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How thousands of indigenous children died in Canada’s residential schools


It emerged yesterday that Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are set to visit Canada next month as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. 

During their visit, the Royal couple will acknowledge the treatment of indigenous people, their deputy private secretary said yesterday. 

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. 

The Prince’s visit – his 19th to the country – will be the first since more than 1,000 unmarked graves were found in unmarked graves at former church-run schools last year. 

During protests on Canada’s national day last July, statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were toppled and desecrated across the country amid fury at the discoveries. 

It emerged yesterday that Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are set to visit Canada next month as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. During their visit, the Royal couple will acknowledge the treatment of indigenous people, their deputy private secretary said yesterday

Children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. It was established in 1893 and closed in 1978, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s when it was the largest in the country. Children were banned from speaking their own language or practicing any of their customs. This undated archival photo shows a group of young girls at the school

The Kamloops school was established in 1893 and closed in 1978, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s when it was the largest in the country. Children were banned from speaking their own language or practicing any of their customs. This undated archival photo shows a group of young girls at the school

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in 1937. The school was established in 1893 and operated until 1979, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in 1937. The school was established in 1893 and operated until 1979, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s 

A gigantic statue of Queen Victoria has been torn down and daubed in red paint in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Canada Day as a backlash over the country's colonial history ramps up

A gigantic statue of Queen Victoria has been torn down and daubed in red paint in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Canada Day as a backlash over the country’s colonial history ramps up

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 UK 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.

However, prior to Confederation, it was the passing of the Gradual Civilisation 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 regular British subjects.

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 recognised 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 emerged yesterday that Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are set to visit Canada next month as part of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Pictured: Prince Charles arrives at a farmers' market in Wellington, Ontario, during his previous tour of Canada on June 30, 2017

It emerged yesterday that Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are set to visit Canada next month as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Pictured: Prince Charles arrives at a farmers’ market in Wellington, Ontario, during his previous tour of Canada on June 30, 2017

Prince Charles and Camilla try some local produce during their last visit to Canada, in Wellington, Ontario, on June 30, 2017

Prince Charles and Camilla try some local produce during their last visit to Canada, in Wellington, Ontario, on June 30, 2017

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. 

At the end of June last year, an indigenous group said they had found 182 children’ bodies using ground penetrating radar at the former St. Eugene’s Mission School in Cranbrook, British Columbia. 

Just a few days earlier, officials in Canada’s Saskatchewan province said they had found 751 unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school in the region. 

The Marieval Indian Residential School, in the southeastern Saskatchewan, was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1899 to the 1980s.

And in May last year, the remains of 215 children were found at another residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia. 

The area of the Marieval Indian Residential School is seen in an undated map on the Cowessess Reserve near Grayson, Saskatchewan, Canada

The area of the Marieval Indian Residential School is seen in an undated map on the Cowessess Reserve near Grayson, Saskatchewan, Canada 

Marieval Mission, Cowesses Indian Residential School in Elcapo Creek Valley, Saskatchewan, pictured in 1923

NOW and THEN: The site of  Marieval Indian Residential School, left recently, and right in 1923 

Young students and their Catholic teachers are seen in an undated photo. The Marieval Indian Residential School remains were found after the First Nation teamed up with an underground radar detection team from Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Young students and their Catholic teachers are seen in an undated photo. The Marieval Indian Residential School remains were found after the First Nation teamed up with an underground radar detection team from Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said that the graves were marked at one time, but that the Roman Catholic Church that operated the school had removed the markers. Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan in an undated photo

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said that the graves were marked at one time, but that the Roman Catholic Church that operated the school had removed the markers. Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan in an undated photo

Flags mark the spot where the remains of over 750 children were buried on the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School

Flags mark the spot where the remains of over 750 children were buried on the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School

Hundreds of people gather for a vigil in June 2021 in a field where human remains were discovered in unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School

Hundreds of people gather for a vigil in June 2021 in a field where human remains were discovered in unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School

The Kamloops Residential School was established in 1893 and closed in 1978.

Other potential discoveries have been made this year. 

Last week, officials said they had found 14 potential unmarked burial sites at the former Gordon’s Indian Residential School inn Saskatchewan. 

Whilst ground-penetrating radar data did not confirm that the sites are graves of children, George Gordon First Nation member Sarah Longman said there was a high probability. 

In March, a further 169 potential unmarked graves were found at the Grouard Indian Residential School, which was also known as St. Bernard Mission School, in northern Alberta. 

That discovery came the month after 54 unmarked graves were found in the grounds of the former Fort Pelly and St. Phillips residential schools near Kamsack, Saskatchewan.

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

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

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

The children whose remains were found last month were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia (pictured) that closed in 1978

The children whose remains were found last month were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia (pictured) that closed in 1978

Canada’s then prime minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to the First Nation peoples in 2008 for the residential school system.

The following year Canada formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which hosted events all across the country for people to share their stories of life inside the residential schools.

After seven years of hearings, and testimony from thousands of witnesses, the commission concluded in 2015.

