|Banner Photograph for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The book touches upon the problems caused by the education of generations of Canadian Indians in residential schools. Thousands of Indian children, as young as 6 years of age, were taken from their families on their home reserves to attend these schools. At some schools they would get to go home at Christmas. At other schools they would be there from September to June.
The schools were part of the Federal Government’s attempt to assimilate Canadian Indians through education and taking away their culture. At the schools children were punished for using their native language or following any traditional cultural practices. Discipline was harsh. They would remain in the residential schools for up to 12 years.
There were major problems with physical and sexual abuse. There have been generational problems as the children who, essentially grew up without parents and other family, became adults and had their own children.
In recent years the issues of residential schools are being addressed through a Federal Government compensation system and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is currently holding hearings across
I have represented Indians pursuing compensation. They consider themselves survivors of residential schools. It is a wrenching experience to listen to strong, physically powerful, men break down in your office recounting experiences some had not even told their families.
At the same time I have also represented individuals who worked in residential schools against whom abuse allegations have been made. While they face no legal or financial consequences it is also difficult to hear persons emotionally stating they are facing false accusations.
The residential schools deeply scarred generations of Canadian Indians.
The stolen children were raised on missions or by foster
parents. They were totally cut off from their Aboriginality.
They were severely punished when caught talking their
Aboriginal language. Some children never learned anything
traditional and received little or no education. Instead the
girls were trained to be domestic servants, the boys to be
In Arthur Upfield’s book The Will of the Tribe he talks about two educated aboriginal people, Tessa and the Captain. While educated they neither fit into white nor aboriginal society.
Smilla talks of the dislocation for the Greenlanders removed from their semi-nomadic life on the land to urban
. Many found themselves isolated neither accepted by Danes or native Greenlanders. They struggle to find a place in society. I described Smilla as a misfit in Denmark . Denmark
In contrast is the experience of Jimmy Perez in Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. Children as young as 12 would be brought to Lerwick from the smaller Shetland Islands to live in a hostel so they could attend school. Perez from the more distant Fair Isle, could not go home for weekends. While required to move away for school at a young age there is not the same cultural dislocation as with indigeneous children.
I do recognize the impact on a person leaving home to go to school. I left home to attend boarding school when I was 15. It was the hardest year of my life going to live at a school where I did not know anyone. Yet my experience was mainly positive as I adjusted and matured. There was none of the abuse of Indian residential schools.
In Canada, Australia and Denmark each nation sought to eliminate the cultural identity and assimilate their aboriginal or indigenous people. The results were devastating to each country’s indigenous peoples with the effects continuing into the future. Australia described it best as “stolen generations”.