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In Defense of Our Churches

13 Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Residential Schools, Mass Graves and Treaty Violations in Canada.

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By: Drew Eldridge          Posted: 07/20/2021

            That’s an excellent question, Susan. Thank you for writing in! Yes, it’s certainly true that this is a common charge made against Christians in Canada. The popular narrative we’re told is that European Christians came to North America, stole the land from the native indigenous peoples, committed genocide against them and then imposed things like residential schools on the survivors as a kind of assimilative “cultural genocide.” Children were torn from their parents’ arms and dragged to schools where, if they survived being systematically starved, raped or murdered, were forced to abandon their native spiritually and convert to Christianity. It is something Christians are constantly reminded that we should experience a personal sense of shame and guilt about and which we, as the beneficiaries, should make amends for with regular public apologies, declarations of land recognition, demonstrations of solidarity, and advocacy of extensive material reparations. It also fuels the resentment that leads to the kinds of hate crimes against Christians that you’ve pointed out. But is it really true?

            Well, Susan, I think the answer to that question is complicated, and I’m not sure I have time at the moment to provide you with a full and detailed answer. But what I will do, since you asked, is at least lay out a list of facts with links to sources that might help you figure out the answer for yourself. For I believe that much of the confusion that you and other Christians are feeling about this matter is due to many things has been either ignored, forgotten or altogether omitted from the media, academia, politicians and even from the pulpit. There are some things that many people are simply unaware of that make this narrative seem plausible, and which we’ve unfortunately seen lead to violence. As surprising and disturbing as some of these facts may be, I hope that people you share them with will understand that their purpose is to help bring some truth to “truth and reconciliation.” They are not intended to be provocative, but merely heard, reflected upon and digested. Nor are they meant, as triggering as many may be to some, to downplay anyone’s experience of abuse or defend residential schools in any way, shape or form. They should always be presented in our conversations as gently and respectfully as possible, in a spirit of love.

            I will begin with a fact about colonialism and the myth about the state of affairs that European Christians supposedly robbed the native population of, and that we are often told they are now missing out on because of us. For this is the first great lie that gets in the way of truth and reconciliation in Canada. It’s what’s beneath most of the rhetoric and what grounds the notion of indigenous culture and self-governance as things that are beautiful, dignified and worth restoring. As modern archeology and other relevant primary sources have proven, this is at best only half true.  

Fact #1: The Indigenous People of Canada Indulged in Immeasurable Amounts of Mass Killing, Mass Burial into Unmarked Graves, Theft, Land Seizure, Rape, Gang Rape, Torture, Slavery, Kidnapping, Child Abuse, Religious Indoctrination and Breaking of Land Agreements For Centuries Prior to European Arrival.

 

            The popular narrative often told begins with the notion that indigenous people were more or less living in harmony, sharing the land and enjoying an abuse-free, genocide-free existence until white Christian Europeans arrived and essentially spoiled it. Tragically, however, everything from scientific archeological evidence to the journals of explorers confirms that, like everywhere else in the world, precolonial North America was a mixed bag of good people and bad people— with most being somewhere in between.

            In the journals, which are widely available for anyone to read, explorers praised and complimented many indigenous tribes, especially for their kindness, generosity, bravery and sense of justice. Often, they would remark how the virtues displayed of indigenous people often put the average European to shame. However, these explorers also documented how there were other indigenous tribes in America who were very different, and who often bullied and preyed upon the gentler, less warlike ones. Slaughter and burial into mass unmarked graves was one of these common indigenous traditions.

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            Graves like these were very common. It might even be the case that graves found around residential schools were there before the schools were even built. Genocidal blood feuds were also common, just as they were in many other parts of the world— The Battle of Crow Creek being one of the most disturbing and heartbreaking examples:

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            There is a little-known place called “Skull Tower.” It was place of such reported brutality and savagery that many people believed it was myth. The mass unmarked grave was discovered by archeologists in 2015:

            Explorers were horrified to witness something called “The Scalping Dance” that some indigenous tribes perfomed after slaughtering rivals:

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             Innocent women and children were torn from their parents’ arms after having witnessing them being mutilated, and were taken as sex slaves. But even in many of the more humane tribes, explorers noticed that women and children were often treated poorly. Here is just one account by the explorer Alexander Mackenzie. Before prejudging him as biased, keep in mind that he writes this after putting his own bias aside and praising the indigenous peoples for other things:

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            In other words, Susan, it is entirely a myth that indigenous people were living in peace and harmony prior to contact. It's because of this myth that there is outrage when mass graves are found near residential schools. When unmarked mass graves are found near residential schools, they are called evidence of a genocide. But when they are found anywhere else they are merely called "indigenous burial grounds." There is no outrage and there are no apologies or reparations called for.
           Invasion, displacement and disposition was another traditional indigenous custom, Susan. It may be the case that indigenous tribes like the Sioux were wrongfully displaced through colonization. But Sioux took the same land from the Cheyenne, who probably got it from someone else. The idea that this land was shared peacefully is entirely mythical. It was not something introduced by the European Christians. This brings me to  the next myth.
           Susan, amidst the rhetoric in the demands in the news for the Pope to apologize, you may be led to believe that the Catholic Church supported or encouraged the European displacement of native indigenous people. But is this really true? Historians  have discovered documents that reveal what they really believed and taught. Here is Pope Paul III in his own words:

Letter to the Editor

"Hi, Drew! I'd like to ask you about the residential schools, the bodies discovered and the recent violent reactions to it. Did Christians commit cultural genocide? What is your opinion about all this?"

                  -Susan T.
                 Winnipeg, Manitoba

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            “The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God's word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.

            We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, to which the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.” -Sublimis Deus, 1537

             It was an echo of the same thing Pope Eugene IV declared sixty years earlier, long before Europeans even discovered America. Abuses had been observed by him by religious hypocrites, and he decided to make it perfectly clear what the appropriate action of every true Catholic should be:

             Far from supporting things like slavery, displacement or subjugation, the church was strongly and vocally against it, often threatening to excommunicate people who engaged in it. It’s a part of why the indigenous people of Canada so often abandoned their older spiritual traditions. They saw the goodness of Jesus and the superiority of Christian morality to what they’d been taught. This brings me to the next matter— the myth of forced conversion.
 

Fact #2: Prior to the Formation of Canada, Christian Missionaries Were Generally Welcomed by Indigenous People. Mass Conversion Was Common and Entirely Voluntary.

 

             I’ve mentioned the journals of explorers. But there are also reports of missionaries written over the centuries. Far from going place to place imposing Christianity on people, they typically went completely unarmed. The indigenous people of Canada were often known for their curiosity about the creator and open mindedness about other religions. The teachings of Christianity sometimes weren’t even that different from their own. Many discovered and welcomed the idea that Christianity was a completion of, not a replacement for, their traditional religions. Today, the majority of indigenous people have chosen to embrace Christianity. Christianity doesn’t mean letting go of all indigenous traditions. But it does, of course, mean that at least some things have to change.

