There was a time when Aboriginal peoples and Europeans newly-arrived to this land conducted affairs between them with mutual respect. There’s no need to romanticize the character of these relations. It was an era of alliances, political intrigue, war, and nastiness. But even warfare indicates respect. It bears an implicit acknowledgement of a foe’s strength and independence. In the initial phase of contact between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of this land, indigenous peoples had the advantages. They knew how to live on the land and how to navigate the rivers and the forests, and in battle there were more of them. Perhaps this is why mutual respect characterized the early relationship. Continue reading The Continuing Story Of A Continuing Relationship
Tag Archives: Canada
The High Arctic Relocation
THE FIRST public act of Canada’s Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, John Duncan, came today in the form of an apology to the nineteen Inuit families of Inukjuak and the three of Pond Inlet relocated to the barren landscapes of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, on Cornwallis and Ellesmere Islands, respectively, in 1953.
One today commonly refers to this region as “the northernmost inhabited part of Canada,” Cape Columbia being the northernmost point on the map of Canada. However, during the Cold War, when these eighty-nine Inuit were taken on a 2,000 km journey (the trip was shorter for the Pond Inlet residents, relocated to assist the southern Inuit in adjusting to their new life) and then unceremoniously divided up and abandoned to an entirely foreign ecosystem in their ill-adapted clothing, the United States and Greenland had at least as much substantive claim to the territory, if not more.
This detail matters because since the 1980s, when the Inuit initiated their claim against the Canadian government, a stumbling block of negotiations toward a proper settlement has been the suggestion that the relocation was part of an effort to assert Canada’s sovereignty over the “High Arctic.” Arctic Sovereignty is a pressing matter for the Canadian government of our own day, and would have been in the 1950s, when the menacing prospect of Soviet encroachment in the North constituted something beyond a political and economic challenge. It was the Communists after all that drove the Canadian military north in the first place, and many Inuit living today went from tundra to TV, and caribou to cash, within a decade — most never having seen a white man or a dollar bill until the trucks rolled in. Few are the Canadians who have even tried to imagine the trauma doubtless brought on by this sort of encounter, and the truth in any case is that they couldn’t do it.
Canada’s position has always been that the 1953/’55 relocations were a well-intentioned solution to over-crowding, the decline of hunting, and welfare dependency in Inukjuak. (It’s odd to think a place named Giant in Inuktitut would be overcrowded.) Today’s Government apology reiterates the official position that the move had nothing to do with concerns over Arctic Sovereignty, hedging the matter by stating that the “Government of Canada recognizes that these communities have contributed to a strong Canadian presence in the High Arctic.” Those relocated however believe that, in addition to the physical and emotional suffering brought upon them by a poorly conceived and badly executed policy, lies the ironic insult of having been exploited by a Government eager to claim an uninhabited region of the North as its Sovereign Domain. If the claim is true, then the blows do fall rather below the belt. It means that the pointless and avoidable suffering of these individuals was all for the benefit of a colonizing power contemptuous of “its” indigenous people.
The Government’s claims raise many objections, among them the odd choice of destination and the all-too-convenient coincidence of the timing and geographical placement of the families with the evident Government agenda at the time. At the very least, Government officials would have been aware of the nice convenience of having preemptively populated contested land with individuals they could claim belong there anyway. The for-your-own-good line is a familiar convention, a self-serving trope brought out for public consumption on those frequent occasions when Government wants to enjoy the exquisite pleasure of having it both ways. Those who pay careful attention to language will notice that even the name of the department, “Indian Affairs and Northern Development,” is a contradiction as well as a confession.
I have further cause to doubt the Government’s position. The relocation is portrayed in two films, Marquise Lepage’s “Martha of the North” and Zacharias Kunuk’s “Exile.” As it happens, I know the Martha in question, and I knew her when only a few years ago she learned herself the reason why her family had been chosen to be among those moved across a continent. (Around that time I had lunch with her and Zacharias Kunuk in Iqaluit.) You will have to wait for the book she is writing to learn that, but let it suffice that her own relocation was not for the reasons given by Government. And so in at least one case I am certain the official version is wrong, from which it follows that today at least one person has received no more than one-half an apology.
