Christian Education

No Chance to be Children: Residential School Life in Canada


Snatched from cattle carts and buses, tens of thousands of Indigenous children taken to Canadian residential schools run primarily by the Catholic Church were living a “paramilitary” lifestyle, waking up early to pray, queuing in a row. stiff and enduring regular beatings, survivors said.

The experiences of Indigenous children, forcibly separated from their families under a government policy later described as cultural genocide, are back in the spotlight after a radar poll uncovers evidence of the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked areas on the lot of a residential neighborhood in Western Canada. school last month. Read more

The system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families and took them to Christian residential schools operated on behalf of the federal government.

A Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created to investigate the impact of the residential school system said in 2015 that children were malnourished, beaten and abused in a system it called “cultural genocide.” “.

Ruth Roulette, 69, who grew up on the Long Plain First Nation reserve in Manitoba, remembers being initially thrilled to be in the car for the first time when she and her siblings were taken to residential school in Sandy Bay near Lake Manitoba. When it arrived, Roulette and her sisters were separated from their brothers and taken in to have their hair cut.

“At night I kept asking myself, ‘How come we are here? Why don’t we come home?’” She said.

Indigenous children had their long hair, which was often of spiritual significance to them, cut when they arrived and were not allowed to speak their mother tongue, according to the TRC. The students were given European names and, often, numbers and uniforms.

On her first day at school, says Roulette, a nun silently handed her a pencil and paper and, as she wasn’t responding quickly enough, punched her in the face. blood everywhere. I didn’t know what I did. false. I just cried and cried and then had to clean all the blood. “

Roulette said she and her friends had tried to run away but were caught, beaten and fed carrots for a week – they were told “people who run away are like rabbits”.

Schools focused on manual skills, teaching boys carpentry and other trades while girls were prepared for domestic service. While schools were touted as the only way for indigenous children to get a formal education, students also worked, cleaning up manure or feeding animals.

Survivors remembered a regulated lifestyle in which they woke up at 5:30 a.m., went to chapel half an hour later, and then began a long day of schoolwork and chores.

Lorraine Daniels, 67, went to three different residential schools in Manitoba and said she learned to follow crowds in order to stay undetected to escape abuse.

Daniels skipped a class, excelled in sports, and earned a master’s degree in Christian education ministry.

“I had a difficult life after I left,” she said. “I found a church that I loved and it really helped me through my difficult years. I lived my Christian life, but I also embraced my culture.

Children’s shoes, toys, candy, tobacco and flowers are placed on a memorial at the Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School, which closed in 1975, in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, Canada, June 8, 2021 . REUTERS / Shannon VanRaes

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“I don’t blame the Church, I blame the people who ran the Church, who stole our people, our culture, our beliefs.”


The discovery of the bodies at Kamloops Indian Residential School in the province of British Columbia reopened old wounds in Canada regarding the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system. The school closed in 1978.

On Sunday, protesters in Toronto destroyed the statue of Egerton Ryerson, a Methodist educator and minister who was one of the architects of a system that sought to assimilate Indigenous children so that they lose their ties with their families and their children. cultures.

Kamloops survivor Saa Hiil Thut, 72, vividly remembers the nighttime silence with otherwise rowdy teens too scared to make a sound.

“The violence there was paramilitary, and it was controlled with great rigor,” he said. “The punishment was the way they kept silence and maintained order.”

The food was inadequate and inedible, the survivors said. The children would try to eat it and vomit, then were forced to eat their own vomit.

“It was not suitable for human consumption,” Daniels said. “We were always hungry.”

In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week said the Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many schools and provide records to help identify the remains.

Pope Francis said on Sunday he was saddened by the discovery of the remains but did not apologize. Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller, in whose historic Archdiocese of Kamloops Residential School was located, said in a tweet last week that the Church was “unquestionably wrong” to implement a policy that resulted in ” devastation for children, families and communities ”.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment.

Indigenous groups plan to research residential schools across the country, as communities mourn the lives of the 215 Kamloops students whose remains were recently discovered.

“They never had the chance to be kids, just like we didn’t have the chance,” Roulette said.

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