 

Fact #3. From the Beginning of the Formation of Canada, the Canadian Government Offered Full Equality to the Indigenous Peoples. Some Accepted and Some Rejected the Offer. The Infamous Indian Act Was the Result of That Rejection.

 

            “Indian” didn’t necessarily mean “an indigenous person” back then. It was a word used to describe indigenous people who didn’t want to be treated free and equally under the law alongside white people. There is a commonly held belief that the Indian Act was created because the Europeans were racist and wanted to treat them differently. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the evidence we have shows that the colonies believed indigenous people had the full potential to live peacefully and productively as equals to them under a common law. The Indian Act was established in spite of, not because of, what most of them believed about indigenous people. Some indigenous people accepted the invitation. They didn’t want to be an “Indian.” They just wanted to be people. Others did not and wanted special treatment. For that reason, the Indian Act was established.

            The offer for full enfranchisement was offered until 1985, when it was abolished. Today there is no path to any such equality. Indigenous people, or “Indians” as the government identifies them as, are now an officially permanently dis-enfranchised group. I called the department myself and asked because I could hardly believe it. There is now no way for an indigenous person to just be a person. I don’t know why the indigenous community isn’t outraged by this. It’s an even greater mystery to me why no one even seems to notice or care.

 

Fact #4: Treaties Were Violated by Both Sides. Canada’s “Violation” Were Often Responses to Violations Made by Others First. 

              If you make a deal with someone and they don’t follow through on their side, then the deal might become null and void. Sometimes violations of treaties have been due to deception and betrayal. Someone might sign a treaty, but really have other plans up his sleeve. The treaty is a lie that they were planning on tricking someone with.

Other times, treaties are broken because some members of a group the treaty is about don’t feel like they actually consented to it. Not everyone indigenous person who was affected by treaties felt like indigenous leaders of the day legitimately represented them. Consequently, treaties didn’t always play out the way leaders on both sides expected or hoped.

             On some occasions, violations were simply due to misunderstanding and confusion. Traditional indigenous cultures and languages were often very different. And just because a few people at the top might have understood what was being negotiated or what exactly the implications were, it didn’t mean that people on the ground always did. News traveled slow back then. People interpreted things differently. It simply wasn’t the case that everyone was on the same page when treaties were made.

             Often, this resulted in people violating treaties without even knowing it. Nevertheless, these kinds of violations affected the validity of the deals made by the people who made them. Accident or not, a deal was a deal. This is why we believe it’s fair to return and not pay for our food in a restaurant when they make mistakes with our orders. It happened back then with treaties as well, and it wasn’t only one side making mistakes or being irresponsible. The debates about who broke what can be found in the primary sources. It’s not always clear who was right, who was being most honest or who had the best intentions.

            One example would be Treaty 1, which applied here in Manitoba. A part of the agreement was the forbidding of alcohol to indigenous people on the lands. The treaty reads that “…the undersigned Chiefs do hereby bind and pledge themselves and their people strictly to observe this treaty…” Was this strictly observed? The treaty was also conditional upon them to “not interfere with the property or in any way molest the persons of Her Majesty’s white or other subjects.” Was this always observed? Again, it wasn’t always clear. But one thing that is clear is that it was complicated and that most folks generally tried to get to the truth and wanted what was best for everyone.

            What I am saying, Susan, is that no matter what you choose to believe about these things, it isn’t as simple as “Canada violated treaties.” Often in these situations, promises were broken because it was believed that the other side had broken theirs first.

 

Fact #5: The First Residential Schools in Canada Were Voluntary, Welcomed and Even Requested by Indigenous Parents and Leaders.

 

            The first residential schools in Canada were optional. Indigenous children didn’t have to go unless their parents made them. Even the Truth and Reconciliation Report confirms this. In chapter thirty, the section on parental resistance, it says the main ways some parents resisted was to “refuse to enroll students, refuse to return runaways, or refuse to return students at the end of summer holidays.” The keyword here is “enroll.” The examples given of resistance make it even more evident that these institutions were voluntary.

             In 1904, some indigenous parents are on record for attempted to remove their daughter from a residential school. The response and argument of the principal, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Report, was in pointing out that the parents had “signed the admission form giving the government the right to determine when their daughter would be discharged.” The parents left with the child. The principal warned them that there might be legal consequences. But the key thing to notice here is that they had signed them up. Parents, and even disappointed parents, were signing their children up for Christian residential schools.

            But what about children being torn from their parents back in those days? Doesn’t the Truth and Reconciliation Report address that? It certainly does. But if you look closely, it’s actually talking about something completely different. Take, for instance, the section called “Separating Children from Parents.” The very title sounds menacing. It makes it sound like the government was going in and dragging the children away. However, if you read closely, you will find that the word “separating” isn’t actually referring to “forced removal.” It’s used in the geometrical sense of creating distance. Specifically, it is referring to a trend of preference among educators for long distance learning. The section could have just as easily been entitled “The Growing Trend Amongst Educators in Favor of Optional Long Distance Boarding Schools for Indigenous People.” The reason why it was given the menacing description “Separation Children from Parents,” Susan, is something I’ll leave to you to decide. But it’s one reason why it’s so important to look at the primary sources when studying history.

             Here is another example. The Truth and Reconciliation Report goes on to cite how Bishop Grandin wrote letter to the Indian commissioner to “help him stop parents from taking their children” out of schools like Lac La Biche. But when you look at the actual letter of the bishop himself, Susan, what you’ll find is that he was asking the commissioner to try and persuade parents, not force them. This was the nature of parental resistance and school counter resistance when there was any. But the important thing to take away from this is that they were enrolling and unenrolling their children. It would be peculiar of people who wanted to commit a cultural genocide to offer such choices.

 

Fact #6: It’s True John A. MacDonald Called for Assimilation of Indigenous People. But it’s Also True that Many Indigenous People Did. At the Time, the Vast Majority of Indigenous People Were Christian and Wanted Christianization.

 

            We’ve all heard the quote of Sir John A. MacDonald endorsing assimilation. But it’s important to remember that assimilation wasn’t really considered to be bad word at the time. It wasn’t something most indigenous people found insulting. Especially indigenous Christians. For all assimilation really meant was the plan to aim for a society where white people and indigenous people could live side by side as equals under the rule of law. Education was considered one of the means to that end, just as it is today.

Interestingly, the truly controversial position for a white person to have was that indigenous people should be left alone. The reason was because such indigenous people often lived in extreme poverty. Sovereign communities developed very serious problems, such as alcoholism and disease. They also had a great deal of difficulty competing on the global market of trading. It was something they weren’t used to doing on their own. Worst of all, this often ended up being cyclical. Education was considered to be a way of breaking the cycle.

            Sir John A. MacDonald is often accused of white supremacy. But wouldn’t a true white supremacist just adopt a policy of letting them die off? Why pour all those resources into trying to integrate them? And what kind of white supremacist wants non-white people to be assimilated into their society in the first place? Today, Susan, he might be called a white supremacist and perpetrator of cultural genocide for his endorsement of assimilation. But back then he would have been called these things if we were against assimilation. We know because poverty and disease in isolated indigenous communities was sometimes so rampant that non-interventionists would be accused of letting the indigenous people go extinct.