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Canadian History if Necessary, But Not Necessarily Canadian History
THE CHIEF THING that I remember of high school Canadian history is that it was boring. I suspect the same is true in your case. Here is my summary of high school Canadian history, roughly as I recall it: Canada was a pristine land inhabited by some Indians, and discovered by John Cabot in 1497. Jacques Cartier later explored the interior. It’s thought Vikings were in Canada before Europeans, but in any case Samuel de Champlain first colonized the land adjacent to the St. Lawrence (Upper Canada). The French settlers took to fighting the English over control of the resources. A number of alliances with the Indians were made by each side, and trade networks were established. This was the era of the courier de bois, or ‘woods-runner,’ usually a “half-breed” who moved goods from indigenous supplier to white trader. The English gained the upper hand over the French at the Plains of Abraham, in the 1750s or so. The Treaty of Paris ceded North America to Britain. The Yankees then took to fighting the British. In the War of 1812 the Yankees were finally driven back for good. Isaac Brock fought heroically and died beside Chief Tecumseh at Queenston. Troops from Halifax invaded Washington and burnt down buildings, most famously a building which was afterward painted white and called the White House.
‘My Canada includes …’
The bumper sticker I often saw at the time of the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty is still in circulation. It reads, ‘My Canada includes Quebec.’ A generous sentiment, I think, and likely destined to fail. The French and English alike are weary of the status quo, by which I mean protracted rounds of federal-provincial wrangling, followed by solutions that don’t solve anything. They may one day conclude that separation is perhaps after all for the best. Nothing personal: it’s just that the time has come to try something a bit different.
The problem with the bumper sticker is that, decent though its outlook is, it doesn’t really describe the Canada in which most Canadians live. In what manners precisely does Your Canada include Quebec? The bumper sticker does not represent the social experiences of millions of Canadians who cannot name a Quebecois singer (Sorry, Celine Dion does not count), a Francophone author, or a Quebec provincial holiday. Anglophone Canadians complain of having French ‘crammed down their throat’ in school. Then there’s the political Canada, a motley parliament fadged together by means of the federal election. I wrote an article for ASH magazine at the time of the 1997 election in which I wrote the following:
…after reviewing the research data, Lucien Bouchard’s claim that ‘Canada is not a real country’ was beginning to make some sense to me. I’d thought it a ridiculous statement at first, but my discoveries got me wondering. The first surprise was a 1994 Maclean’s/CTV poll suggesting that only about 1/3 of Newfoundlanders think of themselves as ‘Canadian.’ Even the Quebec referendum yielded a higher number: just over 50%. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the West considers itself a nation apart, and if one doesn’t trust anecdotal evidence, there’s the 1997 election to consider. This election carved the political landscape into competing regional chunks, leaving Ottawa to pursue one of the few policies for which there seems to be a national consensus: decentralization. As the next referendum approaches, I try to imagine appropriate regional slogans for the inevitable bumper stickers. Here’s one: My Canada includes Bay Street, Parliament Hill, and parts of Montreal, notwithstanding. Here a brief newspaper quotation, there a statistic: together considered, the data suggest less a nation recreating itself for the next century than a conflict over who should get what, and more important, who shouldn’t. The national mood, perhaps not fully explained by the term ‘regionalism,’ seems to be rooted in an understanding that, in a world of diminishing expectations, looking out for Number One is only a good idea.
