Documents reveal the horrors of Indian Residential Schools
Photo by File While the discovery of 215 children’s graves at the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School have galvanized Canadian public opinion, the horrors of the Canadian Indian Residential School system were never a secret. Generations of Ottawa administrators were fully aware of the system’s deadly reputation, and while polite society at the time may have balked at the occasional story of abuse or mass death, they largely endorsed the system’s central mission of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children.
In archives, filing cabinets and desk drawers across Canada lie the paper trail of Indian Residential Schools: How abuse was overlooked, how neglect was institutionalized and how state coercion was used to take children from their families. Below, a gallery of primary documents showing how the crimes of residential schools looked to the people who saw, experienced and perpetrated them firsthand.”I wonder when the time will come when our pupils are permitted to take their place in ‘white’ social and industrial life”
The excerpt above comes from a 1940 letter written by the principal of Ahousaht Residential School. The letter is a thank you note to a Mrs. After quickly recapping the success of their annual Christmas concert, the principal launches into the passage above, where he laments the “influence of the older generation” in the lives of the Ahousaht students. This was a common sentiment among the people who operated Canada’s Indian Residential Schools: They believed that outright assimilation into white society represented the only future for “the Indian,” and they regarded with disdain anything that seemed to compromise that mission, even if it was just talking to their parents in their own language.
“The Indians do not, unfortunately, seem to show any great appreciation of what we are trying to do”
It’s easy to forget that Indian Residential Schools were once a cause clbre among Canadian progressives: Church groups held fundraisers for their nearest “Indian Home,” donors sponsored the tuition for individual children and reformers wrote editorials praising the effort to bring “civilization” to the Indian. The Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, operated by the Anglican Church, was one of the first in what would become a coast to coast Indian Residential School system. In this 1892 annual report, the operators of Shingwauk boast that the model they helped pioneer has now “blossomed out” across Canada.
The report also repeats a sentiment common to many operators of Indian Residential Schools: Bafflement at why Indigenous communities weren’t more grateful for their actions. “The Indians do not, unfortunately, seem to show any great appreciation of what we are trying to do,” it read. An appendix at the rear of the report belies its sunny claims, however. Of 140 students who attended the school in 1891, 30 are listed as having “left during the year,” including five who died. Teacher’s Federation, has been making the rounds on social media as a particularly vivid illustration of the coercion integral to the Indian Residential School system. It was drafted in 1948 by the principal of Kamloops Indian Residential School, the very same school whose grounds yielded the recent discovery of up to 215 graves by ground penetrating radar. Principal O’Grady occupied a position of such immense power over his pupils’ lives that he saw nothing amiss in telling parents that it was a “privilege” to have their children home for Christmas. Although only an ordained priest at the time this letter was written, O’Grady would ultimately become Bishop of Prince George, a position he would hold until 1986. That same year, the University of British Columbia would grant him an honorary degree for making “education more accessible to local communities in the Interior.”Story continues below
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More On This Topic The graves were never a secret: Why so many residential school cemeteries remain unmarked Residential school remains could reveal how 215 children lived and died, experts say
In 1939, Kenneth Stonechild, a deaf child at File Hills Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, ran away from school and attempted to hang himself in his family’s barn. Fortunately, Stonechild’s father was able to discover him and cut the rope before it proved fatal. Above is the hermes bracelet replica wholesale
initial reaction from the school’s principal, who dismissed the boy’s attempt to take his own life as an attempt to “cause trouble or bring discredit on the School.” There is no mention of Stonechild’s hearing problems, which frequently earned him beatings from teachers. Instead, the principal chalks it up to “low mentality.” The region’s medical superintendent also dismissed Stonechild’s attempted suicide, saying in a letter to his bosses in Regina that the boy “wished to stir up dissatisfaction against the school and staff.” The RCMP and various Indian Affairs bureaucrats would interview Stonechild about the incident, in which he usually began crying and expressing his fear at returning to school. Despite this, all involved simply recommended that Stonechild be transferred to a different school farther from his family home. There is “no excuse to allow him to return to the Reserve to bum around and do nothing,” wrote the medical examiner.