 

Fact #7: The Increase of Residential Schools was Caused by the Increasing Demand for Them by Indigenous Parents and Pressure Put on the Government by Indigenous Leaders.

 

             While it may be the case that these optional residential schools had a slow start, they soon became so popular amongst indigenous parents that the schools were often over crowded. Complaints about over-crowding and underfunding put pressure on the government to provide more. In economics, there is something called the law of supply and demand. In the case of residential schools, the government and churches provided the supply and the parents provided the demand. For better or worse, the evidence overwhelming indicates that residential schools were places where indigenous parents were increasingly wanting their children to be.

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            In fact, you can read how the indigenous peoples of Canada were often so defensive of Christianity that their leaders even went as far as to call people who wanted to change them “fascists.” It’s in official court documents:

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            Parents also got together with their representatives and complained that children who came home from residential schools were so undisciplined that children would come home and have to have discipline literally whipped into them by their fathers.

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            It seems to have been argued that, if only the schools could be more disciplined, fathers wouldn’t have to resort to this. The government responded to these kinds of complaints and did their best to enact stricter disciplinary measures in residential schools over the coming decades.

 

Fact #10: Residential Schools Never Became Mandatory for Indigenous Children. School in General Did. Prominent Indigenous Leaders and Representatives of the Day Advocated and Supported the Forceful Removal of Indigenous Children from Their Homes into Residential Schools.

 

            Susan, you might have been told that the government imposed residential schools on indigenous peoples and forced children to attend. In reality, it was simply school in general that was made mandatory. It became mandatory for all children, not just indigenous ones. Residential schools would only be mandatory for indigenous children who had no other option, and who came from communities who either didn’t want or weren’t capable of opening schools of their own. Often, these were places where there was much neglect and abuse. This is partially why even the indigenous community supported the forced removal of children from their parents when necessary. They agreed with the Canadian government that it was better for a child to be removed and sent to a Christian residential school for assimilation than to remain with their parents, where they might be neglected and either die, turn to crime or get caught up in cyclical poverty. Even the infamous “60’s scoop” was conceived of by listening and responding to petitions of indigenous leaders such as Ahab Spence made in decades leading up to it:

 

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Fact #11: In General, Indigenous Parents and Leaders of the Day Who Were Opposed to Residential Schools Opposed Them Because of the Distance, Not Because of What Was Taught. Such Parents Preferred Sending Children to Day Schools Instead of Residential Schools Because They Felt Day Schools Led to More, Not Less, Assimilation. 

 

            Cultural and religious assimilation wasn’t controversial back in those days. It was something many indigenous leaders openly advocated for. Documents like these show that the main issue parents had with residential schools, besides the lack of discipline or funding, wasn’t what was taught, but the long distances from home and rare visitations. Quite understandably, parents tended to prefer being closer to their children. There are actually records of residential school staff complaining about parents coming and comping out near the schools so they could see their children. Parents weren’t generally coming to take their children out of that kind of education system, but they did make petitions to the government to either open day schools in their communities. When they were asked if they preferred well-funded day schools that were far away or residential schools that were close and that allowed visitation, they said they’d prefer the closer residential schools.

            So, it generally wasn’t about what was happening inside them, Susan. It was about children and parents missing each other. I think every parent can relate and sympathize with that. The Canadian government did, too. They strove to make some changes. Though, funding was always difficult because much of this happened while wartime measures were in place, or during events like The Great Depression. There wasn’t always a large budget. Christian charity didn’t always cover everything either. That’s the main reason why children often had to help out with work while at residential schools. Groundskeepers, maids and cooks were luxuries that were difficult to provide at the time.

 

Fact #12: In 1969, at the Height of the Period of Reported Abuse in Residential Schools, the Canadian Government Proposed to Abolish the Racist Indian Act, Which Would Have Meant Total Racial Equality the End of Residential Schools. Indigenous Leaders, Represented by Indigenous Parents, Strongly Opposed It. So, the Schools Remained Open.   

 

            Today, a person might be accused of cultural genocide if they are in favor of the Indian Act and continuation of things like residential schools. But back then you’d be accused of it for wanting to abolish them. The Canadian government wanted and proposed abolishing the Indian act that residential schools were founded upon. All indigenous people would be equal. They would be free to either embrace or move away from their traditional indigenous culture, as they saw fit. This was done in the same spirit of equality as the civil rights movement happening in The Untitled States at the time. The difference was that, in Canada, these ideas of civil rights and equality were rejected by the parents and leaders of the people they would be extended to. As a result, institutions like residential schools had to remain open.

 

Fact #13: There Have Been Many Reports of Positive Experiences in Residential Schools that You Can Read

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            "You may have heard stories from 7,000 witnesses in the process that were negative," says residential school attendee Thomas Highway, "But what you haven't heard are the 7,000 reports that were positive stories. There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn't have happened without that school." Similar endearing sentiments have been reported in letters that many have tried to ignore and cover up.

“As retired educators ourselves, with a combined experience of 26 years in Aboriginal and Metis schools, we witnessed first-hand the positive anecdotes and experiences of those who gained from their attendance at Residential Schools.  Unfortunately, current orthodoxy forces their ‘voices’ to be silenced.”

“As the brother of a nun who worked in the system, and the nephew of a Jesuit who worked there too, I categorically refuse to believe that all the people who worked in these schools were as evil as they are being portrayed to be. Indeed, they were seeking, under the social rules that were generally accepted at the time, to do good and to help these children.”

“I worked with Chipewyan people as an employee of the Catholic Church from 1991 to 2001 …. I heard many positive comments by native people who had attended residential school in Fort Resolution…. One woman, a Chief of her community for some years, said, ‘I couldn’t wait to go back to residential school.  You were clean and you had good food.’ I knew another family, eight children. The Dad was a trapper who spent the winter on the barren lands. His wife contracted TB and was placed in the isolation hospital in Ft. Res. The children were taken by the Dad each year to the school to keep them safe. It was very hard for the youngest who was only 4 yrs at the time – traumatic even to be separated from parents and older sibs. However, the child survived where otherwise he may not have. The schools must be viewed in the context of the social and economic circumstances at the time.”

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In Defense of Our Churches

13 Facts You Haven't Been Told About Residential Schools, Mass Graves and Treaty Violations in Canada.

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By: Drew Eldridge          Posted: 07/22/2021

            That’s an excellent question, Susan. Thank you for writing in! Yes, it’s certainly true that cultural genocide is a common charge made against Christians in Canada. The popular narrative we’re told is that European Christians came to North America, stole the land from the Indigenous peoples, wiped out many of their communities and then imposed things like residential schools on the survivors as a kind of assimilative “cultural genocide.” Children were torn from their parents’ arms and dragged to schools where, if they survived being systematically starved, raped or murdered, were forced to abandon their native spirituality and convert to Christianity. We are told that we should experience a personal sense of shame and guilt about this and take appropriate action. As the beneficiaries of that past, we should make amends for cultural genocide with regular public apologies, declarations of land recognition, demonstrations of solidarity, and advocacy of extensive material reparations. These accusations fuel resentment that can lead to the kinds of hate crimes against Christians that you’ve pointed out. But is it really true?