I wrote that paragraph less than two years ago, and so it would be premature to conclude it’s withstood the test of time. I’ll say instead it has withstood my suspicion that I was perhaps too pessimistic. Years ago, in preparation for some articles on contemporary Canadian politics that I was writing, I read several dozen books, dozens of articles, and scores of government documents. I read the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), and those glossy publications of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). I read the Prime Minister’s after-dinner speeches, and the reports issued following the blue-ribbon trade missions of which we heard so much. I read Fraser Institute and C.D. Howe books. I read United Nations reports, from UNICEF to a publication called Transnational Corporations. I went through Statistics Canada data. I even consulted Royal Commission documents, Commons debates, Hansard, and on and on and on and on. Now, I’m not boring you with this list to establish my expertise and thus to place what I’m about to say beyond question. I want only to assert that all of these folks, working for the IMF and the World Bank and so on, have a pretty clear idea about what Canada includes. It would perhaps fit on a bumper sticker, too: “My Canada includes underexploited health and education markets.” I was trying to answer a very precise question in my research, What is this thing called Globalization into which we are rushing? After two years of effort I got a well-documented answer, too. Your political and economic leaders regard Canada as an ‘economy’ which needs to be made more ‘efficient.’ Globalization is a new name for laissez-faire capitalism. Theirs is one view of Canada, and the bumper stickers pose another. The problem for the Unity folks is that the bumper-sticker crowd isn’t running the country, the people Up There are. Don’t bother reading books about that; consider your experience and judge for yourself whether or not it’s so.
Here is a description of My Canada from Ontario’s 905 region, infamous as the Heartland of the 1995 Common Sense Revolution. This is where Mike Harris’s Progressive Conservative party won a decisive victory on a platform which pretty much ignored Quebec altogether. It was probably a wise strategy, but in any case I’m not interested here in politics. Remember, I am describing Canada as it really is, not as the My Canada folks wish it to be, or think it to be.
I live on the outskirts of Fort Erie, Ontario where I work as a writer. I’m writing a collection of stories set in a town that doesn’t look too “Canadian,” because we’ve all learned there’s a small market for that sort of thing. Some would regard me as part of the Culture Industry. Let’s talk, then, about culture. In Kingston I used to watch Canadian television and listen to Canadian radio because, unless one paid for cable, Canadian is about all you got. (As a consequence, most of those who can pay for cable do.) In Fort Erie there is only American television, and American radio dominates. Cable is not available in the rural area in which I live. Furthermore, Fort Erie – a city of 27,000 – has no movie theatre and no bookstores. The nearest stores offering these goods are in Buffalo. On the Canadian side I can easily find Canadian papers, full of American content and American spelling, and American books, magazines, rental videos, and music. I once found Canadian movies in the ‘foreign’ section of Jumbo Video, but the foreign section was long ago sacrificed to make room for a sprawling Disney section. I doubt you’re surprised; this is how Canadians are routinely treated by their fellow citizens. In other fields, science and technology for instances, it’s much the same. Canadian taxpayers subsidize education, but the notion of keeping Canadians here with good jobs is quite beyond. America offers the work and reaps the ample rewards of an investment paid for here. Then Canadians buy back the products of that investment at a handsome price. Don’t be surprised; it’s a very old matter which goes by the term Empire. Did you know that two of the original three Hollywood studios were established by expatriate Canadians? Not only does Canada let the Americans manage ‘their’ culture for profit; they supply the managers, at Canada’s expense. Sociologists call this a Brain Drain, which if you pay attention to metaphors makes you think back to NAFTA and all the glorious talk about the free flow of information and goods. Glorious talk aside, most people in the Culture Industry are unable to make a living in Canada, so many look in the States. Or, like me, they find work of another sort. Fort Erie’s prime real estate is American-owned, and the maintenance of these summer ‘cottages’ – far bigger than the houses local Canadians own – involves the labour of several workers. I am one of those workers.
