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Beginning in the 1870s, the federal government worked to convince
that they required schools to become productive members of Canadian
society. In retrospect, these schools came at a serious price, however:
they are the root cause of many social problems within Aboriginal
communities today. While the residential schools of the late nineteenth
and twentieth centuries are well known, attempts at building such
schools go back as far as New France.
Pre-Confederation School Policies
Post-Confederation School Policies
Catholic missionaries, who sought to provide care and education
to the Aboriginals, built the very first residential schools in
New France and in what is now New Brunswick. These schools were
not widespread, however.
After the fall of New France, the first religious schools for Aboriginals
were Methodist and Anglican, opening in Upper Canada during the
1830s. The British colonial administration and colonial office gradually
began to turn towards a policy of assimilation.
It was hoped Aboriginals could be remade into easily controlled,
agriculturally based settlers who believed in a Christian God like
their European counterparts. These schools would provide a religious
education that would help Aboriginals obtain European values, while
teaching them fundamentals about farming and other related industrial
These schools laid the foundation for similar schools that were
to appear in the Canadian Prairies throughout the 1880s onward.
During the 1870s, the federal government strove to set up residential
and industrial day schools for Aboriginals during Numbered
Treaty negotiations. The day schools would be close to or on
the reserves; the residential - or live-in - schools would be located
further away. Until the 1950s, students would study in these schools
for one part of the day; they would be taught how to farm during
the other half.
These schools were funded or managed by the federal government
or Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian (later, United
Church) churches. Over time, the federal government's role decreased
and these schools would be forced to rely on Aboriginal student
labor and parishioner donations to survive.
The federal government was particularly in favor of residential
schools because it believed that as the Aboriginals became more
and more self-sufficient, they would be inclined to rely less and
less on government funding. Most taxpayers lived in Central and
Eastern Canada at the time, so the government did not want to draw
the ire of voters by spending a lot of money on Aboriginal peoples
living in Western Canada.
The government were supportive of these schools, believing, too,
that these institutions would help Aboriginal youths adapt to and
better tolerate the white European settlers moving into the Prairies.
Aboriginal leaders initially welcomed these schools. Many chiefs
felt these schools would help their nations gain new technologies
and teach their nation's youth valuable skills.
However, the churches and federal government felt they could remake
Aboriginals into better, more productive citizens using these schools
to stamp out Aboriginal culture, customs and languages. This would
be a source of conflict between Aboriginals and the federal government
for a century.
By 1883, industrial and residential
schools began to appear in virtually every Canadian
province, with the exception of most of the Atlantic
Provinces. The government felt that most Aboriginals
in the Maritimes, except Nova Scotia, had been
sufficiently assimilated into Canadian society,
so these schools were not needed there.
These schools were the source of the many problems and concerns:
- They were breeding grounds for potentially fatal diseases like
smallpox and tuberculosis.
- Students were not allowed to practice Aboriginal customs or
speak Aboriginal languages.
- They were poorly maintained to the point of posing serious
safety and other health hazards.
- They were the source of great animosity between the government
and Aboriginal parents who refused to let their children be taken
away from them.
- They were poorly equipped to properly clothe students, particularly
during the winter months.
- They were source of dangerous fires often deliberately set by
- The food served at these schools were particularly lacking in
- The work was physically demanding and harsh on the students.
- Teachers were often so ill equipped that they could not teach
students much beyond completely alien religious ideologies.
- They were the source of great absenteeism, on both the students
and teachers' parts alike. (Some students would even run away.)
In fact, many historians feel these schools were responsible for
grooming children who would grow up with various social behavioral
problems. Many blame this failure on government under-funding and
disinterest or Aboriginal resistance.
Although the government would increase funding to these schools
in the 1950s, they had finally come under intense public scrutiny.
One-by-one, they were closed. The last school of its type finally
closed in 1996.
In 1907, Dr. Peter Bryce, former
Medical Inspector for the Department of Indian
Affairs, determined that between 25 and 50 % of
Aboriginal students who attended these schools
died as a result of disease, racially-motivated
abuse or some other reason.Source: Hidden
from History: The Canadian Holocaust