           Well, Susan, I think the answer to that question is complicated, and I’m not sure I am interested in putting forth and defending a competing narrative at this point. But what I will do, since you asked, is lay out a list of facts that I've discovered, with links to sources that might help you figure out the answer for yourself.

            I believe that much of the confusion that you and other Christians are feeling about this matter is due to many things that have been either ignored, forgotten or altogether omitted from public discourse. There are some things that many people are simply unaware of that make this narrative seem plausible, and which has unfortunately led to violence.

            As surprising and disturbing as some of these facts may be, I hope people you share them with will understand their purpose is to help bring more truth to “truth and reconciliation.” They are not intended to be provocative, but merely heard, reflected upon and digested. Nor are they meant to downplay anyone’s experience of abuse or defend residential schools in any way. They should always be presented in our conversations gently and respectfully, in a spirit of love.

            I will begin with a fact about colonialism and the myth about the state of affairs that European Christians supposedly robbed the native population of, and that we are often told they are now missing out on because of us. This is the first misconception that needs to be addressed. It’s what’s beneath most of the rhetoric about guilt and what grounds the narrative about cultural genocide as a whole.

Fact #1: The Indigenous people of North America regularly engaged in mass killing, mass burial into unmarked graves, theft, land seizure, rape, gang rape, torture, slavery, kidnapping, child abuse, religious indoctrination and breaking of land agreements for centuries prior to European contact.

 

            The popular narrative begins with the notion that indigenous people were more or less living in harmony, sharing the land and enjoying an abuse-free, genocide-free existence until white Christian Europeans arrived and spoiled it. Tragically, however, everything from scientific archeological evidence to the journals of explorers confirms that, like everywhere else in the world, precolonial North America was a mixed bag of good people and bad people— with most being somewhere in between.

            In the journals, explorers praised and complimented many Indigenous tribes, especially for their kindness, generosity, bravery and sense of justice. Often, they would remark how the virtues displayed by some Indigenous people often put the average European Christian to shame. However, these explorers also documented how there were other Indigenous tribes in North America who were very different, and who often bullied and preyed upon the gentler, less warlike ones. Slaughter and burial into mass unmarked graves was one of these common practices:

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            It might even be the case that graves found around residential schools have nothing to do with Christians and were there long before the schools were even built. Archeologists have methods of determining these things. Genocidal blood feuds were common as well, just as they have been in many other parts of the world. The Battle of Crow Creek is one of the most heartbreaking examples. Archeologists have dated it to the fourteenth century.

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            There is a little-known place called “Skull Tower.” Many believed it was myth. The mass unmarked grave was discovered by archeologists in 2015:

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            Explorers witnessed something called “The Scalping Dance” that some indigenous tribes performed after slaughtering rivals:

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             After the men were ritually mutilated, women and children were taken as sex slaves. But even in many of the more humane tribes, explorers noticed that women and children were often treated poorly. Here is just one account by the explorer Alexander Mackenzie. Keep in mind that he writes this after praising these Indigenous people for other things.

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            In other words, Susan, it is entirely a myth that Indigenous people were living in peace and harmony prior to contact with European Christians. One effect of this idea is that when unmarked graves are found near residential schools, they are called "evidence of a genocide." But when they are found anywhere else they are merely called "Indigenous burial grounds." This difference in judgement reveals the assumptions we make about what happened in these places.
           Another documented traditional Indigenous custom was invasion and dispossession. It may be the case that indigenous tribes like the Sioux were wrongfully displaced through colonization. But the Sioux took the same land from the Cheyenne, who got it from someone else. The idea that this land was shared peacefully is entirely fabricated. Conquest was not something introduced by the European Christians. This brings me to the next myth.
           Amidst demands for the Pope to apologize, you may be led to believe that the Catholic Church supported or encouraged the European displacement of Indigenous people. But is this really true? Here is Pope Paul III in his own words, writing in 1537:

            “The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God's word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.

            We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, to which the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.” -Sublimis Deus, 1537

             This is an echo of the same thing Pope Eugene IV declared sixty years earlier, long before Europeans came to North America. He had been observing abuses in the Canary Islands and decided to make it perfectly clear what he thought the appropriate action of every true Christian should be:

             Far from supporting things like slavery, displacement or subjugation, the Catholic Church was strongly and vocally against it, often threatening to excommunicate people who were involved. This is partly why the Indigenous people of Canada so often abandoned their older spiritual traditions. They saw the goodness of Jesus and the appeal of Christian morality. This brings me to the next matter— the myth of forced conversion.
 

Fact #2: Prior to the formation of Canada, Christian missionaries were generally welcomed by Indigenous people. Mass conversion was common and entirely voluntary.

 

             I’ve mentioned the journals of explorers. But there are also reports of missionaries written over the centuries. Far from going place to place imposing Christianity on people, they typically went completely unarmed. The Indigenous people of Canada were often known for their curiosity about the creator and open mindedness about other religions. The teachings of Christianity sometimes weren’t even that different from their own. Many discovered and welcomed the idea that Christianity was a completion of, not a replacement for, their traditional religions. Today, many Indigenous people have chosen to continue embracing Christianity. Being a Christian doesn’t mean having to let go of all Indigenous traditions.

 

Fact #3. From the beginning of the formation of Canada, the Canadian government offered full equality to the Indigenous peoples. Some accepted and some rejected the offer. The infamous Indian Act was the result of that rejection.

 

            “Indian” didn’t necessarily mean “an Indigenous person” in the 1800's. It was a word used to describe Indigenous people who didn’t want to be treated as free and equally under the law. There is a commonly held belief that the Indian Act was created because  Europeans were racist and wanted to treat Indigenous people differently. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the evidence we have shows that the colonies believed Indigenous people had the full potential to live peacefully and productively as equals to them under a common law. The Indian Act was established in spite of, not because of, what most of them believed about Indigenous people. Some Indigenous people accepted the invitation. Others did not. For that reason, the Indian Act was established.

            Full enfranchisement was offered until 1985, when it was abolished. Today there is no path to any such equality. Indigenous people, or “Indians” as the government identifies them as, are now celebrated by our government as an officially permanently dis-enfranchised group.

 

Fact #4: Treaties were violated by both sides. Violations of the Canadian government were often in response to perceived violations made by others first. 

              If you make a deal with someone and they don’t follow through on their side, then the deal might become null and void. Sometimes violations of treaties have been due to deception and betrayal. Someone might sign a treaty, but really have other plans. Other times, treaties are broken because members of the represented group don’t feel like they actually consented to it. Not every Indigenous person who was affected by the treaties felt like Indigenous leaders of the day legitimately represented them. Consequently, treaties didn’t always play out the way leaders on both sides expected or hoped.

