Residential Schools, a Legacy of Shame

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The First Nations of our land have endured hundreds of years of suffering. Ever since the first significant European contact the indigenous people have been treated as sub-humans; savages with no religion, intelligence, or right to live. This general idea has carried through-out the history of our supposedly great country; Canada. This essay will examine the residential school system in depth. It will then relate the Canadian Government's actions in response to residential schools, good and bad.

From the late nineteenth century until well into the twentieth century, the Government of Canada worked vigorously to enforce their legislative "war against Indianness". The Canadian Government passed the Indian act in 1876, which defined federal administration of the native population and their lands. The government cited many outlandish and down right confusing reasons for the reserves while trying to mask the real reason, to totally destroy the Indian population.

Legislators on both sides of the borders believed that assimilation was the answer to the ever daunting "Indian problem". It was assumed that natives would just give in and end their primitive ways. The Indian Act abolished the traditional government styles and enacted a system of local "band councils". Hereditary and consensually chosen chiefs were removed, and matrilineality was officially abolished. The purpose of the band councils was to grant native people a limited degree of self-government that was enshrined in legislation. They were used to appease the people and to provide a smoke screen. Duncan Campbell Scott was the minister of Indian Affairs and the man responsible for creating the reserve system and the residential school system. He stated that the reserves were primarily for the protection of the Indians, but would lead to the destruction of their "Indianness".

An example of an Aboriginal self-government practice that was taken away by the Indian Act comes from the novel, In The Rapids by Ovide Mercredi and Mary Ellen Turpel. It relates that under the Indian Act, the Iroquois custom of the "Haudenosaunee" ,or Longhouse, garners no recognition. In the Longhouse ceremony the clan mothers select chiefs or headmen. They follow a quite elaborate set of guidelines for assigning political accountability in a spiritual context.

The Indian Affairs Department commenced the suppressive Indian Act by overthrowing the traditional government systems in the Iroquois territories of Ontario and Quebec. In response the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte on lake Ontario sent a plea to the governor general, this is an excerpt:

We do not want our Council Fire extinguished, because it was the custom and manner of our forefathers…..we will remind you of the covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship between the English people and the Six Nations…. At the time of formation of the treaties Six Nations Indians were found and treated upon as people, and had a systematic constitution….The Canadian Government, which does not recognize us fully, looks upon the Six Nations as minors and treats them as such…What is your power and authority to rule our people.
The emotions just pour off that letter. In that small excerpt you can fell the anguish the people have. In the end this letter was not recognized by the Canadian Government.
The abolition of "The Indian Problem" was well under way. The Indian Affairs Department was beginning to move aboriginals onto the reservations in staggering numbers. They segregated the people to keep them out of mainstream society. They even furthered this segregation by displacing families as a tactic to break their spirit.

Native spirituality was banned on the grounds of being un-Christianly. Traditions were also disallowed against. Most notably the Potlatch ceremony was banned from 1884 to 1951. The Sundance ceremony was also banned from 1895 to 1951. This was yet...