Why would 14 year old Brianna Jonnie beseech the Mayor of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the police, and media that if she went missing to give her case immediate attention? Because it’s a sad truth that aboriginal women frequently go missing, and little is done to help find them. Let’s work together as a community and a nation and not dehumanize a woman if she goes missing because she is INDIGENOUS.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is a horrifying situation and moral issue that exists because it is one of the dire consequences of the legacy of Residential Schools. Read the following essay by one of our trendsetters Tiffany PASTRICK:
The legacy of residential schools has led to tenuous relationships with the Canadian government, educational institutions and authority because the residential school policy tore families and communities apart, degraded Indigenous culture and language. This system of abusive treatment that the students experienced contributes to the relationships today and reveals how every Canadian is a residential school survivor.
Relationships are one of the foundations of Indigenous culture. This culture is constantly building and fortifying relationships with their family, community and their great respect for nature. Traditions and life lessons are passed down and taught by elders, parents, aunties and uncles who are responsible for modeling their way of life. When the schools seized the children, the cultural and spiritual aspect of this way of life was stolen from them. This left them with great difficulty to reintegrate back into their community. Residential schools severed and undermined the relationships that the Indigenous peoples had within their families, their ties to their culture, language and community.
The residential school system was introduced by the Canadian government, which followed the model of the American industrial Indian boarding schools (The Davin Report, 1879). These schools were used to educate and Christianize Indigenous people by stripping them of their family traditions, culture, spirituality and language. The relationships within the Indigenous families have been broken for seven generations. Survivors of the schools “having been deprived of a family, had never had the opportunity to learn parenting skills” (Where are the children? 59). Since the children were taken away at a young age, parents did not have the opportunity to parent their children and the children had no loving family role models in the schools. This disconnect happened for so long that now these relationships must be learnt all over. The schools not only destroyed relationships with their families but also isolated the children from their own culture.
The Indigenous culture was “labeled as devil worshipping” (Hart 25) by religious leaders. This was instilled in the children at the schools. The children believed this when coming out of the schools and no longer felt able to participate with their community, family or cultural traditions. They succeeded in many ways in cutting off the children from their roots, their “culture, history and identity” (Ruypers 29). The importance of language as a cultural identity was lost and the children could no longer “communicate with parents and grandparents and it reduced their access to cultural and spiritual teachings” (Jacobs and Williams 4). For example, the girls who attended the residential schools were “deprived of [learning] their traditional roles as mothers, grandmothers, caregivers and family decision-makers” (Jacobs and Williams 4).
The breaking of relationships because of the legacy of residential schools has continued to this day. For instance,in the article, Halt Ordered to Denying Abuse Claims on Technicality, the law firm that looks after compensation of Indigenous people who were abused at residential schools, wants to stop payment on a technicality. How can trust be rebuilt when government and legal authorities continue to prevent and deny rightful compensation.
The history of residential schools is not only part of the Indigenous peoples history but a part of Canadian’s as well. We too feel the impact of the schools and can see it within our own society and “many descendants of residential school survivors share the same burdens as their ancestors even if they did not attend the schools themselves” (Hanson 3). Students, who were physically and sexually abused in the school system, have been “linked to problems of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, homelessness and conflict with the legal system” (Jacobs and Williams 4). The damage that was caused by residential schools can never be undone, “communities have to relearn their culture, language and way of life… parenting skills, self-esteem and sense of pride in themselves” (Stonefish and Kechego 21).
A recent article written by Craig and Marc Kielburger, Stemming the tide of “stolen” Aboriginal Children, speaks to the problem that too many Indigenous children are being taken from their homes by the child welfare department. This is being done not because of parental neglect, but because the families are poor .The article states that, “Every time a child is ripped from their parents and home, their potential is diminished”. This cannot continue and can be changed by working together to change situations and attitudes. Every Canadian is a residential school survivor and we need to work together to commence the healing of this wound. In order for all of us to move forward, “working together to achieve our shared goals will benefit Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike” (Reed 95).
To conclude, residential schools and the policy caused destructive effects on Indigenous peoples. This has resulted in continued alienation from their families, communities and cultural traditions and is still responsible for the distrust with authorities and institutions. We too are residential school survivors. When close friends and family are impacted in their lives and lives of their children, we feel their pain and suffering. At times we feel helpless and do not see a way out of the anguish; we must provide support to start the healing and work together respecting traditional Indigenous values. Listening to testimonials of survivors can start to bridge hope and provide awareness to all Canadian citizens of the legacy of residential schools.
A close family friend told me his mother, aunt and uncle went through residential schools. He gave an emotional testimonial on behalf of his family and how the system affected his family afterwards. These schools took the Indian out of people and in his family it did. The nuns told his mom and aunt, who have light colored skin, that they would easily fit into normal society. His uncle, who has darker skin, had a very rough time in the system. This caused loss of pride in being Indigenous and loss of self-esteem. He also stated that “he does not feel Indian” and feels “lost”. His aunt hid from her children that they were aboriginal but his mom was not ashamed of her culture, although she didn’t have a connection with it.
He finished with, “I am proud to be Indian but I don’t know how, but it is good to talk about it”. The brave souls that share their stories, endured this hardship and abuse, and the families that went through this cruelty must know they are not alone and must be given a voice, “the healing has begun… and the healing must continue” (Where are the children? 64).
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Baldwin, Douglas. Teachers, Students and Pedagogy: Selected Readings and Documents in the History of Canadian Education. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008. Print.
Family Friend. Telephone interview. 17 Feb. 2016.
Galloway, Gloria. Halt Ordered to Denying Abuse Claims on Technicality. The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 12 Feb. 2016: 1+. Print.
Hanson, Erin. The Residential School System. The University of British Columbia. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.
Hart, Michael. Seeking Mino-pimatisiwin: An Aboriginal Approach to Helping. Halifax: Fernwood, 2002. Print.
Jacobs, Beverley, and Andrea Williams. Legacy of Residential Schools: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. Speaking My Truth. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <http://speakingmytruth.ca/?page_id=695>.
Milloy, John Sheridan. A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986. Winnipeg: U of Manitoba, 1999. Print.
Rara, Heidi. Personal conversation. Native Studies 1240 colleague. 16 Feb. 2016
Reed, Kevin. Aboriginal Peoples: Building for the Future.Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford UP Canada, 1999. Print.
Ruypers, John. Canada in the Contemporary World.Toronto: Emond Montgomery Pub., 2007. Print.
Stemming the Tide of “stolen” Aboriginal Children. WE Day. 13 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. <http://www.weday.com/we-schools/columns/global- voices/stemming-the- tide-of- stolen-aboriginal-children/>.
Stonefish, Brent, and Jody Kechego. Moving Beyond: Understanding the Impacts of Residential School.Owen Sound, Ont.: Ningwakwe Learning, 2007. Print.