‘Scapegoating the Residential Schools – 2’

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‘Scapegoating the Residential Schools’
{Part 2 of 4}:

“In Canada, reports of abuse under the residential school system — run primarily by Christian religious — have been so frequently and energetically reported in the press that abuse and victimization have come to characterize the entire legacy of the residential schools.”

“While the horror of what occurred all too often needs to be brought out, such a one-sided and simplistic characterization constitutes a distortion of the truth and an injustice to the many — AND THERE WERE MANY — who served the native people in good faith and with much love.

ERBLScapegoatingTheResidentialSchools800x800-2“Painting all residential schools as dysfunctional places of abuse and making them a collective scapegoat for the social problems which continue to plague the native people of Canada will not solve these problems, nor does it do justice to the many who worked tirelessly for the betterment of native children”. 

“It is well known that epidemics of tuberculosis had a devastating effect on native populations, especially in the close quarters of residential settings, where the disease could spread easily. To jump to the conclusion that the high mortality rate of children in residential schools was a consequence of uncaring neglect in slum conditions contradicts the truth about many of these schools.

“While shocking individual cases of abuse can be horrific, it would be wrong to suggest that this kind of treatment was the norm. In most cases, discipline in the residential schools was on a par with what was being administered in private schools of the period. In fact, in quite a number of schools, considerable sensitivity was displayed toward both the children and their native cultures, and many missionaries resisted the government’s policy of assimilation.

“The French Oblates and Jesuits, among others, made it a practice to teach in the native tongues even in the face of pressure from the federal government, and, as the years passed, INCREASINGLY FROM NATIVE PARENTS THEMSELVES, to teach the children in French or English.

“Some schools even stimulated resistance to assimilative efforts and helped preserve and advance native culture. As one reviewer noted in her review of St. Mary’s school in Mission and the Qu’Appelle Industrial School at Lebret, Saskatchewan, natives in these schools retained their own cultural institutions in the form of dancing groups and traditional gatherings. When St. Mary’s closed in 1984, native dances by native staff were part of the chapel liturgy.

“It should be remembered that in many cases the schools were a response, however inadequate and, admittedly, in some cases abusive, to the serious social problems of alcoholism, violence, and a welfare mentality that were already destroying native people.

“TO SUGGEST THAT BLAME FOR NATIVE SOCIAL PROBLEMS TODAY CAN BE LAID AT THE FEET OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS IS TO SCAPEGOAT THEM AND AVOID THE REAL COMPLEXITY OF THE PROBLEM. IN AREAS WHICH NEVER SAW A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL, for example Labrador, the Arctic, and New Brunswick, SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN NATIVE COMMUNITIES ARE JUST AS SEVERE TODAY AS IN PLACES WHERE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS WERE ACTIVE.

“Despite the warnings of historians against romanticising pre-contact native cultures, the political and financial stakes are high and the idealizing of the native past continues unabated, ignoring as it does anything which might contradict the “ideal”. The violence and cruelty noted by early ethnographers in their reports of native slavery practices and inter-tribal warfare, and the many inequalities which existed in the caste-like social structures of many native cultures, are now cut out of the history. They simply don’t fit.

“Tragic problems existed at some of the residential schools and, for the most part, they failed in their purpose of “elevating” the native people. Nevertheless, many natives have fond memories of their residential school experience and have an image of the residential school as a happy, loving place. A number have even told me that their time at the residential school was the happiest of their lives.

“Painting all residential schools, and by implication all who ran them, with the same brush as those schools where abuse occurred, neither serves the truth nor does justice to the memory of the many — and there were many — who served the native people in good faith and with much love.”

–‘The Other Side of the Residential School Question’,
J. Fraser Field, Vancouver Sun (British Columbia), December 5, 1996
{CAPS added}

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/history/the-other-side-of-the-residential-school-question.html

FatherLacombe“In the 1940s, the schools were already two generations old. Following the decimation of the buffalo and the movement of the nomadic plains Indians to reserves, the first residential schools in the West were started in 1884 by Catholic Father Albert Lacombe {see below} and Bishop Vital Grandin. With the plains steadily filling up with settlers, and game scarce, the schools were envisioned as a means of endowing native children with the skills necessary to survive in their changed world.

