Canadian priest says century of abuse of indigenous children at catholic schools is ‘fake news’

By Harry Howard, History Correspondent for MailOnline 

More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in residential schools across Canada from 1863 until the 1970s.

The system was created by Christian churches and the Canadian government in the 19th century in an attempt to ‘assimilate’ and convert indigenous youngsters into Canadian society.

The children were forced to cut their long hair, banned from speaking their own languages and many were both physically and sexually abused. 

An estimated 6,000 children are believed to have died at the schools. Protests this month – which saw the toppling of statues of both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II – came after a series of discoveries of mass graves in recent weeks and months.

The latest find – on Wednesday – of 182 children’s bodies was made by an Indigenous group using ground-penetrating radar at the former St. Eugene’s Mission School in Cranbrook, British Columbia.

In the U.S., a similar system of boarding schools, for Native Americans, existed with the aim of ‘civilizing’ children into Western culture. 

The U.S. system was in place from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th century.   

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in 1937. The school was established in 1890 and operated until 1969, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s 

Did Queen Victoria or the Queen have any influence over the schools policy 

In 1867, the Canadian confederation of what had been separate British colonies in North America were established, creating a self-governing state within the British Empire.

Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901, was on the throne when the residential school system was in full swing.

Victoria never visited Canada and – given her status as a constitutional monarch – had very limited influence over the Government in the U.K. and even less ability to question policies made in Canada.

The system was largely a result of Canada’s Indian Act, which was passed in 1876 under Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie, with no influence from the British Government.

However, prior to Confederation, it was the passing of the Gradual Civilization Act – which required Indigenous people to speak either English or French – which the system ultimately rested on.

Its aim was for Indigenous people to ‘no longer be deemed an Indian’ and instead become a regular British subject.

An undated photo of Indigenous children with their parents at the Kamloops residential school

An undated photo of Indigenous children with their parents at the Kamloops residential school

In 1920, attendance at the residential schools became compulsory for Indigenous children between the ages of 7 and 15.  

When Dominion Status was formally granted to Canada in 1926, it was recognized as an ‘autonomous’ community within the British Empire. 

In 1931, the Statue of Westminster confirmed its full legislative independence, although full sovereignty was not formally passed until 1982.

It meant that, while the Indigenous school system continued, the British Government and Monarch were not involved in its maintenance. 

It wasn’t until 1982 that the Canadian Constitution was amended to recognize the rights of ‘Indian, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada’. 

Queen Elizabeth II, who remains Canada’s monarch, has a purely constitutional role both in the UK and in former British colonies where she remains head of state.

It means that, while statues of her have been toppled, she had no ability to influence Canada’s residential school system. 

A statue of 18th-century British explorer Captain James Cook was also targeted in the recent protests. 

The Royal Navy captain famously made three voyages in the Pacific Ocean and to Australia, but did also spend time in Canada.

He was involved in the blockade of Louisbourg against French forces in 1758 and in 1761 made charts of the town and harbour at Halifax.

He also took part in the assault on then French-held Quebec.  

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