Canadian residential schools

You may have heard it on the news this past week that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of a residential school in Canada. Residential schools were compulsory boarding schools run by the government and religious authorities during the 19th and 20th centuries with the aim of forcibly assimilating indigenous youth.

I knew these awful schools had existed but I thought only in Australia. It was only on Anne with an E that I realized these schools had also existed in Canada, right up into the 1970s! In season 3 of Anne with an E the character of Ka’kwet (Kiawenti:io Tarbell), a girl from the Mi’kmaq tribe, was introduced…

… and her storyline broke my heart. Hers was the story of a First Nations girl who goes to a residential school full of hope at first but then quickly gets confronted with the horrible reality of these schools. Even though she tries to, she can not escape. Someone made a video about her storyline on the show. At one point a priest says, “God willing, we kill the Indian but save the child” and that line alone just broke my heart. It is included in this video…

The story of Ka’kwet on Anne with an E ends with her being stuck in residential school, her parents camping out near the school and Anne and Matthew going home heartbroken, vowing to start a letter campaign to get her out. Fans, like me, are seeking a better ending for Ka’kwet than she got. A Mi’kma’ki woman wrote a beautiful piece in 2019 just after the show was canceled on how frustrating it is that Ka’kwet never got a real resolution due to the premature cancelation and I’m with her. Showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett has said before that it is impossible to give Ka’kwet an undamaged happy ending as that would not be realistic and she is right. Still, I feel she would have given her some sort of real resolution had the show been allowed to continue and I still really want to see that. So yes, this is another reason why Anne with an E still needs to be renewed.

Today on Twitter Corrine Koslo, who so brilliantly plays Rachel Lynde on the show, shared this…

I’ve been watching these testimonials and it is impossible for me to grasp that these schools existed in my lifetime. Vivian, one of the women giving her testimony, is my age and the effects on her life are harrowing.

In 2008 and in 2017 apologies were made to the First Nations people of Canada and some reparations have also been made. The awful news of finding the remains of these 215 children now has brought this history to the forefront all over the world and that is a good thing. It is important to know what happened (there is some good background info about Canadian residential schools on Wikipedia) and to listen. Of course, we humans do not easily learn to be more tolerant of the other (I’m thinking specifically of Uyghur camps in China right now that are aimed at indoctrinating Uyghurs and other Muslims and eradicating their culture and religion) but I still hope that from knowledge eventually healing and wisdom will come that ends these savage discriminatory practices.

30 thoughts on “Canadian residential schools

    1. Yeah, I realized a while back when I read up a bit about the Canadian schools that there were also US residential schools. Still exisiting, though? I’d need to google that but, if so, wow!

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      1. Servetus

        I guess there are now 7 off-reservation federally controlled boarding schools for Native American children in the US, of which four are operated by a government agency and 3 by particular tribes / bands.

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  1. Really interesting, Esther. I had never heard of these schools in context with Canada (or the US, as Servetus pointed out above). It’s mindblowing that they were around in our life-time. And all under the pretext of “improving” their lives… (Also, this find of the remains of children reminds me painfully of the various similar scandals we have had here in Ireland. Shocking to the extreme, and often, if not always, done in the name of Christianity (in Ireland)…)

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    1. These residential schools were also Christian. Some awful things have been done in the name of religion and have given religion such a bad name when there are also good things in religion. Goes to show that no one, religious or not, is immune from doing evil.
      Yes, those scandals in Ireland (but not only there!) are awful. Did you ever see Philomena with Judi Dench about an Irish woman who in later life went in search of her son, taken away from her by nuns who were caring for unwed young mothers, and the child was sent to America for adoption. Really good movie highlighting another terrible perpetration by a (Catholic) institution.

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      1. I’ve never had the heart to watch it. I remember watching a film about the Magdalen Laundries about 18 years ago, and it was so harrowing, it left me sleepless for days. There is nothing worse I can imagine, than being forced to give up one’s child.

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        1. Yes, it is terrible (such stories always get me in the gut as well) but the movie is well done, with real heart and even humour, it’s totally worth it.

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          1. That must have been it, Radaghast. It was shown on Irish telly around that time, and it really hit me extra hard because my daughter was still a baby… The pain of those women… I could imagine it (and of course yet *couldn’t* imagine it). Harrowing and heartbreaking.

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  2. Yes, i saw a documentary about them, absolutely awful. I think the documentary was actually about the much larger ongoing issue of First Nation people being disadvantaged and many many women being killed and their killers never punished. It’s an ongoing problem in Canada and judging by how little we all hear and know about it, largely swept under the carpet and not addressed. 😦 Very sad and painful… https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-32115683 This is years old and it re-emerges regularly very sadly, like just last year: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-54350027

    Liked by 2 people

    1. aradaghast

      ” think there is a lot of dark history in all our countries”
      my last discovery:
      #Jersey #Révélations #ARTE
      Jersey – L’orphelinat de la honte | ARTE

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Actually, the last residential school in Canada closed only in 1996. Hard to believe, right? The system has had and still has lasting impacts on indigenous people, as the trauma and the lack of bonding with family due to the enforced separation carries down through generations.

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    1. aradaghast

      Adding correctional centers abuses and the phenomenon of single mothers whose children were declared dead at birth … then given up for adoption.
      for example:
      Based on a true story, “Kongen av Bastøy”, “King of Devil’s Island” 2010 is a film set in a correctional center for young Norwegian “delinquents”. The film is a testimony, of quality.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks! This is awful. And I guess it is tough with boarding schools anyhow.

      My younger siblings went to one close to where my parents lived in Germany and it was later revealed (although my siblings had never known) that some teachers had forced boys to do sexual acts. It was a whole scandal, all over the German news, and young boys had been the target. A teacher not involved in this that my brother had kept in contact with told my brother that he had never been targeted because my parents had been quite prominent in the neighbourhood and were extremely involved with my siblings’ school life, so the ‘bad teachers’ (including the director!) had kept away from him.

      I also went to boarding school, in The Netherlands, and loved my time there. Then some 10 years or so ago I heard that our old music teacher had possibly also molested some of his students that came for one-on-one classes. I’d only ever been in the choir so I never noticed any of that or heard any rumours at the time. The man had already passed away when this came out, so no criminal investigations or anything happened.

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      1. Servetus

        Some of that is probably generalizable: it’s been my observation that my parents have gotten better medical attention once it was made clear to the professionals concerned that we were involved and watching what was happening. Institutions that intentionally try to break down family relationships (like these indigenous boarding schools) and connections are probably ripe for potential abuse just because of that.

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  4. Teuchter

    As a dual Canadian/British Citizen (we came to Canada in 1976) I was unaware to a large extent to what had been going on in these Residential Schools. My eyes were opened by members of my extended family (through marriage) who have parents or grandparents who actually experienced these schools. I’m proud that a granddaughter in law is part First Nations through her maternal Grandmother who was in one of those schools although not actually mistreated herself. Also one of my grandsons in law has a stepmother who is Indigenous and her father experienced some bad times in those places. So very very sad.

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  5. Pingback: Contemplative – The Book of Esther

  6. God it is horrendous, more and more stories of such evil abuse of power. It is the numbers of children too that is so shocking and that the perpetrators could do these vile acts with impunity. Presumably there was consent then from the wider community, or at the very least indifference.

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  7. As more and more unmarked graves are now being discovered, I hope that all pf these “schools” get searched so that the First Nations communities directly impacted by the loss of their children finally get the truth out. There can be no reconciliation if it remains buried. Such a heartbreaking part of colonialism.

    Liked by 1 person

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