These are the basic facts of Canada as I encounter them daily. It is a US-dominated country in which the Americans own the resources but hire the locals to keep things looking spiffy. When you get home from work you can eat American food, wear American clothes, and watch American entertainment. As for Quebec food, clothes, and entertainment, most people here would ask What the hell are those? 905 Canada doesn’t really include Quebec at all; indeed, it hardly even includes Canada. In 1998 there’s less political and economic substance to Confederation than even a decade ago, and the trend seems to me to be gaining momentum. Conrad Black owns most Canadian newspapers and lives in New York city, the centre of his universe; yesterday I read in his National Post a discussion of Thomas Courchene’s proposal that we establish a North American currency, the US dollar. Well, why not? Courchene, a Queen’s University economist, has on his side the facts that 80% of Canada’s exports go to the US and that Canadian society has undergone a decade-long project of social and economic ‘harmonization‘ with the States. The Canadian nationalists have bumper stickers backed up by Good Vibrations. I am not mocking them. I am merely pointing out that the North American Free Trade Agreement formalized Canada’s status as a milch-cow. The principal function of the federal government today is not ‘unity’; it is to make sure nothing gets between the bucket and the teat. Free Trade is about noble-sounding matters like National Treatment, Most Favoured Nation, and the elimination of non-tariff trade barriers. The goal, largely accomplished, is to get rid of socialist, interventionist government, and replace it with something that makes for a more efficient milking. The IMF now scrutinizes budgets – ’surveillance,’ the IMF people call it – and makes its displeasure felt if the fed gets out of line. So far Finance Minister Paul Martin has been a willing subject, and punishment has therefore been unnecessary. In public, federal leaders belong to the ‘My Canada includes Quebec’ club, and they’ve certainly handed out the goodies, but in private they are more of the school which believes ‘My Canada includes privatization, downsizing, and competition.’ You have to admit, it has a nice practical sound to it. Furthermore, it has practical results.
Confederation, I can’t help but notice, has the word federation in it. A federation gives one a federal government. And what does federal mean? Here is the definition offered by Chamber’s 20th Century Dictionary: “pertaining to or consisting of a treaty or covenant.” It’s an interesting definition, I think. A covenant has a distinct feeling about it; one imagines God and Moses breaking bread, while the lion and lamb frolic together in the distance. Covenants are mutual agreements that place the participants’ needs and interests foremost. Treaties are something altogether else. The word makes me think either of the many broken promises of Canada in their relations with indigenous people, or else it brings to mind those horrendous documents produced by the victors at the conclusion of a war. Germany was humiliated not by its defeat in WWI, but rather by the peace established in the Treaty of Versailles. Indeed, to my mind the word treaty conjures the words ‘lies,’ and ‘deceit’. Someone invariably has, or achieves, a position of dominance where treaties are involved. Someone is usually screwed over. (Just ask Simon Reisman, the embittered Canadian negotiator of NAFTA who admitted Canada got screwed by the American government.) Where there are treaties and covenants, there must be people or agencies to keep them. This is one function of Canada’s federal government, to enforce agreements. I don’t know about you, but I myself have an opinion on whether Canada’s leaders are of the covenant-making or cynical treaty-making variety. The so-called New Economy arrived attended by the unmistakable feeling that Canada had lost a contest, and now must pay. The Federal government has downsized itself out of business and no longer does anything noticeable except hoard taxes and EI surpluses while telling citizens to pay more and learn to live with less. Public health care funding? Education? Social Welfare? Sorry, not anymore. It’s up to the provinces now, who in turn are dumping responsibilities and costs onto the municipalities, without giving them the resources. Perhaps by the time you read this, the municipalities will have entrusted health care ‘market’ to the efficient workings of American Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs. Government isn’t so inefficient after all. It’s Getting the Job Done.
My view, if you care to know and haven’t figured it out already, is that Canada is governed not by politicians, but by the lying makers of treaties. They screwed over the Indians, and now they’re busy screwing over Canadians. Behind it all are the financial markets, which in turn are governed by gamblers and robber barons. This form of governance goes on in the open and is sanctioned by the laws. There’s no need to introduce gnosticism, masonry, or a secret world conspiracy into the discussion. Anyone familiar with mercantilism will understand what the global economy is really all about. It’s about rigging the systems of trade and production and reaping the profits. There’s no place for east-west nation-building in a north-south trade regime. No one’s business interests are served by the break-up of Canada, but on the other hand the statist measures required by fiscal federalism (a term which covers federal-provincial cost- and tax-sharing arrangements) are out of fashion. Even if they weren’t, what more has the federal government left to offer Quebec? The answer, of course, is sovereignty. All of these – free trade, decentralization, downsizing, separatism – are centrifugal. They make a flight from the federal centre perhaps inevitable and certainly reasonable. As cynical as this sounds, confederation was a matter of expedience and self-interest. The provinces were in it for the goodies as much as for anything else. Well, Ottawa isn’t in the goodies business anymore. They have the international investor to please, and we know how the international investor loves austerity – not his own of course, but others’. The investors are doing nicely with the help of government, but the rest of us will have to take care of ourselves. The technical term for taking care of oneself, by the way, is independence.
