Canada’s residential schools got off to a good start, they were established with fine intentions but the eventual reality became distorted as the government teamed up with Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, and United churches to achieve one common goal. They all wanted to make the aboriginals disappear by destroying their culture and assimilating them into Canadian society.
In the 1870s a plan was formulated to entrap the first people with easy bait. More than 150,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend residential schools, where they had little or no parental contact. Innocent children were prohibited from using their native tongue and there would be harsh punishment for doing so. Many students were denied adequate food and clothing while, according to the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development DEPARTMENT (?), Canada, the children became diseased and others disappeared when they run away.
A survivor of one residential school, Irene Favel, told CBC her story of being in a residential school. She recalled her time in Muscowequan in the 1940s, and what had happened to a 7 year old girl who gave birth after being made pregnant by a priest. Favel was in the kitchen at the time and watched as the newborn was taken to the furnace room. then she heard the harrowing last cry of a baby and was aware of the smell of burning flesh.
“In Canada First Nations people still haven't gained justice about what happened to all the children in the residential schools. There is little from the government saying anything about what had happened in the past - little effort to be truthful and make full accounting of what has happened. We can clearly see that the main goal was to eliminate the native peoples- they would say it was to "assimilate" them". Residential schools in Canada were alleged to have quite high mortality rates for children from First Nations peoples,” explained Matthew McDaniel, founder of the Akha Heritage Foundation.
The last residential school was finally closed down in 1996, Canada’s original plan to disenfranchise its native people, by stripping them of their very culture, was at last completely abolished. However, the scars remain. People still live with the haunting memories of oppression and silence for far too many reasons. For one, bodies went missing from the schools that aboriginals attended and the deaths were not even the subject of investigation. The struggles of the past can still be seen today as native Canadians have high rates of drug abuse and low incomes compared to the average Canadian salary.
In 2008, the Government and United Church of Canada publicly made formal apologies to the First Peoples, and awarded them monetary aid. Also, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has been launched to help educate the public and heal the wounds. Though a statement on paper and money can never, and will never, undo or minimise what was done in the past.
Canada’s saga may be coming to an end but, in an unfortunate turn of events, it seems that history is repeating itself once again, with similar circumstances but in a different country. The new horror is in Thailand where children of the Akha are the new victims.
“The experience of the Akha people in Thailand compares in many ways to what has happened in Canada—the removal of children to residential schools run by the church. There is a total elimination of culture and language. There is a broad attempt to rewrite who these people are,” McDaniel told the Voice of Russia.
In the here and now though, tensions still arise between the government of Canada and the aboriginal people. Just this January the Assembly of First Nations confronted the government over its negligence toward this group in Canada. Support is absent and land claims have yet to be addressed and further progress is, for now, stagnating.
For the time being, organizations like 1000 Conversations Across Canada on Reconciliation may help rebuild lives for the aboriginal people. Canada still has the chance to open up more of a dialogue about this deeply rooted issue and really work on untangling past faults. Eventually, perhaps real progress toward the future will be made, for all the people of Canada.