By: Senthuran Senthil
Sir Wilfrid Laurier C.I
Monday, May 13, 2013
For over a century, more than 150,000 First Nations children in Canada attended residential schools. Aboriginal children across the country were stripped from their families and communities, and they were forced to attend these schools. At residential schools, children experienced a trauma which included emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. These abuses were just some consequences for speaking their indigenous language. The mandatory attendance of First Nations children in residential schools led to a major loss of Aboriginal languages in Canada, and this loss is a major cause of cultural destruction. In the 19th century, the Canadian government took on the responsibility for educating the country's Aboriginal children1. These children learned English and were forced to adopt Christianity and customs of the predominantly white European population. This policy supported by the government is called “aggressive assimilation”.2 Aboriginal children would pass their adopted way of life onto their children, and Native traditions would diminish to the point at which they would disappear in the next generation. The government felt that it was easier to change the lives of children than adults and the concept of residential schools was the best way to prepare them for life in the European society3. Residential schools were run under the management of the government, the Department of Indian Affairs, and run by several Christian churches. The attendance was mandatory and agents worked for the government to certify that all native children were present.4 The loss of many aboriginal languages is one of the most disappointing outcomes of the residential school system. An extensive effect of residential schools is the loss of indigenous languages. The reason for this loss is the abduction of Aboriginal children from their families and communities. When children were removed from their families, their opportunity to know everything about their culture disappeared. At schools, children were only allowed to speak in English and French. Residential school survivor Angeconeb says that priests and nuns were punching, slapping, and abusing him for speaking his native language.5 This abusive system led him and many children to rapidly lose the ability to speak their indigenous language. According to Statistics Canada, Census of Population, 2011, only 30-60% speaks their indigenous language out of all the people who considered themselves as an Aboriginal.6 Over the past few years, more than 15 Aboriginal languages have become extinct.7 Currently, there are 50 Aboriginal languages spoken across Canada, but most face extinction.8
The loss of language affected relationships between aboriginal parents and children. When students returned to the reserve, they didn't have any skills to communicate with the family or the community. The government had assimilated the Indian out of the child so, children became ashamed of their Native culture. 9 While siblings went to the same residential school, they did not know how to communicate because abuse led to them forgetting their native language. Survivors of residential schools were unable to learn the ways of their people through stories, songs, and ceremonies. A traditional value was to respect elders and their wisdom. Elders were to pass down the culture to other generations, but with no way to communicate, relationships between generations were impracticable. Kateri, from the Mohawk community in Quebec pointed out that children are pushing their culture aside.10 They did not want to talk with elders and learn what they missed. Residential schools have put a great impact on children which changes them to someone they are not.
Besides Aboriginals' relationships