Professor Courchene welcomes the new, decentralized, globally-competitive Canada. You could even say it was his idea. He’s a booster of the unimpeded free market and believes that the nation-state is, alas, obsolete. One man’s opinion, you may say, but Courchene is one of the most influential policy experts in Canada. He has literally written the book, at Ontario’s request, on intergovernmental relations. His approach to separatism is to render it redundant by turning Canada into a loosely-affiliated group of independent economies. The argument is, Make every province actually independent, both economically and politically, and you undercut the separatist cause of independence in law. That is the argument. It overlooks the fact that nationalism is at least as much about the symbols of nationhood as it is about the substance. Jacques Parizeau, I presume, wanted to be the Prime Minister of Quebec. Pomp and circumstance, Oui; Distinct Society, Non. The title ‘Premier of For-All-Intents-and-Purposes-Independent Quebec’ apparently did not interest him. Nonetheless, appeasement has a certain logic, and by a happy coincidence its decentralizing tendencies satisfied the conditions of the North American Free Trade Agreement as well. Under Courchene’s plan, which was adopted by Ottawa, the independent states of Canada would be governed by an agreement on internal trade (AIT). The unimpeded flow of goods, information, and capital would be the primary social and economic goals of Courchene’s, and Ottawa’s, Canada. This plan was published under the title Renewing the Federation.
Having endured a good lot of acronyms and barbarous phrases, are you ready for plain English? All the sound and fury about ‘renewing the federation’ arrives at this: empty the store, and maybe folks will stop trying to rob it. In other words, the only politically safe government in the 1990s – indeed the only good government – is thought to be no government at all. Ottawa will continue to collect incomes and to hand them over to bankers, bondholders, and Bombardier, but not much else will transpire directly between the feds and citizens. Most activists on the left have yet to grasp what this means for their infamous defence of an interventionist federal government. The fed is no longer in the business of social programs, but it is nonetheless busy. Ottawa’s Canada includes acronyms like the Non-Accelerating-Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Or, in plain English, the private economic interests of investors. It makes me wonder are there any good reasons today not to separate?
Needless to say, each Canadian sees the country differently. For some – those who derive the bulk of their income from investments, for instance – a decentralized, American-styled, free-market, individualistic Canada is an exciting, opportunity-filled prospect. I have expressed my suspicions, but I acknowledge also the attractiveness for many of the competing views. I could be wrong about the political system and about the leaders. I could be wrong about globalization. Most of all, I could be wrong about the future of Canada and Quebec. Regarding my assertion that Canada is ‘US-dominated,’ one could hardly think this a novel claim. Much of what I have stated is old and obvious. Some of it, such as the relevance of the IMF to Canadian politics, wants clarification and substance. Do I believe that Canada is under attack from malignant outside forces? No, I believe rather that Canada is open for business. I do not think that Canada is unique in the world, that it is somehow special, set apart from the other nations. The Canadian way of life is not invulnerable, and yet the threats are domestic. If anything brings Canada down, it will be the notions that democracy is a spectator sport, that citizenship is a piece of paper, that ordinary people are powerless, and that in any case ‘Canadianess’ magically shields one from the disasters which descend upon lesser nations. It is possible, even probable, that Quebec will one day leave Canada. It is possible that Canada as you know it will cease to exist. Perhaps it already has. My Canada, you see, includes these possibilities. [-November 1998.]
Indian Residential Schools
Indian residential schools were “really detrimental to the development of the human being”
CANADA’S INDIAN RESIDENTIAL School System began officially in 1892 with an Order-in- Council, yet many features of the system are older than Canada itself. Indeed, the residential school’s origins reach as far back as the 1600s – to the early days of Christian missionary infiltrations into North America.
