The schools, financed by the government but run largely by churches…

About Canada’s residential schools…

The New York Times reports.

OTTAWA — Canada’s former policy of forcibly removing aboriginal children from their families for schooling “can best be described as ‘cultural genocide.’ ”

That is the conclusion reached by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission after six years of intensive research, including 6,750 interviews. The commission published a summary version on Tuesday of what will ultimately be a multivolume report, documenting widespread physical, cultural and sexual abuse at government-sponsored residential schools that Indian, Inuit and other indigenous children were forced to attend.

The schools, financed by the government but run largely by churches, were in operation for more than a century, from 1883 until the last one closed in 1998.

Oh no oh no oh no – those 11 words make up one of the most sinister phrases you can hear – the schools, financed by the government but run largely by churches. That describes the Irish industrial “schools” too, except that they weren’t even schools, they were prisons.

The commission documented that at least 3,201 students died while attending the schools, many because of mistreatment or neglect, in the first comprehensive tally of such deaths.

The report linked the abuses at the schools, which came to broad public attention over the last four decades, to social, health, economic and emotional problems affecting many indigenous Canadians today. It concluded that although some teachers and administrators at the schools were well intentioned, the overriding motive for the program was economic, not educational.

“The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to aboriginal people and gain control over their lands and resources,” the report said. “If every aboriginal person had been ‘absorbed into the body politic,’ there would be no reserves, no treaties and no aboriginal rights.”

But at least they gave the children a decent education, right?

The research and interviews conducted by the commission detailed a boarding school system that was woefully underfunded, inadequately staffed and largely ineffective at its stated aim of providing useful education.

Some former students interviewed by the commission cited school sports and music and arts programs as bright spots in their lives. But those programs were not generally part of the system, and most former students, even those who were not physically or sexually harmed or neglected, said their daily lives had been heavily regimented and lacked privacy and dignity. At many of the schools, students were addressed and referred to by number as if they were prisoners.

And yet we’re always being told that it’s Christianity that invented the idea of human dignity. Odd, that.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Even at the residential facilities (which didn’t actually function as “schools”), the children were forced to do lots and lots of manual labor – one account told of the terror in having to lean out an open window of an upstairs floor to wash the outsides of the windows while another child held onto a rope tied around the window-washer-child’s waist – that was all the safety equipment provided. And relentless physical punishment and hunger were commonplace as well. These were nothing better than Christian labor camps.

    Sometimes the children were rented out to farmers who needed extra hands for manual labor. Sometimes the children were rented out to pedophiles. Sometimes the dead children were buried in unmarked mass graves:

    “The very first claim for education is that there will be never a second Auschwitz.” – Theodor Adorno, “Raising Children After Auschwitz”

    Looks like those good, noble, moral Christians running those pseudo-Nazi labor camps misunderstood and thought that an Auschwitz-like environment was ideal for education O_O Notice, also, that, when children were finally released in their teens from these labor camps, they arrived home unable to communicate with their older relatives and extended families. Thanks to the good Christian complicity in the governments’ anti-aboriginal policies, these poor individuals lost their entire childhoods, their families, AND their connection to their heritage and their family lines.

    Genocide – Christianity’s prime directive.

  2. says

    Titles like “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” reek of cover ups, even when they actually expose what they’re supposed to. The facts may come out, but as with abuses in Ireland or with the Red Cross blood scandal in Canada during the 1980s, those responsible are never brought to trial, never held accountable. The survivors don’t want “reconciliation”, to let the violators absolved of their crimes simply by having the crimes spoken aloud once and then buried. They want capitulation and convictions, for people to plead guilty and do prison time. Such “commissions” seem intent on preventing that.

  3. says

    Re ‘…those 11 words make up one of the most sinister phrases you can hear …’

    Yep. Filed under ‘never do this’.

    I ponder sometimes whether the absence of a really formal/dramatic divorce between church and state in the style of a proper Enlightenment revolution is entirely a bad thing, places like the Commonwealth/former British colonies, where, instead, there’s more this incremental devolution of power. I mean, you look at places like the U.S. where it seems like the ink was still drying on the establishment clause when the Dominionists got right to work on ignoring it, and you can’t help but wonder…

    And then there’s shit like this, to make you figure we’d have been vastly better off had we had our own Diderot.

    (/Sure, presumably ours would have favoured lumberjack shirts or something… But then their skill with a chainsaw would have commanded respect.)

  4. says

    … and most former students, even those who were not physically or sexually harmed or neglected, …

    … still had to comply with the first rule they were given; never speak in your mother tongue to anyone, fellow student or staff, on penalty of a beating.

    I grew up alongside residential school survivors and heard their stories often. This was a constant complaint. “Speak English, or be punished.” Which meant, basically, silence for months.

    Strangely similar: my mother lived in a residential school for white Christian missionaries’ children for 6 years. Same rule: speak English or be beaten. My mother was 6 when she arrived, and spoke very little English, having been raised up to that point in a mainly Chinese-speaking household. When she talked about it in later years, this was always the first point in her litany of abuse. The Christian (and my mother never left the faith, but still …) staff effectually isolated her, and cut her off from all her former ties.

    Which, I guess, was the goal in the Canadian residential schools.

  5. Jenora Feuer says

    never speak in your mother tongue to anyone, fellow student or staff, on penalty of a beating.

    Yeah, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” was pretty blatantly the point of the system. Forced assimilation and conformity. Utterly destroy any sense of being different and actually deserving of respect. Eradicate the local cultures.

    Titles like “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” reek of cover ups,

    Well, despite Prime Minister Harper officially apologizing on behalf of the federal government at the time this Commission was set up, his actions in general over the years leave little doubt that he’d be happy if that apology were all he had to do and he could just ignore the results.

    The fact that the Commission had no authority to offer amnesty in exchange for testimony meant, unsurprisingly, that almost none of the people involved in the school operations were ever interviewed. Almost all the people heard from were the victims. (Which in many ways is the way it should have been, but the problem is that the abusers would have been the only ones who would have known about money trails and the like, so actively taking apart any remnants of the system is harder without them.)

    It’s also notable that the commission was supposed to have finished last year; but the federal government had to be ordered to hand over some of the documents back in 2013, and going through all that required extending the commission:

    As I said, I expect Harper was hoping that the formal apology and setting up the commission would be all he would be required to do, and he could just let the whole thing die in committee.


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