So much talk is generated about the horrific findings of Residential Schools in Canada. So far, we have primarily heard of these schools from out West. Ontario, however, had 18 of them. The last Residential School closed in the 1960s. I found myself learning about the background, the unwavering issues, the conditions, and moving forward from the recent discoveries.
To that end, I interviewed a young Métis woman for this article, who I met through mutual friends. Once she began to talk, she became animated and lost in her story while I became mesmerized by her knowledge, by her compassion for “her people.” She spoke with such passion, conviction and with a bit of hope for the future of “her people.” That phrase came up in our conversation often. During our two hours together, I wrote absolutely nothing on paper as I was so overwhelmed that I knew so little of what she was telling me. I realized that she barely scratched the surface of the issues of Residential Schools. She spoke with thoughtful persuasion, tinged with sadness that the Indigenous people were forgotten and were irrelevant through history. Their history doesn’t matter; their wisdom is not required; their ceremonies, traditions and heritage are not valued. They are most comfortable and productive in their communities. Residential Schools were then established by the government of Canada but run by Christian Churches to take the “Indian” out of the Native Indians. What better way to start the process than through children, where teachers can mould them in the likeness of mainstream Canada. It was a brutal place for the thousands of children taken away from their families, who weren’t allowed to speak their language or practise their customs or religion. Many of them died in deplorable conditions, of diseases, of neglect of a broken spirit.
The two hours of conversation weighed heavily on me. However, it also motivated me to tap into resources and find many reading materials to educate myself in Canadian history that I sadly missed when I was in school. Unfortunately, not much of it did I teach when I became a teacher. I must better understand the significant issues surrounding Residential Schools, The Indian Act, and Truth and Reconciliation as they are all connected. I need to understand the struggles, the background of the Indigenous People and government interventions before writing comprehensively about them.
Just My Opinion