The Woe of Residential and Parochial Schools
Life in Residential Schools
The Experience of First Nations Children
Since the early days of European colonization of the western hemisphere, part of the agenda has been to subdue the people who were already in the region and either integrate them, to get rid of them, or to sweep them under the carpet in reservations. The policy of cultural destruction began early under the Spanish who attempted to wipe Maya culture from the face of the earth and replace it with obedience to the church and king of Spain. The same tactic was attempted at first peacefully with the Inca, who did not have a concept of what a book was about and, not seeing any immediate use, ignored the gift and triggered a hostile reaction from the Spanish who then on this pretext, began the route of the Inca empire. Along the way they were impressed with the vast wealth, the impossible (to the Spanish) architecture, the infrastructure unequalled in the world at the time and a social structure of a type where crime was virtually unknown. The British and French soon followed in North America were they began to settle.
The acceptance by the First Nations was mixed, some accepting the new arrivals as returning gods, or as equals needing help in a strange land with the trade off of support or with complete hostility. As the Europeans made more and more incursions, they brought with them various sects of the Christian religion, primarily Catholicism from the French and Spanish and Protestantism from the English. As the incursions began on the east coast of the western hemisphere, the policies of the churches got their start there and spread westward with the expansion of the European settlements.
Both major European churches sent missionaries early to the “New World” right from the outset as these accompanied the conquistadors and the settlers. Indeed, the Pilgrims at Roanoke and Plymouth Rock came to the “New World” to flee religious persecution in their British homeland. It was in the interest of the priests and missionaries to not only keep the faith in the community they travelled with, but also to win converts in the new lands where they arrived. Winning converts often went poorly for the most part. This is because all too often, the practices of the First Nations appeared barbaric to the missionaries. The Aztec custom of human sacrifice was abhorrent to the Spanish and their priests as were the many codices of the Maya that were viewed as the work of the devil. It made no difference that to these people, that the Spanish were similarly barbaric. When First Nations people got sick from smallpox and died, they were told that this was out of punishment from God for their idolatry. This kind of thing rang out again in the 1980s when gays were allegedly being punished by God for their lifestyle choice with the scourge of AIDS. So we can see a link between religious attitudes today with that of yesteryear.
The Huron were among one of the First Nations to convert to Catholicism under the French after a huge majority of their nation succumbed to smallpox. However, this was still before the establishment of church based residential schools, called this because the students literally lived in the schools like convicts live and work in private for profit prisons. In the beginning Adults and children alike were concentrated on for conversion to Christianity and the European ways. After the Huron converted, the Iroquois Confederacy turned on them for accepting European religion and also from seeing a moment of weakness after the Huron were decimated by disease. This kind of struggle continued nation by nation until the mid 19th century when the application of the Indian Clearing Act went into effect in the US and an assimilation began in Canada. For both, but particularly in Canada, the assimilation took on a very specific form in a combined and unequal fashion. Both the Catholics and Protestants were involved with the assimilation program. It was effected by a very specific manner. As the “Indian Wars” evolved, those that were defeated and relegated to reservations were to experience a new horror.
For the US, legislation passed in 1830 was to have ramifications all the way to 1890. In Canada, it was in 1857 that the Gradual Civilization Act passed to assimilate the First Nations. It was the policy of both new countries to separate the children from the parents at an early age and train the children in the European way. In Canada, the years of 1870 through to 1910 saw the period of assimilation where the clear objective of both missionaries and government was to assimilate Aboriginal children into the lower fringes of landed European mainstream society. This policy, especially in Canada, was to be carried deep into the 20th century. A synopsis of the history is described as;
In 1920 Compulsory attendance in residential schools for all children ages 7 to 15 years was enforced. Children were forcibly taken from their families by priests, Indian agents and police officers. Though some parents attempted to hide their children, many were eventually discovered, the children taken and the parents sent to prison for breaking the assimilation law. By 1931 there were 80 residential schools operating across the breadth of Canada. Thereafter, as demand started to fall, there were a diminishing number of these schools with 72 in 1848, 12 by 1979 and the last federal residential school closing in 1996 in Saskatchewan. It was in the 1980s that residential school students began disclosing sexual and other forms of abuse at residential schools that were conducted by the priests, nuns and missionaries. By 1998, two short years before the advent of the new millennium, the Assembly of the First Nations (AFN) established the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Unit.
The Adults saw their way of life dying as children were kidnapped and then held virtual hostage in residential Catholic or Protestant schools run by priests and nuns for the Catholic version and missionaries for the Protestant version. The children who had been torn away from their parents after the terror of the application of the Indian Clearing days went into a state of psychic shock. This trauma was deepened by the severity of the treatment they received at the residential schools that were more prison than educational facility. In the beginning, children of all ages were taken in to be re-educated. Resistance or practice of “Indian customs” was severely punished. In some cases, that punishment came in the form of pederast rape. Priests and nuns being human, and self denied in sexual practice, at times succumbed to their all too human desires and also abused these unwilling students. At other times, some children were so severely punished or treated, they died and were secretly buried. This is one of the shames that has been carried forward into the current era where court settlements for this kind of abuse was acknowledged and some First Nations people were compensated. The Catholic church suffered from this kind of problem more than the missionary residential schools and got much in the way of heavy criticism.
