Thursday, November 3, 2011

Indian Residential Schools

Email to the Toronto Star, October 31, 2011, Not published.

Re A century of RCMP ignorance (Oct 30):

Media reports of the Indian residential schools has left the general public with the belief that 150,000 aboriginal children were "torn" from their families, "forced to lose their culture", "brutally punished",  and "sexually abused." Without minimizing what harm was done, there is an untold aspect to the story.

The Mt. Elgin Indian Residential School in south western Ontario was built in 1849 by an Ojibway chief, Peter Jones, also a Methodist minister. Jones visited England to raise building funds, while local aboriginals donated land for the school and model farm. As there was no federal government at that time, the school was totally church-financed.

Mt. Elgin and other schools in the area were located on land donated by Aboriginals. School was a short walk from home. Attendance required no compulsion.

Chief Jones intended that classes be taught in English. No talk or fear of "cultural genocide."

The James Bay treaty, among other treaties, was signed by Indian chiefs who realized the benefits of a European education. They knew the operative language was English -- the common language among children of different tribes. To state the signatories were unaware of what they were doing smacks of paternalism.

Discipline in these schools differed little from that in public and parochial schools of the time.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been informed that some of the sexual abuse was perpetrated by senior students and band elders.

Lea Meadows, a worker in human rights and conflict management for 20 years, and an Aboriginal, wrote in the Calgary Herald that her mother's time in a residential school "included some of the happiest days of her life," that her education helped her through university where she became a teacher, and that she returned to teach at a residential school "to provide the same opportunity for other aboriginal girls and boys".

Common media opposition to the contrary, it is also to be hoped the Commission learns of those who benefited from their residential school experience.

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