak English only or risk being beaten, many suffered because they only knew how to speak their aboriginal languages.

For many of these children, their lives literally changed overnight. Gone were the meals made from wild game, fresh fish and nutritious berries. Instead they starved on a diet of lumpy cream of wheat while their instructors ate meals fit for a king.

"After a lifetime of beatings, going hungry, standing in a corridor on one leg, and walking in the snow with no shoes for speaking Inuvialuktun, and having a heavy, stinging paste rubbed on my face, which they did to stop us from expressing our Eskimo custom of raising our eyebrows for 'yes' and wrinkling our noses for 'no', I soon lost the ability to speak my mother tongue. When a language dies, the world it was generated from is broken down too." -

Mary Carpenter

Department of Indian Affairs' policy that aboriginal children must not be educated "above the possibilities of their station", were upheld. As such, the schools' curriculum included moral training (through physical labor), academic training (although many teachers were insufficiently educated) and industrial training (for farming and menial jobs). Engaged in the classroom for only half a day, the children were responsible for the complete maintenance (cooking, cleaning, laundry, grounds keeping, farming, etc.) of the school for the remainder of their day. Grade three was the acceptable standard of education.

Psychological and emotional abuses were constant: shaming by public beatings of naked children, vilification of native culture, constant racism, public strip and genital searches, withholding presents and letters from family, locking children in closets and cages, segregation of sexes, separation of brothers and sisters, proscription of native languages and spirituality. In addition, the schools were places of profound physical and sexual violence: sexual assaults, forced abortions of staff-impregnated girls, needles inserted into tongues for speaking a native language, burning, scalding, beating until unconscious and/or inflicting permanent injury.

They also endured electrical shock, force-feeding of their own vomit when sick, exposure to freezing outside temperatures, withholding of medical attention, shaved heads (a cultural and social violation), starvation (as punishment), forced labor in unsafe work situations, intentional contamination with diseased blankets, insufficient food for basic nutrition and/or spoiled food. Estimates suggest that as many as 60% of the students died (due to illness, beatings, attempts to escape, or suicide) while in the schools.

"The Sisters didn't treat me good. They gave me rotten food to eat and punished me for not eating it. I was locked in a room, fed bread and water and beaten with a strap, sometimes on the face, and sometimes [they] took my clothes off and beat me. This is the reason I ran away."

Despite having signed the United Nations genocide convention 40 years before the last residential school closed, Canada continued to commit acts of genocide:

"with the intent to destroy in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: ... (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." (United Nations Convention on Genocide, 1946)

In 1948, despite a joint (House of Commons and Senate) committee recommendation that the schools be abolished, the churches' vigorous lobbying for the system to continue and the fact that it was being used as a social welfare placement kept the schools alive for 40 more years. By the 1970s, when the Native Indian Brotherhood called for native control of native education, the federal government had begun to wind down the residential school system.

Today, approximately 90,000 survivors in their thirties and older are trying to understand, heal from, and move beyond this devastating experience. About 14% are involved in some form of litigation while the other 86% are living out their lives as best they can.

Links: Hidden From History


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