The philosophy behind this was to take the children as young as possible and train them to be complaint and assimilated into their new society and to fulfil roles of being little more than slaves in an economy that still relied heavily on human muscle to run industry and agriculture in the days before machines did all the dangerous, dirty and hard work. Young children, basically being a “blank slate” can be trained early in whatever way is desired to perform any function that they have been selected to fulfil. Some children attempted to escape back to their parents and the old ways, but they were often captured, punished and placed in restraints to continue their education. When they graduated, they might be sent to cities to work in the worst jobs in the mills, to work in the mines or as farm workers and a pool of cheap labour. Some were placed in the military to go to Europe to fight the dirty wars between competing European rivals in the old world.
Among the tactics to break the First Nations spirit was to engineer a famine by destroying the food base they depended on for life. Thus, the Trail of Tears was the end result of the destruction of the vast Bison herds and the defeat at Wounded Knee. At this point, more than at any other, children were simply and forcibly removed from their parents without any remorse or apology. However, the need for slaves was to be redefined after the Emancipation Proclamation after the end of the Civil War in the US. Black and Indian chattel slavery was abolished for the now favoured waged employment that was to become the norm in an increasingly industrial nation. But after the proclamation, things were not to go well for the black of the First Nations individual. They were to be visited by chronic poverty and unemployment. For the First Nation person, this was to translate into a return to the reservation, but with the training and understanding of a European slave. The alienation between the new way and the old way was immediate. For the ones that were abducted early in life, it was the hardest as they even spoke a foreign tongue and knew almost nothing of their parents language and ways. Most never succeeded in finding the true relations, making for more difficulty. Others drifted to the slums of the major metropolises and got caught in lives of crime, idleness, substance abuse and chronic unemployment and poverty. In Canada, a disproportionate number of persons in prison are of First Nations background.
Rebellions have also occurred from time to time and all were brutally crushed and the defeated had to run a gauntlet of stone throwing bigots. Today, we learn of how the Inuit are now being targeted for assimilation. Their old ways are being systematically liquidated as RCMP kill sled dogs and render their hunting-gathering lifestyle impossible. The Inuit are then forced to turn to the government for welfare handouts where they were completely dependant before. The handouts are insufficient for their needs and now they are hungry and sick. They are forced to shop for and eat foods for which they have not evolved to eat over the last 12,000 to 16,000 years. This in itself has contributed to health problems. Many among them state that the sled dogs of the Inuit are systematically being targeted whereas the RCMP dogs and those of the whites are left alone. For their side, the RCMP claim that the dogs are feral and are threatening people in general out of hunger and therefore had to be shot on sight. In the final analysis, there is a double whammy as was of old. The first one is global warming that is melting the traditional homes of the Inuit. The second is the increasing interest and competition for oil and resources by Canada, Russia and the Norwegian countries. In this second scenario, the Inuit are in the way and thus have to be assimilated; but for what. Many young Inuit now find their way south to major Canadian metropolises to end up in squalor and poverty, begging on the streets.
In a world gone mad for resources like oil at any cost, people like the First Nations, the Inuit in particular today, and increasingly Amazonia for tomorrow, are in the way of multinational corporations and their imperialist designs for the mega-profits from raw resources. The machines of industry are gobbling up everything in their path as if the entire world were a strip mine. One now unnamed First Nations individual summed it up by stating “First they came for the food and took that. Then they took the water and air. Next they took the very land and mountains. Now they are taking even the rocks.”
Many signs are telling us that this way has to end, or we are going to end as a result of our ends of selfish aggrandizement at any cost. By now, we know of some well publicized alternatives, but the drive to enact them is weak and paltry, insufficient to stem the mad rush for oil, coal and war. Then there are alternatives that can be taken that surpass those we do know about and these are censored and blocked from the media. Most people are too busy trying to survive to be even concerned in the least about any of this. It is a world problem and needs a world solution. Visionaries of the First Nations like the Hopi Aztec and Maya saw this before and during its development and they have a dire warning for all of us. Will we correct the situation, or go the way of business as usual?
Abducted First Nations children endure Residential Schools
Whisper n Thunder "Bringing Our Children Home"
- Insipiant Fascism, Then and Now
Are we beginning to see a repetition of an earlier pattern in history where undesirables are registered, identified and selected to be liquidated in a eugenics based program?
Canada's Inconvenient Truth
Apparently the woe is not over in the US and labeling the schools as genocide in action
- Residential schools genocide: Sinclair - Winnipeg Free Press
The chairman of Canada's truth and reconciliation commission says removing more than 100,000 aborig... - Canada - Winnipeg Free Press.