Opinion: Canada’s History of Forced Assimilation Rears its Ugly Head

Opinion: Canada’s History of Forced Assimilation Rears its Ugly Head

Posted By Jared McKiernan June 2nd, 2021 Last Updated on: June 2nd, 2021

The news sent shockwaves across North America and beyond. The remains of 215 children have been uncovered inside the grounds at Canada's largest indigenous residential school, Tk'emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, British Columbia, confirmed.

The heartbreaking news quickly traveled across Indian Country, leaving many tribal leaders searching for ways to not only honor the lives lost but help community members who have been victimized by residential schools.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, over 150,000 First Nations children between the ages of 4–16 were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as means to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were starved, beaten, raped and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.

The schools were likened to prison systems or Nazi camps under the guise of providing native children a good Christian education; however, the schools were nothing more than a horrific place of institutionalized pedophilia. These residential schools' only goal was to erase and eradicate the indigenous people and identity.

As the theory went, “kill the Indian in the child.” 

Other than a weak apology from the Canadian government and the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement established in 2008, there hasn’t been any legal action against persons involved. Religious institutions, have completely ignored the issue and have yet to issue an apology or set up reparations for survivors.

Cree lawyer, Eleanor Sunchild, represents many residential school survivors and urges Canada to finally admit residential schools were an act of genocide that has contributed to severe generational trauma. The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused on financial compensation but never dealt with the healing of the community and those affected. Many came back to their communities feeling like outsiders unable to navigate their native way of life. An entire generation of indigenous people suffers from PTSD, survivor guilt, nightmares, shame, depression, and anger, which lead them into dangerous outcomes, including but not limited to, substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, jail, and suicide.

According to Sunchild, the impact of residential schools can be seen in the large numbers of indigenous people in jail and children in the welfare system. It can be seen by the large numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. It can be seen by the lack of interest in healthcare systems, judicial systems, and educational systems in place for indigenous people.

According to the Reconciliation Canada Report:

  • 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes
  • 80,000 survivors live in regions of Canada
  • 90 to 100% suffered from physical, sexual, emotional, and mental abuse
  • 40 to 60% mortality rate
  • Most students only reached a fifth-grade level due to forced labor and manual tasks

Sadly, as tribal leaders try to cope and help their communities who have been triggered by recent events, this is just one of many stories of forced assimilation and worse.

Two-hundred fifteen children have spoken. Two-hundred fifteen children refused to be erased.

How many more are out there?

Home » Native American Articles » Native American Issues » Opinion: Canada's History of Forced Assimilation Rears its Ugly Head

About Jared McKiernan

Jared is the editor of Powwows.com

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