Friday, April 11

Aboriginals

My class has had a number of fairly controversial debates over the past four years, including the discussion of abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia (holy depressing theme...).  The most recent open discussion was one that left me really frustrated and it wasn't because of the content being spoken of, but the way people were quick to respond defensively, as if they had been attacked. Now, I admittedly am not very good at articulating my thoughts verbally or in the heat of the moment. 20 minutes later, I had a hundred things I could have said but refrained from doing so in class as I had already done a pretty good job of making myself sound like an ass.  Lucky for Cassy and her family, they got the privilege of listening to me get all of those thoughts off my chest over lunch.

Sometimes I feel like the only person who does not remember learning about/ was never taught about the Canadian residential schools.  If you're like me, then you will find this very interesting, although if I have gotten something wrong- please correct me.  Residential (boarding) Schools were created for Aboriginal people of Canada, funded by the Federal Government and administered by the Catholic and Anglican Church.  They were seen as a way to assimilate Aboriginal people into a European-Canadian society.  These compulsory schools (for status Indians under 16 years old) forcibly removed children from their families, and if their families failed to send their children then they were threatened with fines or prison.  The children who attended these schools were deprived of their ancestral languages, underwent forced sterilization, and were exposed to physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and torture from the hands of the teachers and other students.  Overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate heating, and a lack of medical care led to high rates of influenza and tuberculosis.  It has recently been reported that at least 50 000 children died in these school, mostly from disease.  These schools originally opened in the 1880s and the last one closed as recently as 1996.  In 1996 I was in grade 4 (right?).  I was playing rep soccer for the first time with my dad coaching my team.  I lived in a large house, ate dinner with my family every night, and had a pet dog.  I was not taken away from my family and exposed to various forms of abuse, nor did I ever think for a second that kids my age were living through such horrific experiences.  This part of Canadian history has been referred to as a cultural genocide, which our nation is severely undereducated about.


Impacts from Residential Schools are intergenerational. The parents who were forced to send their children to the schools had to deal with effects of separation, without the opportunity to be informed of their well-being or to speak with their child for months at a time. The children who attended these schools and suffered such atrocities, resulted in feelings of alienation, shame, and anger, which is passed down onto their children and grandchildren.
Attachment to caregivers is significant on a child's development, and an attachment to a nurturing and reliable caregiver is essential for healthy growth.  Children of Residential Schools were not given that experience once they were removed from their homes, and as a result they continue to struggle today with the ability of forming attachments and relationships with others.  Consequences of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse continue to be felt in each subsequent generation.  Traumatic wounds exist in the lives of many Aboriginals, as they had been raised to believe that being Aboriginal was something to be ashamed of.
I can't remember where I initially heard this, but supposedly it takes 7 generations to overcome such a traumatic life event, like living in these Residential Schools.  If that is the case, we are currently only 1 or 2 generations in.  It is pretty scary to think that this type of maltreatment among citizens of Canada has occurred during our lifetimes.

Recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in Edmonton.  For those who do not about the TRC is, it is committed to establishing new relationships between First Nations, Inuit, Metis, former Indian Residential School students, families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, the government, and the people of Canada.  There is an emerging desire to put the events of the Residential Schools in the past and works towards healthier futures.  The TRC was attended by my class, which prompted the conversation surrounding the Aboriginals living on reserves.  I have a ton of empathy for the families affected by the Residential Schools and I wish there was more than I could do for them.  Many of the children I work with are Aboriginal or have Aboriginal ancestry, and I can see the effects of Residential Schools on a daily basis, however, there were a couple of things mentioned in our class that left me thinking about them outside of class...

1.  It was brought to our attention that on one of the reserves North of Edmonton, approximately 75% of the homes are missing front doors.  In my ever-so-delicate manner I asked, "why can't they fix their doors?"  This sparked a bit of a discussion.  All of the houses on reserves are paid for by the federal government.  The residents live there mortgage/rent free.  Many have lived in the homes for decades, but technically the government could evict them at any time.  These houses are not up to a typical standard of living.  Many are made of wood, which warps and burns, slanted porches, leaking roofs, rolling floors, and bad or no plumbing at all.  There are even reports of people resorting to housing in insulated sheds.  One way of looking at it was that if there is a large family living in a rent-free home in Alberta, then it would seemingly be in the family's best interest to block out the harsh cold winter by having a closed door.  Others believed that due to Aboriginal's nomadic history, lack of home ownership, and governmental responsibility that they should not be on the hook for home upgrades.

2. The federal government recognizes each First Nation band as an autonomous entity, and therefore provides separate funding to each one.  Non-Status Indians, Metis, and Inuit people are not part of this government system, which results in the major differences between their legal and social situation than that of the First Nations.  (This is getting confusing)  Each band is provided a certain amount of money from the government each year, which is then dispersed by the Chief or Band Council around education, housing, etc.   Unfortunately, not all of those in charge of these funds remain completely honest with their bands, and at times keep extra money for themselves.  This rattled up a discussion on who is to blame for the decreasing number of Aboriginal high school graduates and post-secondary students.  While the government provides much less funding to schools on reserves than it does to provincially run schools, is it the government's fault that the funds aren't reaching the educational systems?  Also to note, it is up to the band whether or not they will pay for post-secondary education.  This can result in situations where a student has had a couple years of university paid for, when it suddenly gets pulled.  Frustrating as all hell, but at the very least they were fortunate enough to have free education for at least part of their schooling.  Not all post-secondary students can say the same.

I don't know what I hoped to achieve with this post, other than to spread awareness and maybe create discussion or provide some context.  At the very least, I believe this dark side of Canadian history should be known and understood by all of us.

2 comments:

Lisa Torry said...

Good read....good information......bad time in Canadian history. I don't remember being taught about the residential schools either until post secondary. All kids should know it and understand how to never let it happen again.

Kaylee said...

Economically speaking, the Aboriginal communities have never been given the opportunity to develop. In the past the government set up policies which didn't allow them to modernize with the rest of Canada and as a result they lack the skills and resources to enter the market. This has lead to high levels of unemployment and a dependency on social assurance. For those in your class who say the government should be off the hook from paying for their housing clearly have a weak understanding of the struggle Aboriginal communities have had to endure because of the Canadian Governments resistance in allowing their communities to advance. All the Canadian government does is throw together weak development plans that they end up scrapping a few years later expecting things to get better. It's never consistent plans. Aboriginal communities need to be able to develop a strong economic base in which they will be able to be self-sufficient. It is so unfair how they are judged by Canadians who don't have a clue. People stereotype them as lazy, alcoholics etc...
Anyway that was a little scattered. Google "dependency theory", probably explains why they have been so economically disadvantaged better then I did. Basically I was trying to say that they DO want to be a part of the economy but so many things have put them behind that its been impossible for them to advance, and this has led to dependency on the government to pay for things such as housing, and doors.

Lauren Kent

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