“Initially termed “industrial schools,” the facilities were established by the churches and staffed by religious workers, in an era when few ‘white’ people had much sympathy for ‘Indians’. Besides core academics, various schools taught blacksmithing, woodworking, carpentry, cobbling, tailoring and farming.

“By the 1890s, the federal government had established control over the schools, and provided enrolment grants while the churches continued running them.
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“The number of schools peaked in 1946, when there were 76 scattered across Canada, most of them in the West.

“Of those schools, 45 were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, 19 with the Anglican Church, 10 with the Presbyterians and two with the United Church.

“By most estimates, over 150,000 native children were educated in residential schools between 1867 and the late 1960’s.

“Some schools, located on reserves, operated as day schools and the students went home to their parents at night. Others had day populations and boarders from farther afield. Some served very scattered populations and were entirely residential; PROHIBITIONS AGAINST SPEAKING INDIAN WERE MORE COMMON AT THESE, ESPECIALLY WHEN THE STUDENTS CAME FROM DIFFERENT TRIBES HISTORICALLY AT WAR WITH EACH OTHER.

“Some of the early industrial schools — for example, the Dunbow School near Calgary — were established in white communities SO THAT THE STUDENTS COULD APPRENTICE WITH LOCAL TRADESMEN.

“According to Gerry Kelly, coordinator for the ‘National Catholic Working Group on Native Residential Schools’, the Indian people themselves recognized the need for education.

“In several cases, Indian bands asked the government to establish schools,” he explains. “In the 1930’s, the Sechelt band near Vancouver lobbied the Oblates for such a school; some aboriginal communities wanted the schools so badly that they built them themselves. IT’S DISRESPECTFUL TO THE NATIVES’ HISTORY TO SUGGEST THAT THEY PLAYED NO PART IN THE SYSTEM, THAT THEY WERE HERDED MINDLESSLY ALONG BY THE GOVERNMENT. Natives exercised some authority.”

“Mr. Kelly is disappointed that the residential schools have been made scapegoats for all the suffering of the Indian people.

“In some cases,” he argues, “the very existence of these schools saved communities — for example, in the North. In times of epidemics, the institutions were there to care for people. Also, the irony is that the only [white] people who were concerned about the Indians worked in the schools.”

“Mr. Kelly explains that, after the Second World War, there was a growing movement to shut down the residential schools and transfer the responsibility of educating native children first to the provinces, and then to the natives themselves.

“The viability of the provincial systems was growing, and THERE WAS A GROWING MOVEMENT TO INTEGRATE NATIVE CHILDREN WITH NON-NATIVE.”

“IN 1946, a joint committee of the House of Commons and Senate RECOMMENDED THAT INDIAN CHILDREN BE SCHOOLED WITH NON-NATIVE CHILDREN WHEREVER POSSIBLE. According to the compilation of essays entitled “Indian Education in Canada”, by 1960 nearly 25% of Indian children in Canada were being schooled in provincial institutions.”

–Patrick Donnelly, Alberta Report, 01/26/98, Vol. 25 Issue 6 {CAPS added}

http://www.ainlay.ca/datafiles/Ourdeva/IndianResidentialSchools.pdf

Statue_Pere_Lacombe_St_Albert_Alberta_Canada_02A“Albert Lacombe (28 February 1827 – 12 December 1916), commonly known in Alberta simply as Father Lacombe, was a French-Canadian Roman Catholic missionary who lived among and evangelized the Cree and also visited the Blackfoot ‘First Nations’ of North Western Canada.

“He is now remembered for having brokered a peace between the Cree and Blackfoot, negotiating construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway through Blackfoot territory, and securing a promise from the Blackfoot leader Crowfoot to refrain from joining the North-West Rebellion of 1885.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Lacombe
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“Virulent epidemics were sweeping the west and on one occasion nearly claimed Lacombe’s life. Jean L’Heureux found him close to death in 1865 and nursed him back to health. Later that year, he was caught in the ongoing war between Blackfoot and Cree. He was camped with the Blackfoot along the Battle River when the Cree attacked and he was grazed by one of their bullets during his attempt to establish a cease-fire.”

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lacombe_albert_14E.html
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IMAGE:
The Chooutla “Indian Residential School” in Carcross, YT, 1921
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