In the 19th century the Canadian government believed it was responsible for educating and caring for the country’s aboriginal people. It though that native peoples best chance for success was to adopt Christianity and Canadian customs. Thus, in 1857 the Gradual Civilization Act was passed to assimilate natives. Children were the main targets, because it was believed that it would be easier to mould a young child as opposed to an adult. By assimilating the aboriginal children into the lower fringes of mainstream society, they hoped to diminish or abolish native traditions within a few generations.
Schools run by churches upon government funding were created in order to separate these children from their homes. They were later named residential schools and were established with the assumption that aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to a modernizing society. In 1920, attendance became compulsory for all kids ages 7-15. Agents were employed by the government to ensure all native children attended. Many were taken by brute force and others separated from their siblings. In all, about 150 000 kids were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.
At the peak of the residential school system, there were 80 schools in operation. It was common belief that if the kids learned English or French, they would be able to succeed in society. Students were forbidden from speaking their native language or playing any of their traditional games. If they were to be caught performing either of the latter, they were severely punished. The Department of Indian Affairs wrote in its 1895 report: “So long as he keeps his native tongue, so long will he remain a community apart. ” Even letters written home were to be in English, which many parents couldn’t understand.
Essentially, children underwent 10 months of physical, emotional, and in some cases sexual abuse at these schools without any outside influence. They did not experience what normal life was like. Even when returning home for 2 months, the students felt distanced and as if they didn’t belong. No longer did they possess the skills to help on the reserve nor would they fit into an urban setting because of the schools substandard teaching. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an official apology to the former students of the residential schools. He apologized for the role of the government in the residential schools.
In the apology, Harper recognized that the residential schools were wrong, harmful and damaging to the students. Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, NDP leader, Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois leader, Gilles Duceppe also made statements apologizing for the residential schools. The aboriginal community accepted the apology through speeches from former students. The government will fund a Commemoration initiative with a total of $20 million over 5 years, they gave The Aboriginal Healing Foundation $125 million in compensation for the human rights violations that the aboriginal students suffered.
The churches who were involved in the administration of the residential schools will give up to $100 million in cash and services to aid healing initiatives and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was founded to examine the legacy of the residential schools. DIFFERENCES Then: The global community believed that the government and the church were doing the right thing by assimilating the first nations people. They believed that educating them in residential schools would ‘civilize’ them and save them by forcing them to become Christians.
Now: The Anglican Church, the Catholic Church and the government have all formally apologized for their role in the abuse the children suffered in the residential schools. They recognized that the residential schools were wrong and caused great harm, as well recognizing the negative consequences of the schools. A Typical Day •The boys doing morning chores (milking cows, feeding animals, etc. ) got up at about 5:30 am •Everyone else got up at 6:00 am, washed •Went to chapel for Mass •Breakfast A sticky porridge cooked by students the night before, a piece of bread with some butter and a glass of milk •Morning cleaning duties •Classes •The first hour was religious studies •Two hours academic studies •Lunch •A mush of potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage and chunks of meat •Fridays – mashed up fish •Work Time/Chores •Girls learned to sew, cook and clean •Boys learned to farm and grow a garden •Some boys learned basic carpentry and shoe repair •Cleaning groups cleaned their designated part of the school (boys and girls) •Study Hour •Supper •Clean-up •Recreation Time •Prayers •Bedtime