             On some occasions, violations were simply due to misunderstanding and confusion. Traditional Indigenous cultures and languages were often very different. And just because a few people at the top might have understood what was being negotiated or what exactly the implications were, that didn’t mean that people on the ground always did. News traveled slowly back then. People interpreted things differently. It simply wasn’t the case that everyone was on the same page when treaties were made.

             Often, this resulted in people violating treaties without even knowing it. Nevertheless, these kinds of violations affected the validity of the deals made by the people who made them. Accident or not, a deal was a deal. This is why we believe it’s fair to return and not pay for our food in a restaurant when they make mistakes with our orders. It happened back then with treaties as well, and it wasn’t only one side making mistakes or being irresponsible. The debates about who broke what can be found in the primary sources. It’s not always clear who was right, who was being most honest or who had the best intentions.

            One example would be Treaty 1, which applied here in Manitoba. A part of the agreement was the forbidding of alcohol to Indigenous people on the lands. The treaty reads that “…the undersigned Chiefs do hereby bind and pledge themselves and their people strictly to observe this treaty…” Was this strictly observed? The treaty was also conditional upon them to “not interfere with the property or in any way molest the persons of Her Majesty’s white or other subjects.” Was this always observed? It's also important to remember that these post confederate treaties were signed under the pretense of gradual assimilation. This is what the Queen and newly formed Canadian government told them they were signing up for. It's why they agreed to fund things like schools. However, this means that any resistance to gradual assimilation would have been perceived as violations.
            What I am saying is that no matter what you choose to believe about these things, it isn’t as simple as “Canada violated treaties.” Often in these situations, promises were broken because it was believed that the other side had broken theirs first.

Fact #5: The first residential schools in Canada were voluntary, welcomed and even requested by Indigenous parents and leaders.

 

            The first residential schools in Canada were optional. Indigenous children didn’t have to go unless their parents made them. Even the Truth and Reconciliation Report confirms this. In chapter thirty, the section on parental resistance, it says the main ways some parents resisted was to “refuse to enroll students, refuse to return runaways, or refuse to return students at the end of summer holidays.” The keyword here is “enroll.” The examples given of resistance make it even more evident that these institutions were voluntary and refusals were possible.

             In 1904, some Indigenous parents are on record for removing their daughter from a residential school. The response and argument of the principal, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Report, was in pointing out that the parents had “signed the admission form giving the government the right to determine when their daughter would be discharged.” The parents left with the child. The principal warned them that there might be legal consequences. But the key thing to notice here is that they had signed them up. Parents, and even disappointed parents, were signing their children up for Christian residential schools.

            But what about children being torn from their parents back in those days? Doesn’t the Truth and Reconciliation Report address that? It certainly does. But it's worth taking a closer look at the language. Take, for instance, the section called “Separating Children from Parents.” The very title sounds menacing. It makes it sound like the government was going in and dragging the children away. However, if you read closely, you will find that the word “separating” isn’t actually referring to “forced removal.” It’s used in the geometrical sense of creating distance. Specifically, it is referring to a trend of preference among educators for long distance learning. The section could have just as easily been entitled “The Growing Trend Amongst Educators in Favor of Optional Long Distance Boarding Schools for Indigenous People.”

             The Truth and Reconciliation Report goes on to cite how Bishop Grandin wrote a letter to the Indian commissioner to “help him stop parents from taking their children” out of schools like Lac La Biche. But when you look at the actual letter of the bishop himself, what you’ll find is that he was asking the commissioner to try and persuade parents, not force them. This was the nature of parental resistance and school counter resistance when there was any. But the important thing to take away from this is that they were enrolling and unenrolling their children.

 

Fact #6: It’s true John A. MacDonald called for assimilation of Indigenous people. But it’s also true that many Indigenous people did too. At the time, the vast majority of Indigenous people were Christian and wanted Christianization.

 

            We’ve all heard the quote of Sir John A. MacDonald endorsing assimilation. But it’s important to remember that assimilation wasn’t really considered a bad word at the time. It wasn’t something most Indigenous people found insulting- especially Indigenous Christians. For all assimilation really meant was the plan to aim for a society where white people and Indigenous people could live side by side as equals under the rule of law. In this respect, Sir John A. MacDonald wasn't all that different from Martin Luther King Jr. Education was considered one of the means to that end, just as it is today in all public schools.

            Interestingly, the truly controversial position for a white person to have was that Indigenous people should be left alone. Many Indigenous communities lived in extreme poverty. Sovereign communities developed very serious problems, such as alcoholism and disease. They also had difficulty competing on the global market. It was something they weren’t used to doing independently. Worst of all, this often became cyclical. Education was considered to be a way of breaking the cycle and empowering these communities.

            Sir John A. MacDonald is often accused of white supremacy. But wouldn’t a true white supremacist be against integrating non-white people into their society? Think of all the money and time put into it. Today, Sir John A. MacDonald might be called a white supremacist and perpetrator of cultural genocide for his endorsement of assimilation. But back then he would have been called these things if he we were against assimilation. Poverty and disease in isolated Indigenous communities was sometimes so rampant that non-interventionists would be accused of letting the Indigenous people go extinct.

 

Fact #7: The increase of residential schools was caused by the increasing demand for them by Indigenous parents and pressure put on the government by Indigenous leaders.

 

             While it may be the case that these optional residential schools had a slow start, they soon became so popular amongst Indigenous parents that the schools were often over crowded. Complaints about over-crowding and under funding put pressure on the government to provide more. In economics, there is something called the law of supply and demand. In the case of residential schools, the government and churches provided the supply and the parents provided the demand. Here is an example of one such petition. Notice that this is an all-Indigenous union. Notice that they are asking for more and better schools that will help prepare their children for "civilized life."

Click on Photos to View Sources

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Fact #8: Indigenous parents and leaders are on record for wanting and even sometimes demanding specifically Christian residential schools. People who didn’t want to support Christian residential schools were called “fascists.”

 

            As I mentioned earlier, Christian missionaries had been reaching out to the natives for a very long time. In large numbers, the Indigenous people of Canada were persuaded to choose Christianity over their traditional religions. These missions were so successful that by 1899 a census showed that over 70% of Indigenous people in Canada identified as Christian. It should be no surprise then, that we find records of Indigenous parents and leaders insisting so passionately, and in such large numbers, that their children’s schools be Christian in the twentieth century.

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            In fact, you can read how the Indigenous peoples of Canada defended Christianity to the point that their leaders called people who wanted to change them “fascists.” It’s in official court documents:

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            The debates were less about whether Christianity should be taught, and more about what kind of Christianity. They were also about who should teach it and who should have the power to make the decisions. Complaints were more about incompetence, power dynamics and bureaucracy. But there was little resistance to the teaching of Christianity itself. 

Fact #9: There are official records of Indigenous parents and leaders criticizing residential schools for being too relaxed, and pressuring the government to increase discipline.