For over 300 years, Europeans and Aboriginal peoples regarded one another as distinct nations. In war, colonists and Indians formed alliances, and in trade each enjoyed the economic benefits of co-operation. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, European hunger for land had expanded dramatically, and the economic base of the colonies shifted from fur to agriculture. Alliances of the early colonial era gave way, during the period of settlement expansion and nation-building, to direct competition for land and resources. Settlers began to view Aboriginal people as a “problem.”
The so-called “Indian problem” was the mere fact that Indians existed. They were seen as an obstacle to the spread of “civilization” – that is to say, the spread of European, and later Canadian, economic, social, and political interests. Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, summed up the Government’s position when he said, in 1920, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. […] Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian Question and no Indian Department.”
In 1842, the Bagot Commission produced one of the earliest official documents to recommend education as a means of ridding the Dominion of Indians. In this instance, the proposal concerned farm-based boarding schools placed far from parental influence. The document was followed, in immediate successive decades, by others of similar substance: the Gradual Civilization Act (1857), an Act for the Gradual Enfranchisement of the Indian (1869), and the Nicholas Flood Davin Report of 1879, which noted that “the industrial school is the principal feature of the policy known as that of ‘aggressive civilization.’” This policy dictated that
the Indians should, as far as practicable, be consolidated on few reservations, and provided with “permanent individual homes” ; that the tribal relation should be abolished ; that lands should be allotted in severalty and not in common ; that the Indian should speedily become a citizen […] enjoy the protection of the law, and be made amenable thereto ; that, finally, it was the duty of the Government to afford the Indians all reasonable aid in their preparation for citizenship by educating them in the industry and in the arts of civilization.
A product of the times, Davin disclosed in this report the assumptions of his era – that “Indian culture” was a contradiction in terms, Indians were uncivilized, and the aim of education must be to destroy the Indian. In 1879 he returned from his study of the United States’ handling of the Indian Problem with a recommendation to Canada’s Minister of the Interior – John A. Macdonald – of industrial boarding schools.
The assumptions, and their complementary policies, were convenient. Policy writers such as Davin believed that the Indian must soon vanish, for the Government had Industrial Age plans they could not advantageously resolve with Aboriginal cultures. The economic communism of Indians – that is to say, the Indians’ ignorance (from a European perspective) of individual property rights – was met with hostility by settlers eager for ownership of the land. Colonization required the conversion of Indians into individualistic economic agents who would submit themselves to British, and later, Canadian institutions and laws.
The federal government and the churches – Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian – therefore applied to their “Indian Problem” the instrument of education, also known as the policy of aggressive civilization. The initial education model was the industrial school, which focused on the labour skills of an agriculture-based household economy.
From the beginning, the schools exhibited systemic problems. Per capita Government grants to Indian residential schools – an arrangement which prevailed from 1892 to 1957 and which represented only a fraction of the expenditures dedicated to non- Aboriginal education – were inadequate to the needs of the children. Broad occurrences of disease, hunger, and overcrowding were noted by Government officials as early as 1897. In 1907 Indian Affairs’ chief medical officer, P.H. Bryce, reported a death toll among the schools’ children ranging from 15-24% – and rising to 42% in Aboriginal homes, where sick children were sometimes sent to die. In some individual institutions, for example Old Sun’s school on the Blackfoot reserve, Bryce found death rates which were even higher.
F.H. Paget, an Indian Affairs accountant, reported that the school buildings themselves were often in disrepair, having been constructed and maintained (as Davin himself had recommended) in the cheapest fashion possible. Indian Affairs Superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott told Arthur Meighen in 1918 that the buildings were “undoubtedly chargeable with a very high death rate among the pupils.” But nothing was done, for reasons Scott himself had made clear eight years earlier, in a letter to British Columbia Indian Agent General-Major D. MacKay:
It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.
