I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which documents the history and fallout of Canada’s Indian residential school system. For more than 100 years, as a matter of government policy, children were taken from their homes and placed into this system designed to annihilate Indigenous languages and cultures, in part by alienating Indigenous children from their families and communities.
These schools were tragically, though not totally, successful. As I’ve read the report, some stories have stood out. I previously wrote about how children were cruelly accused of stealing clothing they’d been forced to wear after their own clothing had been stolen. Here’s another story that made me need to stop and take a break.
This is what Mary Courchene, a former Indian residential schools student, told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about what it was like to return home after living in a residential school:
And I looked at my dad, I looked at my mom, I looked at my dad again. You know what? I hated them. I just absolutely hated my own parents. Not because I thought they abandoned me; I hated their brown faces. I hated them because they were Indians…. So I, I looked at my dad and I challenged him and I said, ‘From now on we speak only English in this house,’ I said to my dad. And you know when we, when, in a traditional home where I was raised, the first thing that we all were always taught was to respect your Elders and never to, you know, to challenge them. And here I was, eleven years old, and I challenged … my dad looked at me and I, and I thought he was going to cry. In fact his eyes filled up with tears. He turned to my mom and he says, … “Then I guess we’ll never speak to this little girl again. I don’t know her.’
Top photos: Mary Courchene (from therac.ca), and the Qu’Appelle Indian Industrial School in Saskatchewan, one of the two residential schools she attended. The tents in the foreground of this 1885 photo are there because “parents of Indian children had to camp outside the gates of the residential schools in order to visit their children.“