The residential school system was a Canadian government establishment that aimed to bring in as many indigenous people as possible to take them from their tradition. Taking children away from their families, under the falsehood of better education, eradicating indigenous culture, tradition, and language by educating the children in the European way of life (Aljazeera, 2017). Under the Indian Act, the Canadian government rolled out the Aboriginal policy that severed indigenous ties between children, their families, and their communities. For the residential schools to change how the indigenous children thought, they forced them to dress the same, cut their hair in a specific manner, and all were made to wear uniforms. The Canadian government aimed to assimilate the children to ensure they had no more Indian origin in them when they left the residential schools.
Therefore, the schools were developed not as an education platform but as a Canadian government opportunity to break the cultural and identity links between Indian children, their families, and communities. Based on Sir John A. Macdonald, the central training industrial school, as the residential schools were referred to, served to detach the Indian children from their savage parents to acquire white men’s thought modes and habits. The church ran the schools and ingrained the routine in how the children dressed, prayed, ate, played, and punished the children for what they never did. Specifically, the churches involved were the Anglican, the Methodist, the Presbyterian, the Roman Catholic, and the United churches. The system was racial against the Indians where not only were the children punished for who they were but were also sexually assaulted.
Denald shows that being raised as a young Indian in a residential school was traumatizing. Not only does she relive the fear she experienced during her stay at the Mohawk Residential school, but in her memory, Denald still recalls the torture she encountered under the institution. For example, she still screams when a glass breaks due to the scare and sometimes her family gets mad at her. She still recalls seeing her friend being killed since she saw it happen. Bud Whiteye shows he recalls his experience at the residential school as the darkest period of his life. Not only was he molested in the boiler room, but he has the courtesy to show where it happened and also narrates how the agents from the residential system beat them, and the screams would echo endlessly until there was silence. Whiteye also recalls the scene of a drowning child with his head above the water in a raging river. The child slipped, trying to catch another life-saving breath, but in vain since he knew the unrelenting water would soon take him under for good.
The experiences are critical to me and my learning about residential schools since they an understanding of an era where the Canadian government practiced racism openly under the disguise of educating the indigenous people. Further, it shows how the government used its resources to assimilate the Indians against their will and eliminate them based on their distinction. Based on these experiences, for Canadians and the world, knowing about the survivors and the residential schools gives everybody an understanding of what the Canadian government did to persecute the Indians racially.
According to Murray Sinclair, cultural genocide is a concept that refers to the destruction of the practices and structures that enabled the indigenous people to exist. On distinguishing the concept, Sinclair compares it to biological and physical genocide and shows it was state allowed and aimed to eliminate the states from the social and political institutions associated with the Indians. Since the people from the first nation occupied large pieces of the land, the government practiced cultural genocide by seizing their lands, forcing the populations into the transfer, and restricting their movements. Further, Sinclair associates the concept with the desire of the Canadian government to divest its financial and legal obligations to the native Canadians while gaining control of their resources and lands. The government considered that if every Indian were absorbed into the Canadian political body, there would be no treaties, reserves, or Aboriginal rights to contend with.
Cultural genocide was founded on the assumption that Christian religions and European civilizations were superior to the Indian cultures. Based on that assumption, the social and political institutions targeted were; first, the aboriginal children were discouraged, later prohibited, from speaking in their native languages. The second example of cultural genocide was that since Aboriginal practices were considered brutal and savage, the church-led institutions led campaigns to ban spiritual practices. With the ban came the end of practices like the Sundance and the Potlatch. Lastly, despite church and government officials assuming that Aboriginal people could be civilized, they ended their traditional marriage practices. That resulted from the notion that the Aboriginal culture was inferior compared to the European civilization.
Based on the documentary, the first person selected responsible for creating, maintaining, or supporting the residential school system in Canada was Ron Shortt, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer. Shortt’s contribution to the system was that he was assigned to assist an agent from the residential school system. In his capacity, Shortt’s responsibility was to help pick two children, around six and eight years, from a family in Fort Smith, Northwest territories. Short believed picking up children and separating them from their parents was inappropriate; however, he had no alternative to being in the RCMP and could not complain about his responsibility. Further, his attitude towards the Aboriginals was that their children needed formal education, and he saw no problem with that. After realizing what went on, his responsibility returned to haunt him despite taking only five minutes of his time in 1964.
From the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s final report, the second person chosen responsible for creating, maintaining, or supporting the residential school system in Canada was the then prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald. The prime minister’s contribution to cultural genocide was his justification of the residential school policy. In his position, he considered the Aboriginal people to be savages whose influence on their children would mean that regardless of whether they learned to read and write, their thought mode remained Indian. The prime minister’s attitude toward the Indians was that their children were better of being exposed to the central training industrial schools. That was an opportunity to withdraw them from their parental influence to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream, which was against the children’s and parents’ will.
The most valuable thing learned from the documentary and the final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee is that the Canadian government intended to eliminate the Aboriginal culture and tradition through “education.” What made the European settlers consider the inhabitants of the first nation as a stain on the country’s social order and started through cultural genocide was the government’s attempt to assimilate the Indians. European civilization and Christian religions incorporated European political structures to overrule the indigenous social and political structures that allowed the existence and growth of the Indians. However, the Aboriginal practices were never inferior just because the European culture was considered superior to other cultures and traditions. It was the government’s approach and use of power to undermine the natives. Further, as Sinclair and Shortt explain, the Aboriginal policy was the government’s way of forcefully gaining access to the Indian’s resources and lands.
The information about the residential schools presented in this week’s content impacts me as an early childhood educator since it allows me to reflect on the importance of cultural diversity in schools. Every culture has something significant to share with the world and as an early childhood educator, incorporating this within a learning environment is critical. First, it serves as a platform to exchange ideas among students and for the overall development of the students. Moreover, incorporating the content as part of Canadian history into the curriculum is equally crucial since it allows every student to understand each culture’s values. That would help to change the mistaken idea that some practices, cultures, and traditions are superior to others. With that, students will develop understanding and distancing themselves from racial roots that have painted Canada’s adverse image.