 

            One thing you might have been told was that residential schools were unusually strict, and the sorts of places that Indigenous parents would resist or speak up against it. What you might not have been told is that residential schools were often criticized for being too relaxed and giving too much freedom. Here is just one complaint that was issued about the excess of freedom and lack of discipline. There are more you can find in official archives.

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            Parents also got together with their representatives and complained that children who came home from residential schools were so undisciplined that children would sometimes have to have discipline whipped into them by their fathers.

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           The government responded to these kinds of complaints and did their best to enact stricter disciplinary measures in residential schools over the coming decades.

 

Fact #10: Residential schools never became mandatory for Indigenous children. School attendance in general did. Prominent Indigenous leaders and representatives of the day advocated and supported the forceful removal of Indigenous children from their homes into residential schools.

 

            It's been said that the government imposed residential schools on Indigenous peoples and forced children to attend. In reality, it was simply school in general that was made mandatory. It became mandatory for all children, not just Indigenous ones. Residential schools would only be mandatory for Indigenous children who had no other option, and who came from communities who either didn’t want or weren’t capable of opening schools of their own. Often, these were places where there was much reported neglect and abuse. This is partially why even the Indigenous community supported the forced removal of children from their parents when necessary. They agreed with the Canadian government that it was better for a child to be removed and sent to a Christian residential school for assimilation than to remain with their parents, where they might be neglected and either die, turn to crime or get caught up in cyclical poverty. Even the infamous “60’s scoop” was conceived of by listening and responding to petitions of Indigenous leaders made in decades leading up to it:

 

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Fact #11: In general, Indigenous parents and leaders of the day who were opposed to residential schools opposed them because of the distance, not because of what was taught. Such parents preferred sending children to day schools instead of residential schools because they felt day schools led to more, not less, assimilation. 

 

            Cultural and religious assimilation wasn’t controversial back in those days. It was something many Indigenous leaders openly advocated for. Documents like these show that the main issue parents had with residential schools, besides the lack of discipline or funding, wasn’t what was taught, but the long distances from home and rare visitations. Quite understandably, parents tended to prefer being closer to their children. There are actually records of residential school staff complaining about parents coming and camping out near the schools so they could see their children. Parents weren’t generally coming to take their children out of that kind of education system, but they did make petitions to the government to open day schools in their communities. Well funded residential schools that were close were preferred to day schools that were too far.

            Parents missed their children. I think every mother or father can relate and sympathize with that. The Canadian government did, too. They tried to make some changes. Funding, however, was always difficult because much of this happened while wartime measures were in place, or during events like the Great Depression. There wasn’t always a large budget. Christian charity didn’t always cover everything either. That’s the main reason why children often had to help out with work while at residential schools. Groundskeepers, maids and cooks were luxuries that were difficult to provide at the time.

 

Fact #12: In 1969, a time when there was frequently reported abuse, the Canadian government proposed to abolish the racist Indian Act, which would have meant total racial equality and the end of residential schools. Indigenous leaders, represented by Indigenous parents, strongly opposed it. So, the schools remained open.   

 

            Today, a person might be accused of cultural genocide if they are in favor of the Indian Act and continuation of things like residential schools. But back then you’d be accused of it for wanting to abolish them. The Canadian government wanted and proposed abolishing the Indian act that residential schools were founded upon. All Indigenous people would be equal. They would be free to either embrace or move away from their traditional Indigenous culture, as they saw fit. This was done in the same spirit of equality as the civil rights movement happening in The United States at the time. The difference was that, in Canada, these ideas of civil rights and equality were rejected by the parents and leaders of the people they would be extended to. As a result, institutions like residential schools had to remain open:

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Fact #13: There have been many reports of positive experiences in residential schools that you can read.

             "You may have heard stories from 7,000 witnesses in the process that were negative," says residential school attendee Thomas Highway. "But what you haven't heard are the 7,000 reports that were positive stories. There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn't have happened without that school." Similar sentiments have been reported in letters that many have tried to ignore and cover up.

            “As retired educators ourselves, with a combined experience of 26 years in Aboriginal and Metis schools, we witnessed first-hand the positive anecdotes and experiences of those who gained from their attendance at Residential Schools.  Unfortunately, current orthodoxy forces their ‘voices’ to be silenced.”

            “As the brother of a nun who worked in the system, and the nephew of a Jesuit who worked there too, I categorically refuse to believe that all the people who worked in these schools were as evil as they are being portrayed to be. Indeed, they were seeking, under the social rules that were generally accepted at the time, to do good and to help these children.”

            “I worked with Chipewyan people as an employee of the Catholic Church from 1991 to 2001 …. I heard many positive comments by native people who had attended residential school in Fort Resolution…. One woman, a Chief of her community for some years, said, ‘I couldn’t wait to go back to residential school.  You were clean and you had good food.’ I knew another family, eight children. The Dad was a trapper who spent the winter on the barren lands. His wife contracted TB and was placed in the isolation hospital in Ft. Res. The children were taken by the Dad each year to the school to keep them safe. It was very hard for the youngest who was only 4 yrs at the time – traumatic even to be separated from parents and older sibs. However, the child survived where otherwise he may not have. The schools must be viewed in the context of the social and economic circumstances at the time.”

            “My husband has worked and lived in several aboriginal communities in the north which greatly benefited from these schools and where the people speak very highly of the care and instruction they received. We are only given one side of the story.”

            “I spent over ten years living and working on reserves and northern settlements. And I remember, as a teacher, how often we had to convince the population to keep their children at home and go to the Day School, rather than to send them to a residential school. If the residential schools had been so bad why were parents insisting that their children go? I personally saw a lot of good emanate from these schools. I do admit mistakes were made but those same mistakes also existed in the population at large. Yes, most people were well intentioned and worked with the knowledge they thought best.”

             “I have lived and worked in Prince Albert, SK, for a number of years and had the opportunity to meet retired teachers of residential schools, and listen to their experiences as well. Those I met, were all good, hardworking and well intentioned people. I also had the opportunity to meet First Nations people, teachers and lawyers, who are now effective leaders and advocates among and on behalf of their people, exactly because they received education in those residential schools.”

            “I attended a First Nations Art Exhibition in Fort McMurray and I met a native artist who told me how grateful she was to the nuns and priests in her community who ran the school because for her it was a place of refuge. She said that her parents would go out on the trap-line and leave them to fend for themselves and she would go sit on the steps of the school and hope someone would help her."

            “I myself am a product of a Catholic convent school and while some people who attended that school with me will now say that the nuns were racists and treated them unfairly, that was not my experience. Yes, they were strict, but the principles of kindness and consideration for others were held in high esteem and they instilled in me values that successfully took me through more than 40 years in the business world.”

             “My mother has a cousin who attended a residential [school] and whenever she is asked about it she tells [her] that her experience was a good one, in fact she credits the residential school system with having provided her the opportunity to have a good education. Her experience in residential school was so good that when the federal government offered a blanket cash settlement to all former attendees, she refused to take it.”

            “I know from first-hand experience that the Residential schools provided a lot of good and back in the fifties it gave children from the reserves the opportunity to witness life off the reserve, to be educated in more than a one room school house for all, and to join in social programs to broaden their experience."

