Feature

Understanding the Legacy of Residential Schools

Darline Pomeroy

you trust a government or school that subjected you to all of that abuse? Probably not!

The government apology didn’t do too much for me. It seemed insincere, too little, too late. The Truth and Reconciliation process might bring some closure for some people. For some families it is too late.

 

What teachers can do

How should we teach First Nations students? Be real. Be respectful. Children quickly interpret body language and facial expression. Teachers need to be receptive and to bring out the “shine” of each student. As an educator and most importantly an Anishinaabe, I believe that it is very important for students to know about their own history, their own teachings, their own language and culture. It is important to empower them with that knowledge so they can become the best they can be. We are told by our Elders to share our knowledge, share our own stories, in the hope that it will have a positive impact on others. I believe that there is good in everybody and that everyone has a special gift, and that as teachers we have that responsibility to continue to work at getting the students to share their gift with everyone.

Teachers should make an effort to educate themselves about the First Nations peoples and to make information readily available about residential schools. We need to continue to integrate the history and customs of First Nations people into what we do. There should be a link between language and culture for First Nations students, as they are inseparable. Look and listen. That is what Anishinaabe people are told and it is still good advice. That is how I survived tough situations.

 

Residential Schools in Canada

Residential education was at the centre of the federal government’s policy of assimilation of First Nations peoples. Residential schools were first established by religious communities, before Confederation. However, in the 1880s, the federal government decided that these schools would become the model for Aboriginal children’s education and began funding them. In 1897 attendance became compulsory. The government began closing schools in the 1960s, but continued to operate some as residences or hostels. The last school closed in late 1996.
Compulsory attendance at residential schools meant First Nations children were removed from their homes and communities. The  Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples characterized the process this way: “Aboriginal languages, customs and habits of mind were suppressed. The bonds between many hundreds of Aboriginal children and their families and nations were bent and broken, with disastrous results.”1 As Trent University professor John Malloy states in  A National Crime, the concept was violent and abusive in its intent.

The schools were desperately underfunded, which led to a level of care and education far below an acceptable standard.

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