Over 215 children were found buried in a Canadian residential school in British Columbia. This recent event reminded the whole country of the most shameful chapter in its history.
These children were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School founded in 1890 by the Roman Catholic Church and closed in 1978.
Rosanne Casimir, who is the chief of this indigenous group of people, addresses these children had no papers, and some of them were only three years old.
Canadian residential schools in the 19th and 20th centuries served the purpose of assimilating indigenous youth. With a peak of 500 students in the 1950s, the Kamloops Indian Residential School was one of the biggest ones in the country.
When local investigators discovered the mass grave using radar, the story about the assimilation of indigenous people once again raised a great deal of debate. This school was part of a network of residential schools where children were forcibly sent, and in which they were even forbidden to speak their native language.
Around the country, around 150.000 children were students in such schools, and about 3000–30.000 children died due to infections, diseases, and malnutrition.
The forced cultural assimilation of native North-Americans
Cultural assimilation is a typical process of socialization where an indigenous group of natives is forced into resembling the dominant group. For example, the ‘cultural genocide of Native Americans.’
This set of attempts by the United States to assimilate the Native American culture into the European-American culture between 1790 and 1920, led by the first president George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox, was the so-called ‘Civilization Process.’
In the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the United States government stated the Native American tribes living near the Mississippi River needed to go. Although this bill didn’t give the government permission to remove the tribes forcibly, they did negotiate with the natives.
In September 1830, the Choctaws signed a treaty that would let them voluntarily be removed. Not surprisingly, authorities abused this law on a large scale to get rid of the Native Americans. The majority of tribes who didn’t voluntarily move were violated and sometimes even killed.
The Canadian residential school system
As mentioned in the introduction, Canada had this residential school system for native Canadians from the ‘First Nations,’ representing the native tribes in Canada who are not Inuit or Métis. There are currently 634 recognized First-Nations governments.
These schools were mandatory for Indigenous people and were set up by the Canadian government, and were mostly run by the Christian Catholic churches. The main goal of these schools was to remove the influence of Indian culture from the children.
They needed to assimilate into the dominant European-Canadian culture.
This horrible system existed for over a hundred years. During this period of time, many terrible things happened to these children, from removing them from their families in the first place to physical abuse and sexual harassment.
Speaking their native language was forbidden by the school authorities. They needed to learn and speak English or French, making it so that after these children had attended this school, they graduated without the ability to fit in their own communities anymore.
The end of the system
For over a hundred years, native Canadians were put into these schools to assimilate into the dominant Canadian culture.
Still, in the summer of 1990, a community called the Mohawks of Kanesatake confronted the government about the terrible events that had taken place. The government needed to recognize the traditional territories and lands of the native people.
With this, the start of reconciliation had begun, and in 1996, the Royal Commission presented a report which had a vision for meaningful reconciliation.
Financial compensation for these people came in 1998 when the Canadian government made a big statement of reconciliation, which included a big apology to the physically and sexually harassed people. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation was founded and was awarded $350 million to help the victims of these crimes.
Over the course of the years, many leaders have apologized in the name of Canada to these people, for example, after the discovery of the 215 children last month.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the following statement on Twitter:
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