Perhaps now that the firestorm of publicity over the Residential Schools Commission report has cooled somewhat, it is time to step back and take an historical look at the whole episode.
A couple of facts. Residential schools were in existance for almost 150 years in Canada and about 150,000 aboriginal kids attended. So that’s about 1000 a year……about as many kids as attend a single high school these days. That would represent a very small fraction of the overall aboriginal population of children and only a fraction of those children suffered abuse. (Interesting to note a report out this week claiming up to 10% of seniors in BC are the victims of abuse in 2015) It also might be argued that the abuse suffered varied wildly in it’s severity. We certainly would not condone in any way whatsoever any sexual abuse, but it certainly was not uncommon for all children of all races to be subjected to corporal punishment up until 30 years ago.
The Old Ruminator can recall getting a rather severe strapping with a special leather belt designed for the purpose, from a very large Grade 4 male teacher. My hands hurt for days and I still can’t remember what it was that caused the fuss. I don’t think it was anything more serious than talking in class. That a child might get the strap or be scolded or otherwise punished for speaking a “native” language in school, certainly does not surprise anyone of my generation.
Let’s also step back and look at the motivation for sending these kids to residential schools. As recently as 1960 many native peoples of Canada were still living a life that might be considered from the stone-age. Remember, the native peoples of Canada had no written language, had not even discovered the wheel, until the arrival of Europeans. Native peoples regularly tortured their ware captives along with many early missionaries. The average life-span of native peoples at the time residential schools were established was about 30 years. Even in the 20th century it was not uncommon for native children to die long painful deaths as the result of a lack of medical care….or as a result of deliberate parental neglect. 150 years ago, there was a desire to fully integrate this stone-age culture into a more modern and healthful existance. The intention was to “Integrate” not “exterminate”. And, that’s a very important distinction to make when the word “genocide” is tossed around by ivory tower academics such as our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Kangaroo Court. The Jewish people are actually familiar with “genocide” and have been for many hundreds of years, yet, I don’t see them making excuses about it.
Critics of residential schools fail to consider the appalling death rates of native children OUTSIDE of residential schools compared to those who attended. Unfortunately there is not a great deal of research available to consider, but a web search using “Statistics Canada Native Children Mortality” reveals startling numbers.
Look, there were terrible and horrendous things going on at residential schools. But, in generations past, there were also horrendous things going on at non-native residential schools and just plain schools. Buying into and actually promoting the concept that all native peoples’ issues are the result of “victimization” is not constructive to anyone and not going to help. We can all recite countless cultures that have been the victims of REAL extermination, torture, etc. over the last century. I’m just saying, let’s put the whole residential schools business, which no doubt was very unpleasant for many participants, into perspective.