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Support for Residential Schools comments

 

Senator Beyak,

It is wrong that you suffer the criticism you have experienced for expressing your opinions regarding the Residential Schools. You are right.  There is a perspective missing in the current discussion on this subject. There is no doubt the conditions were harsh and sometimes abusive and that most who attended suffered loss of heritage, culture and tradition.

But it should be recognized the environment the children left in many cases was even harsher than the schools to which they were transferred.  By the early 20th century, the trading in furs which had sustained the indigenous people and coaxed them "off the land" had either died or moved further west. Left behind were communities where alcohol, disease (particularly TB) and overpopulation  overwhelmed the meager heath and social services available.  (Problems the Government is still wrestling with). In the far North incarceration for crime in Sothern correctional facility, warm and fed was said to be often seen by local inhabitants as a confusing reward not a punishment.

The Governments of the day felt the way to handle these problems was to save at least the children from these conditions by  relocating them to schools where they would be safer and more secure. The Churches seeing the opportunity the schools offered  for large scale conversion to Christianity were eager to take on the administration.  There is no doubt acculturation was one intention of the program and job training for the "white" society another, but, this was the mores of the time and a practice throughout all remote regions of the British Empire.

While the residential school experience has undoubtedly left many, if not most who attended with lasting trauma, it is also true that many went on from their experience to personally satisfying professions. Unfortunately, Senator Beyak, you are the only one I have heard to speak of the positive aspects of the Residential School System. Even if they represent only 5% of the experience they are worth describing.  

It is also important to realize the residential Schools as established were in the model of Public and Church Schools in England and Canada in the late 19th century. These schools, based on harsh discipline and Spartan conditions were thought to build character and initiative. In fact flogging in British Public schools was not outlawed until 1987.  In Canada it was not until 2004 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that corporal punishment, as practiced even in the "finest" Canadian private schools was an unreasonable application of force in the maintenance of classroom discipline.

But, my criticism is not in the conclusions of the "Truth and Reconciliation Report". They reflect the sincere understanding and experience of many who were directly involved and seriously damaged by the experience. Seen from our present perspective, it was on the whole a shameful practice.  

Almost as shameful however is in the fact that you have received unreasonably harsh criticism for expressing your opinions some of which in my view are valid. And even if they are not, it is your right to express them.

Sincerely,

John