In the 19th century the Canadian government believed it was responsible for educating and caring for the country’s aboriginal people. It though that native peoples best chance for success was to adopt Christianity and Canadian customs. Thus, in 1857 the Gradual Civilization Act was passed to assimilate natives. Children were the main targets, because it was believed that it would be easier to mould a young child as opposed to an adult. By assimilating the aboriginal children into the lower fringes of mainstream society, they hoped to diminish or abolish native traditions within a few generations. Schools run by churches upon government funding were created in order to separate these children from their homes. They were later named residential schools and were established with the assumption that aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to a modernizing society. In 1920, attendance became compulsory for all kids ages 7-15. Agents were employed by the government to ensure all native children attended. Many were taken by brute force and others separated from their siblings. In all, about 150 000 kids were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.
At the peak of the residential school system, there were 80 schools in operation. It was common belief that if the kids learned English or French, they would be able to succeed in society. Students were forbidden from speaking their native language or playing any of their traditional games. If they were to be caught performing either of the latter, they were severely punished. The Department of Indian Affairs wrote in its 1895 report: “So long as he keeps his native tongue, so long will he remain a community apart.” Even letters written home were to be in English, which many parents couldn’t understand. Essentially, children underwent 10 months of physical, emotional, and in some cases sexual abuse at these schools without any outside influence. They did not experience what normal life was like....
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