As a consequence of under-funding, residential schools were typically places of physical, emotional and intellectual deprivation. The quality of education was quite low, when compared to non-Aboriginal schools. In 1930, for instance, only 3 of 100 Aboriginal students managed to advance past grade 6, and few found themselves prepared for life after school – either on the reserve or off. The effect of the schools for many students was to prevent the transmission of Aboriginal skills and cultures without putting in their place, as educators had proposed to do, a socially useful, Canadian alternative.
No matter how one regarded it – as a place for child-rearing or as an educational institution – the Indian residential school system fell well short even of contemporary standards, a fact recorded by successive inspectors. A letter to the Medical Director of Indian Affairs noted in 1953 that “children … are not being fed properly to the extent that they are garbaging around in the barns for food that should only be fed to the Barn occupants.” S.H. Blake, Q.C., argued in 1907 that the Department’s neglect of the schools’ problems brought it “within unpleasant nearness to the charge of manslaughter.” P.H. Bryce, whose efforts earned him the enmity of the Department (and an eventual dismissal), was so appalled – not only by the abuses themselves but by subsequent Government indifference as well – that he published his 1907 findings in a 1922 pamphlet entitled “A National Crime.” In the pamphlet, Bryce noted that
Recommendations made in this report followed the examinations of hundreds of children; but owing to the active opposition of Mr. D.C. Scott, and his advice to the then Deputy Minister, no action was taken by the Department to give effect to the recommendations made.
Bryce’s 1907 report received the attention of The Montreal Star and Saturday Night Magazine, the latter of which characterized residential schools “a situation disgraceful to the country.” These publications, and others like them, make it clear that the conditions of the schools were generally knowable and known, by officials of the church and government, and by the public-at-large.
Because contempt for Aboriginal languages and cultures, and for the children themselves, shaped Canada’s policies toward Indians, matters continued as before despite internal reports and published accounts of abuse. In 1883, General Milroy was quoted in a British Columbia petition for industrial boarding schools as saying that “Indian children can learn and absorb nothing from their ignorant parents but barbarism.” The residential school system, designed to produce in the Aboriginal child “a horror of Savages and their filth” (in the words of Jesuit missionary Fr. Paul LeJeune), was rationalized by this contemptuous belief.
Individual beliefs about Indians, which in any case varied, did not determine the character of the individual schools. Nor were the conditions identical in each institution: students today recall diverse memories of both good and bad experiences, as well as good and bad teachers. Nonetheless, the widespread occurrence of certain residential school features suggests that structural elements were in effect. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) concluded in 1996 that the schools themselves were, for readily identifiable and known reasons, “opportunistic sites of abuse”:
Isolated in distant establishments, divorced from opportunities for social intercourse, and placed in closed communities of co-workers with the potential for strained interpersonal relations heightened by inadequate privacy, the staff not only taught but supervised the children’s work, play and personal care. Their hours were long, the remuneration below that of other educational institutions, and the working conditions irksome.
In short, the schools constituted a closed institutional culture that made scrutiny difficult, if not impossible. For staff the result was, in the words of RCAP, a “struggle against children and their culture […] conducted in an atmosphere of considerable stress, fatigue and anxiety.” In such conditions, abuses were not unlikely – a fact to which the experts of the day attested.
Then there are the testimonies of hundreds of former students, whose list of abuses suffered includes kidnapping, sexual abuse, beatings, needles pushed through tongues as punishment for speaking Aboriginal languages, forced wearing of soiled underwear on the head or wet bedsheets on the body, faces rubbed in human excrement, forced eating of rotten and/or maggot infested food, being stripped naked and ridiculed in front of other students, forced to stand upright for several hours – on two feet and sometimes one – until collapsing, immersion in ice water, hair ripped from heads, use of students in eugenics and medical experiments, bondage and confinement in closets without food or water, application of electric shocks, forced to sleep outside – or to walk barefoot – in winter, forced labour, and on and on. Former students concluded in a 1965 Government consultation that the experiences of the residential school were “really detrimental to the development of the human being.”
