Understanding some Key Facts about Residential Schools in Canada

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator css=”.vc_custom_1592076377183{padding-top: 15px !important;}”][vc_column_text]The history of any conflict is very vital in understanding the conflict: what happened, how it happened, when it happened, who were the actors, the dynamics, and manifestations of the conflict. This information is needed for proper analysis of the conflict and for mapping out appropriate interventions towards resolving and transforming such conflict. Residential schools in Canada have its long and traumatic history. Residential schools were government-founded/sponsored schools that were operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996. Over 130 residential schools operated in Canada between the years of 1831 and 1996. The first residential school was opened in 1831 known as The Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario. The Gordon Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan was the last federally funded residential school to close in 1996. One of the major purposes of residential schools was to educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into the Canadian society. In 1883, Hector Langevin, The Public Works Minister of Canada said “in order to educate the children properly we must separate them from their families. Some people may say that this is hard but if we want to civilize them, we must do that” An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children is believed to have attended residential schools and an estimated 6, 000 children were believed to have died at these residential schools in Canada.
The federal government of Canada supported schooling to make First Nations economically self-sufficient. Government’s underlying objective was to decrease Indigenous dependence on public funds. To realize this objective, the government therefore collaborated with Christian missionaries to encourage religious conversion (Christianity) and Indigenous economic self-sufficiency. The government handed these residential or custodial schools over to the churches to run. Some of the churches that operated these schools were Anglican Church, Roman Catholic Church, United Church, Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church.
Beginning in the late 1980s, both the federal government and The First Nations wanted to include schooling provisions in treaties, although each had different reasons. For the Indigenous leaders, Euro-Canadian schooling would help their young ones to learn the skills of the newcomer society and invariably help make them to make a successful transition to a world dominated by the European – Canadian people. This led the Indigenous leaders to sign the British North American Act of 1867 and the Indian Act of 1876. With these two Acts, the Canadian government was required to provide Indigenous youth with an education and to assimilate them into the Euro -Canadian society and culture.
Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015 said “the residential school experience is one of the darkest, most troubling chapters in our collective history”. Overly, Indigenous youth who attended the residential schools had a negative experience contrary to what they were told by the government and the churches who ran these schools. Students were basically isolated, and their Indigenous cultures were disparaged or scorned. They were forcefully removed from their parents and homes/families, the schools were segregated according to gender, were forbidden to speak their native languages in some cases, were given new names (normally Christian or European names) and were told to denigrate Indigenous spiritual traditions. The residential schools really disrupted the lives and communities of the Indigenous, thereby caused long-term trauma among the Indigenous people. In the recent years, the former students and survivors of the residential schools have demanded recognition, restitution, and apology, which resulted in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper in 2008. The Catholic Church under the name “Catholic Entities” who participated in running the residential schools in 2016 made some cash payments for the survivors’ settlement, Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and Returning to the Spirit Program aimed at healing and reconciliation.