It called for a new era of forgiveness and understanding, while recognizing the horrors the system had forced on the indigenous population.

‘These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will,’ its final report said.

‘The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.’

A historical photo from 1929 provided by the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan shows students at the Delmas Indian Residential School in Delmas, Northwest Territories, now Saskatchewan, Canada

A historical photo from 1929 provided by the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan shows students at the Delmas Indian Residential School in Delmas, Northwest Territories, now Saskatchewan, Canada

In 1920, the Canadian Government passed a law making it compulsory for children between 7 and 15 to attend the residential schools. Many children died of abuse and neglect, and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Pictured: Children from one of the schools

In 1920, the Canadian Government passed a law making it compulsory for children between 7 and 15 to attend the residential schools. Many children died of abuse and neglect, and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Pictured: Children from one of the schools

A historical photo from 1900 provided by the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (issued on 25 June 2021) shows Catholic priests with students at the St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Northwest Territories, now Saskatchewan, Canada

A historical photo from 1900 provided by the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (issued on 25 June 2021) shows Catholic priests with students at the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Northwest Territories, now Saskatchewan, Canada

In last year’s protests, statues of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II and the explorer Captain Cook were toppled an desecrated.

The bronze sculptures of Britain’s current monarch and her great-great grandmother in Winnipeg were hauled down, daubed with red paint and even appeared to have been strangled with Mohawk flags  

Protesters in orange led by members of the left-wing anti-colonial ‘Idle No More’ group campaigning for Canada Day to be cancelled, tied ropes to the necks of the statues and ripped them to the ground to chants of ‘no to genocide’ and ‘bring her down’. 

The statue of Captain Cook, who was the first Briton to land in British Columbia, was also pulled down in the western city of Victoria. 

It was then hurled into the harbour in scenes reminiscent of the destruction of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol last year. 

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 the then French-held Quebec.  

Boris Johnson condemned the damage to the statue of the Queen, and added his condolences following the discoveries of the human remains. 

Announcing Prince Charles’s visit to Canada next month with his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Clarence House said yesterday that the heir to the throne has ‘has long believed that we need to learn from indigenous peoples around the world how better we should live in and care for nature and the planet’.

They added that this tour ‘will highlight an emphasis on learning from indigenous peoples in Canada’ and focus on ‘a more sustainable way of living with global warming’.

Chris Fitzgerald, deputy private secretary to Prince Charles for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs, said the Royal couple would take part in a ‘solemn moment of reflection and prayer’ at the Heart Garden – the memorial to Indigenous children who died in the residential school system that stands in the grounds of Government House in Ottawa.

He added: ‘Heart Gardens are in memory of all indigenous children who were lost to the residential school system, in recognition of those who survived, and the families of both.’ 

Queen Elizabeth's  statue was also torn down amid growing anger in Canada over the treatment of its indigenous communities over hundreds of years

Queen Elizabeth’s  statue was also torn down amid growing anger in Canada over the treatment of its indigenous communities over hundreds of years

Canada became an independent state in 1867 but Queen Elizabeth II remain's Canada's constitutional monarch and is still seen as representative of colonialism but some Canadians

Canada became an independent state in 1867 but Queen Elizabeth II remain's Canada's constitutional monarch and is still seen as representative of colonialism but some Canadians

Canada became an independent state in 1867 but Queen Elizabeth II remain’s Canada’s constitutional monarch and is still seen as representative of colonialism but some Canadians. This is her statue before and after it was torn down

Mr Fitzgerald also said that Charles and Camilla would ‘take the opportunity to continue to engage with indigenous communities’ throughout their tour. 

‘Over five decades, His Royal Highness continues to learn from indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world,’ he added. 

‘He recognises their deep ties to the land and water and the critical traditional knowledge they hold to restore harmony between people and nature.’

His comments came after the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s royal tour to the Caribbean was hit by protests.

Prince Edward and his wife Sophie were told yesterday that Antigua and Barbuda intended to become a republic – something that echoed the Cambridges’ visit to Jamaica and other Caribbean nations last month, when similar comments were made.

Prince William and Kate were hit by accusations that their tour was promoting ‘colonialism’ and were told by Jamiacan prime minister Andrew Holness that his nation is ‘moving on’ and its destiny is ‘as an independent, developed, prosperous country’. 

Members of the Royal Family have been undertaking tours across the 14 other realms which have the Queen as their head of state to mark the 96-year-old’s Platinum Jubilee, while she remains in England at Windsor Castle.

Charles and Camilla last toured Canada in 2017, making stops in Ontario, Nunavut, and Canada’s Capital Region. During that visit, they marked the 150th anniversary of Confederation with Canadians.

People from Mosakahiken Cree Nation hug in front of a makeshift memorial at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on June 4 last year to honour the 215 children whose remains were discovered buried near the facility, in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada

People from Mosakahiken Cree Nation hug in front of a makeshift memorial at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on June 4 last year to honour the 215 children whose remains were discovered buried near the facility, in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada



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