            “I think of the many people who provided clothing and funding to help ensure the children had a good experience at the Residential school while away from home. I am not naive enough to suggest that in some areas there were[n’t] some serious problems which should never have happened but you cannot tarnish the whole system with the same brush.”

             “Having worked for and with Aboriginal people in northwestern Ontario – many who are my friends – I support what you have said. Are there not two sides to this story?  Why is only one side being expressed?  Shame on our government.”

             "I grew up on a Residential school, and although some aspects of it were hard, I also found the provincial public school even harder. I can never forget the violence of Canadian public schools. One indigenous boy was beaten up so bad by a white boy in my high school, that he was hospitalized. The school did nothing. I was assaulted on the school bus. Bus driver did nothing. No one got beaten in the residential school I attended. Corporal punishment was almost unheard of. My very worst memories of school was that of the provincial public schools and their strap-happy principals. I have never seen such hypocracy as a government official apologizing. Secretly they are only glad that they have spun the public mind set to having the churches take on the blame and responsibility the governments should be shouldering."

            “…The schools were not absolutely destructive. Between 2009 and 2011, many students have come forward to express their gratitude to former teachers at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events. Their testimony is a reminder that not all residential school experiences are identical. Although few students went to residential school willingly, once they were there, there were activities—sports, arts, reading, dancing, writing—that many students came to enjoy. Even after they were old enough to leave, some chose to stay in school and complete their education. In certain cases, students developed lifelong relationships with their former teachers. Others not only finished high school, they pursued post-secondary education. Some went on to take leadership positions in Aboriginal organizations, the churches, and in society at large. Despite the shortcomings of the system, some students were able to adjust to it, and others achieved significant accomplishments.

           These positive experiences stand in the shadow of the system’s overall failings, but they are also part of the residential school story. Children who faced difficult home situations sometimes have more positive assessments of residential schools. In 1944 twelve-year-old Rita Joe, an orphan, was living with relatives who alternately abused and neglected her. Fearful, she called the Indian agent and asked if he could arrange to have her admitted to the Shubenacadie school in Nova Scotia. Joe acknowledged that many negative things happened at the school, but she never regretted going there. In 1956, as a young mother with four children under six years of age, she and her husband Frank decided to send their oldest daughter to Shubenacadie. “We knew she would get an education there, and would be cared for until we were better off. Like Rita and Frank Joe, many other parents used residential schools as part of a family survival strategy. Louis
Calihoo, a Métis man who went north to the Klondike in 1898 to make money during the Gold Rush, placed his sons in the Grouard school. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a Chilcotin father wrote his son in residential school, “I didn’t make much money this year, just enough to buy grub to live on. You are lucky to be in school where you get plenty to eat. If you were home you would get hungry many days.” Florence Bird was born to Métis parents in Fort Chipewyan in 1899. After the death of her father Joseph in 1909, she was raised in the Holy Angels Convent at Fort Chipewyan. A sickly child, she thought she would not have survived without the convent. “There were lots of pitiful kids in those days.

             The orphans were more pitiful than everybody else because they were badly treated by the people and even by the relatives sometimes.” Although the nuns were strict, she thought that with so many children to supervise, they had few options. Martha Mercredi was another orphaned Métis child who was raised in Holy Angels. “I was never lonely because I took to the nuns as my own relatives. Sister Superior was my grandmother and Sister Lucy was the teacher and she was like my momma, she’s the one that’s my guardian. So I have no complaint about the convent. I am very glad that they showed me how to read and write.” Students involved in sports, music, drama, and dance found that these activities helped them maintain a sense of their own value, and were sources of strength in later life. Andrew Amos recalled that at the Kamloops school, “The treatment was good as long as you excelled in sports.” He went on to become a provincial boxing champion.    

            Travelling to fights and games allowed students to leave the school and see other parts of the province. Amos recalled, “It was through competitive sports, and the girls with their dancing and travel, that we were able to cope and survive the daily routine of life at the residential school.” Even if they were poorly equipped, residential school hockey, football, and baseball teams provided many students with a refuge and a source of pride. Alex, a student at the St.-Marc-deFiguery school in Amos, Quebec, said, “At the residential school, if it wasn’t for hockey, I would have gone crazy. Sport became my support. Until I was thirty years old, I played and when I was on the ice, I would let it all out.” The prejudices of the day meant that girls enjoyed fewer athletic opportunities. The Kamloops school was known for its dance program. Vivian Ignace, one of the dancers, had mixed feelings about her experience, noting that dancers were not allowed to participate in sports for fear of injury. Despite this, she concluded that “through that experience with the Kamloops Indian Residential School Dancers, I learned some assertiveness skills. I learned to smile even when I wasn’t happy. I learned to get along and talk with people and that was good. I learned a lot through that Irish nun.”

             Some students were grateful for the religious instruction they received. Edna Gregoire, who attended the Kamloops school, for example, said, “My experience at the residential school was good. That’s one thing I’ll tell you, it was really good to be able to go to school and to learn how to read and write. And the other thing, the best of all, I was happy to learn about God.” Margaret Stonechild recalled the File Hills, Saskatchewan, principal as a very good religious instructor. “I am eternally grateful for that because I have a firm standing in Christian beliefs to this day.” Bernard Pinay said that at File Hills, he never felt religion was being forced down his throat. Some parents, at the urging of missionaries, sent their children to residential school specifically for a religious education. In some cases, strong personal relationships developed between students and staff. Eleanor Brass’s parents, Fred and Marybelle Dieter, were married at the File Hills boarding school where Kate Gillespie, the principal, and her sister Janet (the school matron) made the wedding arrangements, and baked the wedding cake. Shirley Bear recalled one principal of the Prince Albert school as a tyrant. However, “The next principal, Rev. A.J. Serase, was an angel. After he came, the whole system changed. He was just like a father to the students. He was the minister who married my husband and me.” Many students, either on their own or with the encouragement of a well-remembered teacher, developed a love of learning. Jane Willis, at the Anglican school at Fort George on James Bay, credits her decision to complete her education to one of her teachers, who worked hard to develop students’ self-confidence. “Learning was a pleasure with Mr. Woods as our cheerleader and coach. He urged us to ask questions, to take an active part in class instead of sitting back and taking his word for everything.” At the Moose Factory School in Ontario, Billy Diamond became a voracious reader. When the time came for him to move on to high school in Sault Ste. Marie, he saw it as an opportunity for adventure, learning, and meeting new friends. Once there, he helped form an Indian student council. Diamond went on, as leader of the James Bay Cree, to negotiate the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Canada’s first comprehensive land-claims agreement. While the residential school experience left him feeling embarrassed about his culture, Peter Irniq described the education he received in Chesterfield Inlet as “top-notch.” “As much as that particular teacher used to call us bloody dodos and no good for nothing, a bunch of hounds of iniquity, he taught us pretty good in terms of English…”

             "...The time has come for 70 year old people like me to speak the truth. a little background. I grew up surrounded by 4 reserves and a large community of indigenous peoples. (95%). It was a community of wonderful, kind, very generous, very humorous people that remained that way even when very poor. Also I have a wonderful successful indigenous daughter with grandkids and great granddaughters. I am not a Catholic and I do not belong to any church. I belong to me and my family but I like christian values.

