I just watched Muffins for Granny, an extremely powerful documentary film consisting of interviews with seven elders who were survivors of residential schools in Canada. (available at Edmonton Public Library). Every time I learn more about this part of Canadian history, I feel an ever-deepening sense of sadness and disbelief that our government deliberately set out in this direction for so long.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued their final report earlier this summer; watching this documentary, it strikes me that “Truth” definitely does need to come before “Reconciliation”—as a non-aboriginal, I’m probably not alone in feeling a need to learn so much more about the history of my own country, and how much of it continues to repeat and evolve into more phenomena that should horrify every citizen.
“Residential schools also known as industrial or boarding schools refer to a variety of institutions which have existed in Canada. The schools were established to assimilate Aboriginal children into white society. Aboriginal children were discouraged from speaking their own language and practicing their native traditions or else suffer punishment. Beyond the emotional abuse of being taken from their families, many children experienced physical and/or sexual abuse. Estimates show that 24 to 42 per cent of children in some schools died of tuberculosis infection. By learning English and adopting Christianity and Canadian customs, the government hoped that the children would pass their adopted lifestyle on to the next generation and native traditions would be abolished in a few generations. “(original link is now broken, there is another reference here and here— or you can spend an afternoon exploring titles at the Edmonton Public Library)