Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 1, Origins to 1939

McGill-Queen's Native and Northern Series

McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP
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Between 1867 and 2000, the Canadian government sent over 150,000 Aboriginal children to residential schools across the country. Government officials and missionaries agreed that in order to “civilize and Christianize” Aboriginal children, it was necessary to separate them from their parents and their home communities. For children, life in these schools was lonely and alien. Discipline was harsh, and daily life was highly regimented. Aboriginal languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. Education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers. Legal action by the schools’ former students led to the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2008. The product of over six years of research, the Commission’s final report outlines the history and legacy of the schools, and charts a pathway towards reconciliation. Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 1, Origins to 1939 places Canada’s residential school system in the historical context of European campaigns to colonize and convert Indigenous people throughout the world. In post-Confederation Canada, the government adopted what amounted to a policy of cultural genocide: suppressing spiritual practices, disrupting traditional economies, and imposing new forms of government. Residential schooling quickly became a central element in this policy. The destructive intent of the schools was compounded by chronic underfunding and ongoing conflict between the federal government and the church missionary societies that had been given responsibility for their day-to-day operation. A failure of leadership and resources meant that the schools failed to control the tuberculosis crisis that gripped the schools for much of this period. Alarmed by high death rates, Aboriginal parents often refused to send their children to the schools, leading the government adopt ever more coercive attendance regulations. While parents became subject to ever more punitive regulations, the government did little to regulate discipline, diet, fire safety, or sanitation at the schools. By the period’s end the government was presiding over a nation-wide series of firetraps that had no clear educational goals and were economically dependent on the unpaid labour of underfed and often sickly children.
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Publisher
McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP
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Published on
Jan 1, 2016
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Pages
1025
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ISBN
9780773598188
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Indigenous Studies
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This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Between 1867 and 2000, the Canadian government sent over 150,000 Aboriginal children to residential schools across the country. Government officials and missionaries agreed that in order to “civilize and Christianize” Aboriginal children, it was necessary to separate them from their parents and their home communities. For children, life in these schools was lonely and alien. Discipline was harsh, and daily life was highly regimented. Aboriginal languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. Education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers. Legal action by the schools’ former students led to the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2008. The product of over six years of research, the Commission’s final report outlines the history and legacy of the schools, and charts a pathway towards reconciliation. Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 2, 1939 to 2000 carries the story of the residential school system from the end of the Great Depression to the closing of the last remaining schools in the late 1990s. It demonstrates that the underfunding and unsafe living conditions that characterized the early history of the schools continued into an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity for most Canadians. A miserly funding formula meant that into the late 1950s school meals fell short of the Canada Food Rules. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and a failure to adhere to fire safety rules were common problems throughout this period. While government officials had come to view the schools as costly and inefficient, the churches were reluctant to countenance their closure. It was not until the late 1960s that the federal government finally wrested control of the system away from the churches. Government plans to turn First Nations education over to the provinces met with opposition from Aboriginal organizations that were seeking “Indian Control of Indian Education.” Following parent-led occupation of a school in Alberta, many of the remaining schools came under Aboriginal administration. The closing of the schools coincided with a growing number of convictions of former staff members on charges of sexually abusing students. These trials revealed the degree to which sexual abuse at the schools had been covered up in the past. Former students, who came to refer to themselves as Survivors, established regional and national organizations and provided much of the leadership for the campaign that led to the federal government issuing in 2008 an apology to the former students and their families.
Between 1867 and 2000, the Canadian government sent over 150,000 Aboriginal children to residential schools across the country. Government officials and missionaries agreed that in order to “civilize and Christianize” Aboriginal children, it was necessary to separate them from their parents and their home communities. For children, life in these schools was lonely and alien. Discipline was harsh, and daily life was highly regimented. Aboriginal languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. Education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers. Legal action by the schools’ former students led to the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2008. The product of over six years of research, the Commission’s final report outlines the history and legacy of the schools, and charts a pathway towards reconciliation. Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 2, 1939 to 2000 carries the story of the residential school system from the end of the Great Depression to the closing of the last remaining schools in the late 1990s. It demonstrates that the underfunding and unsafe living conditions that characterized the early history of the schools continued into an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity for most Canadians. A miserly funding formula meant that into the late 1950s school meals fell short of the Canada Food Rules. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and a failure to adhere to fire safety rules were common problems throughout this period. While government officials had come to view the schools as costly and inefficient, the churches were reluctant to countenance their closure. It was not until the late 1960s that the federal government finally wrested control of the system away from the churches. Government plans to turn First Nations education over to the provinces met with opposition from Aboriginal organizations that were seeking “Indian Control of Indian Education.” Following parent-led occupation of a school in Alberta, many of the remaining schools came under Aboriginal administration. The closing of the schools coincided with a growing number of convictions of former staff members on charges of sexually abusing students. These trials revealed the degree to which sexual abuse at the schools had been covered up in the past. Former students, who came to refer to themselves as Survivors, established regional and national organizations and provided much of the leadership for the campaign that led to the federal government issuing in 2008 an apology to the former students and their families.
“It can start with a knock on the door one morning. It is the local Indian agent, or the parish priest, or, perhaps, a Mounted Police officer.” So began the school experience of many Indigenous children in Canada for more than a hundred years, and so begins the history of residential schools prepared by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Between 2008 and 2015, the TRC provided opportunities for individuals, families, and communities to share their experiences of residential schools and released several reports based on 7000 survivor statements and five million documents from government, churches, and schools, as well as a solid grounding in secondary sources. A Knock on the Door, published in collaboration with the National Research Centre for Truth & Reconciliation, gathers material from the several reports the TRC has produced to present the essential history and legacy of residential schools in a concise and accessible package that includes new materials to help inform and contextualize the journey to reconciliation that Canadians are now embarked upon. Survivor and former National Chief of the Assembly First Nations, Phil Fontaine, provides a Foreword, and an Afterword introduces the holdings and opportunities of the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation, home to the archive of recordings, and documents collected by the TRC. As Aimée Craft writes in the Afterword, knowing the historical backdrop of residential schooling and its legacy is essential to the work of reconciliation. In the past, agents of the Canadian state knocked on the doors of Indigenous families to take the children to school. Now, the Survivors have shared their truths and knocked back. It is time for Canadians to open the door to mutual understanding, respect, and reconciliation.
Between 1867 and 2000, the Canadian government sent over 150,000 Aboriginal children to residential schools across the country. Government officials and missionaries agreed that in order to “civilize and Christianize” Aboriginal children, it was necessary to separate them from their parents and their home communities. For children, life in these schools was lonely and alien. Discipline was harsh, and daily life was highly regimented. Aboriginal languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. Education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers. Legal action by the schools’ former students led to the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2008. The product of over six years of research, the Commission’s final report outlines the history and legacy of the schools, and charts a pathway towards reconciliation. Canada’s Residential Schools: The Métis Experience focuses on an often-overlooked element of Canada’s residential school history. Canada’s residential school system was a partnership between the federal government and the churches. Since the churches wished to convert as many Aboriginal children as possible, they had no objection to admitting Métis children. At Saint-Paul-des-Métis in Alberta, Roman Catholic missionaries established a residential school specifically for Métis children in the early twentieth century, while the Anglicans opened hostels for Métis children in the Yukon in the 1920s and the 1950s. The federal government policy on providing schooling to Métis children was subject to constant change. It viewed the Métis as members of the ‘dangerous classes,’ whom the residential schools were intended to civilize and assimilate. This view led to the adoption of policies that allowed for the admission of Métis children at various times. However, from a jurisdictional perspective, the federal government believed that the responsibility for educating and assimilating Métis people lay with provincial and territorial governments. When this view dominated, Indian agents were often instructed to remove Métis children from residential schools. Because provincial and territorial governments were reluctant to provide services to Métis people, many Métis parents who wished to see their children educated in schools had no option but to try to have them accepted into a residential school. As provincial governments slowly began to provide increased educational services to Métis students after the Second World War, Métis children lived in residences and residential schools that were either run or funded by provincial governments. As this volume demonstrates the Métis experience of residential schooling in Canada is long and complex, involving not only the federal government and the churches, but provincial and territorial governments. Much remains to be done to identify and redress the impact that these schools had on Métis children, their families, and their community.
Winner, 2018 RBC Taylor Prize
Winner, 2017 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
Winner, First Nation Communities Read Indigenous Literature Award
Finalist, 2017 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Finalist, 2017 Speaker’s Book Award
Finalist, 2018 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
A Globe And Mail Top 100 Book
A National Post 99 Best Book Of The Year

In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied.

More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the minus twenty degrees Celsius night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau’s grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang’s. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie’s death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water.

Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.

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