            It should be noted that the missionaries though were very essential to our success in the northern communities at that time. I had my first TB test administered by a missionary trying to stop a TB outbreak. (I hated her at the time for the scratches on my back. LOL). I got my first stitches from a wonderful nun. I got my first tooth pulled by a missionary. My first X-ray by the nuns. My first teacher was an angel called Sister Rita. I will never forget her and her deep love of all the children she met and taught over the years. My best teacher ever and she was not qualified by Government standards. So although I have never been a Catholic, their church has been very good for me and although I now do know of one very bad priest, most of the people were wonderful. I can still see brother Fillion who later became a priest working all by himself outside the school window making a wonderful merry-go-round for the school yard.

            There also were two residential schools in the community. When I arrived in the community, there were no phones, very poor roads, mostly winter access, and not a lot of services other than the churches. The mission school was there long before my time. It has been told to me by elders that many small children, some way younger than school age, were dropped off at the missions sick, hoping the nuns could heal them. Sad to say many died from measles, diphtheria, TB, smallpox, flu and many other conditions of the poor. Just the reality of the north. Years ago most of the dead were placed in the trees so the birds and other animals could take them back to nature.

            It was the churches that convinced them that that part of their culture should be changed so that to stop the spread of disease so they started to bury the dead. If the dead were Christians, their grave was marked by a painted rock of a small wooden cross which rotted away in 25 years or so. No one could afford a headstone and if they could there was no one that made them at the time. Times were hard and in fact desperate in the 30,s Many people owed their lives to the missionaries and we tend to forget that. They were not always right, no of course not, but they actually wanted to educate, feed and make the lives of all people better regardless of where they came from. The churches do not need to apologize for trying to educate the poor in the only system that would work for nomadic peoples, they need to say sorry though for protecting and moving about the few bad apples.(priests).

          The Government saying they are sorry is meaningless. They didn't have a clue of the impact of their decisions at the time and they don't have now. Most of the older generation that did suffer are long dead and gone or have forgiven. It seems to me that many of the new generation just want to be victims and feel money would solve their pain. We need to understand that very few people wanted to live in the north under the isolated conditions at the time just to help out with a few indigenous peoples. After the federal government took over the school system, most of my junior high school teachers were immigrants from the British Commonwealth (India, England Ireland and other countries) as no Alberta teachers wanted to live up there when they could live in or near a city with a doctor, bank, good grocery store, ambulance and my goodness even Policeman. The quality of my education suffered because all of a sudden the nuns were not qualified to teach us in 1967 thus I had to try and take lessons from teachers with a very heavy accent and hard to understand and wanting to move close to the cities as soon as they could. Thank goodness the missionaries were there for the past 300 years. Were they all good? No, but many were wonderful and now that seems to be forgotten.

            How many of today's critics have relatives that went up to those communities in those times to try and help? Not many, I bet. The media today is only telling half the story, so I feel we as witnesses have to speak up and speak to the truth. If you want I will take you to a sacred ground where hundreds of people were left in the ramps and trees or layed on the ground when they died. No one but historical memory marked their graves.

Please believe me when I say that the missionaries were not a bunch of evil persons out to kill little children like it sounds in today's media. That is not what I witnessed. The missionaries knew that the ancient peoples of our land could not continue to exist in a nomadic and isolated society, so they tried to educate them and of course change their culture to be more compatible with the conditions of the times. Were they right? Maybe, I don't know, but at least they were willing to try and help.

            Like I tell my children, I cannot become indigenous like them but they can become Canadians like me and they are. There are more success stories out there than even you realize. The missionaries did not just throw bodies into the ground. Most were marked by a small wooden cross made by the brothers of the mission or parents of the child. Those crosses are long gone. Sad but true. I can also take you to the unmarked graves of many people that were not indigenous as well if you want. That was the way of the north.

Sorry to ramble on for so long but many things need to be said and if the elders of our society lack the moral courage to say them, we are doomed anyway. Please encourage people to stand up and be heard for the good not just the bad..."

Sources:

1. Canadian Parliamentary Historical Records

2. Library Archives of Canada

3. Papal Encyclicals Online

4. The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America by Allan Greer

5. The History of the Catholic Church in Canada 1659-1895 by Adrian Gabriel Morice

6. North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence by Richard J. Chacon and Rubén G. Mendoza

7. War before Civilization by Lawrence Keelay

8. Cannibalism, Headhunting and Human Sacrifice in North America: A History Forgotten by George Feldman

9. Scalp Dance: Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865-1879 by Thomas Goodrich

10. First Peoples in Canada by Allan McMillan

11. Converging Worlds Text and Sourcebook by Louise Breen

12. Bloody Mohawk: The French and Indian War & American Revolution on New York's Frontier by Richard Berleth

13. The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, & Endurance in Early America by  Scott Weidensaul

14. Conquests and Cultures: An International History by Thomas Sowell

15. Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson

16. The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and  Dispatches with Connecting Narratives by Christopher Columbus

17. The Journals of Alexander Mackenzie: Exploring Across Canada in 1789 & 1793 by Alexander Mackenzie

18. Archaeological Perspectives on Warfare on the Great Plains by Andrew Clark

19. Indian Fights and Fighters: The Soldier and the Sioux by Cyrus Brady

20. Why You Can't Teach United States History without American Indians by Susan Smith

21. Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy Pauketet

22. Indians of the Yosemite Valley and Vicinity, Their History Customs and Traditions by Galen Clark

23. Cherokee Mythology: Gods, Myths, Legends and Spiritual Beliefs of the Cherokee Tribe by Jim Barrow

24. Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories by Alexander Morris

25. Indian Treaties in the United States: An Encyclopedia and Documents Collection by Donald Fixico

26. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly by Francis Prucha

27. Revolutionary America, 1763-1815: A Sourcebook by Francis Cogliano

28. The Indian Act of Canada: Consolidated Acts 1868 - 1985

29. Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 1, Origins to 1939: The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume 1

30. Since the Time of the Transformers: The Ancient Heritage of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Ditidaht, and Makah by Alan McMillan

31. Prehistoric Lakeheaders: The 90-Century Story of Pre-Contact Thunderbayans by Alan Wade

32. Letters to Former Senator Beyek

33. actforcanada.ca

34. brianholdsworth.ca

35. Treaty 1

36. The Truth and Reconciliation Report

37. CBC Archives

38. The White Paper

39. The other Side of the Residential School Question by J. Fraser Field

40. The Popes and Slavery: Setting the Record Straight by Joel Panzer

41. Illinois State Museum

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"Hi, Drew! I'd like to ask you about the residential schools, the bodies discovered and the recent violent reactions to it. Did Christians commit cultural genocide? What is your opinion about all this?"

-Susan T.
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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