Windspeaker.com Archives May 1998
No End of Grief: Indian Residential Schools in Canada
Dr. Agnes Grant
Pemmican Publications Inc.
The book documents with disarming intensity the incredible betrayal of the Aboriginal people in this country, who had trusted the Canadian government to deliver the quality education promised in treaties.
The head-on collision between the civilizing forces of Christianity and the natural, holistic and established ways of ancient and complex cultures was to have devastating and long-term effects which are still felt today.
The suffering caused by the separation from parents, loss of language and repression of traditional ways and beliefs left several generations of Aboriginal children lost in a land of humiliation, bewilderment and alienation.
One of the most poignant and symbolic memories described by some of the survivors was the devastating loss of their long hair and braids, an important part of the ritual imposed by the nuns and priests to strip "the pagan and savage" identities from their little charges. Cutting off hair, explains Grant, is a key part of cross-cultural domination around the world.
Grant provides an honest and credible account of an era that many would probably like to forget or see swept under the carpet. But healing, she said, must begin with acknowledgment, not denial.
Generations of Aboriginal people still live with painful memories of residential schools. They are trying to deal with these memories and forgive the perpetrators, but are unable to forget.
"They ask only," writes Grant, "that justice be done in our time as they seek resources to restore the balance that was forcibly shattered by ruthless domination, human incompetence, Christian over-zealousness and government indifference."
Stolen From Our Embrace
By Suzanne Fournier and Ernie Crey
Douglas & McIntyre
Stolen From Our Embrace is a joint effort by journalist Suzanne Fournier and Native activist and Sto:lo Fisheries manager Ernie Crey.
Through first-person accounts, they examine how First Nations children were forced into residential schools, foster homes and non-Native adoptions in foreign countries.
Fournier examines the causes of some of the most prevalent problems facing today's First Nations children and their communities, tracing drug, alcohol and sexual abuse back to the government imposed systems that led to the loss of culture, family and self.
"As a child, I was forcibly removed from Sto:lo culture by social welfare authorities," wrote Ernie Crey. "Our family life was shattered after seven of my eight siblings and I were split apart into separate foster homes. We were never again to be reunited as a family," writes Crey.
Crey tells of being bounced around to various non-Native foster homes, many of which were operated by pedophiles and overzealous disciplinarians.
"I had seen my father's spirit dimmed by the residential school where his culture was choked out of him, so that all his life he held his Halq'emeylem language and spiritual knowledge in check, depriving us, his children, of our most precious birthright," he said.
Stolen From Our Embrace is a eye-opening book for non-Native people who wish to learn more about their government's attempts at cultural genocide, or for Native people who wish to compare their own stories with the stories of others.
A History of Native Residential Schools
By James R. Miller
University of Toronto Press
Ojibwa Chief Shingwauk of the Garden River community near Sault Ste. Marie sought academic learning and instruction in skills that young people could use to maintain themselves and future generations. Shingwauk traveled to see the King's representative and extended an invitation that would prove to have a profound and unseen effect on Native people for generations to follow.
Native people qickly became disillusioned with the teaching practices of the European world. Very quickly, Aboriginal leaders found that residential schools were not what they had sought. Their attempts to stop the oppression of their culture would have little effect for more than a century.
Shingwauk's Vision provides a historical overview of the residential schools to which status Indian children were sent. Residential schools, which were authorized by the federal government and operated by several Christian missionary bodies, were designed to Christianize, assimilate and train Native children for economic self sufficiency. Their failure to provide successful academic and vocational training, in addition to their mistreatment of children, provoked opposition that contributed to their ultimate demise in the 1960s.
Shingwauk's Vision provides the first comprehensive historical treatment of this exercise in attempted social engineering.
James R. Miller's findings are based on more than a decade's research of government, denominational and Native sources. Of particular importance to the book are the interviews and personal testimonies of survivors.