This system of forced assimilation has had consequences which are with Aboriginal people today. Many of those who went through the schools were denied an opportunity to develop parenting skills. They struggled with the destruction of their identities as Aboriginal people, and with the destruction of their cultures and languages. Generations of Aboriginal people today recall memories of trauma, neglect, shame, and poverty. Thousands of former students have come forward to reveal that physical, emotional and sexual abuse were rampant in the system and that little was done to stop it, to punish the abusers, or to improve conditions. The residential school system is not alone responsible for the current conditions of Aboriginal lives, but it did play a role. Following the demise of the Indian residential school, the systemic policy known as “aggressive civilization” has continued in other forms.
Many of the abuses of the residential school system were, we should keep in mind, exercised in deliberate promotion of a “final solution of the Indian Problem,” in the words of Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott. If development of the healthy Aboriginal human being meant respect of Aboriginal cultures, then indeed the regimented culture of the schools was designed precisely to be detrimental. As noted in the 1991 Manitoba Justice Inquiry, the residential school “is where the alienation began” – alienation of Aboriginal children from family, community, and from themselves. Or to put the matter another way, the purpose of the schools was, like all forced assimilationist schemes, to kill the Indian in the Indian – an effort many survivors today describe as cultural genocide. [-May 2002.]
My Fall 2014 book “Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors, A National History,” is available from Goodminds. Order by phone, toll-free 1-877-862-8483.
Duncan Campbell Scott quotation from secondary source in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Final Report, Volume One, Chapter 13, “Conclusions” section 1. Primary source: DCS 1920 HC Special Committee.
Quotations from primary source in Nicholas Flood Davin, “Report on Industrial Schools For Indians and Half-Breeds” (March 14, 1879).
Bryce on his tour of inspection of Indian Schools in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. RG 10, Indian Affairs, Volume 4037, Reel C-10177, File: 317021.
Duncan Campbell Scott to Arthur Meighen quoted from secondary source in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, Chapter 10. Primary source: NAC RG 10 VOL 6001 file 1-1-1- (1) MRC 8134. Memo for A. Meighen from DCS, Jan. 1918.
Duncan Campbell Scott to D. MacKay: DCS to BC Indian Agent Gen. Major D. MacKay. 12 Apr. 1910. DIA Archives RG 10 series.
Education attainment (“3 of 100 Aboriginal students”) quoted from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, Chapter 10.
Quotation from National Archives photo. See also David Napier, “Sins of the Fathers” in the Anglican Journal (May 2000).
S. Q. Blake quotation from secondary source in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, Chapter 10 note 168. Primary source: Anglican Church of Canada General Synod Archives. SH Blake File G. S. 75-103. “To the Honourable Frank Oliver, Minister of the Interior,” 27 Jan. 1907, quoted in “To the Members of the Board of Management of the Missionary of the Church of England,” 19 Feb 1907.
P. H. Bryce quotation from P.H. Bryce, “Report by Dr. P.H. Bryce on his tour of inspection of Indian Schools in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.” RG 10, Indian Affairs, Volume 4037, Reel C-10177, File: 317021.
Saturday Night quotation from secondary source in Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, Chapter 10. See note 161 for primary source: NAC RG 10 Vol. 4037 file 317021 MRC 10177. Articles appeared in Montreal Star on 15 Nov. 1907 and in Saturday Night on 23 Nov. 1907.
General Milroy quotation from Tolmie, William Fraser, “On Utilization of the Indians of British Columbia,” (Victoria: Munroe Miller, 1885).
Fr. Paul LeJeune quotation from secondary source in McGillivray, Anne, “Therapies of Freedom: The Colonization of Aboriginal Childhood” in McGillivray, Anne, ed., Governing Childhood. (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1997). See note 55 for primary source.
Quotation from Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, Chapter 10.
Personal testimonies taken from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, and from Breaking the Silence: An Interpretive Study of Residential School Impact and Healing, as Illustrated by the Stories of First Nation Individuals. (Ottawa: Assembly of First Nations, 1994).
Government consultation quoted from secondary source in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Final Report, Chapter 10. See note 291 for primary source: INAC File 1/25-20-1 Volume 1. “To Miss …. From L. Jampolsky.” 16 Feb. 1966 and attached correspondence.