Residential Schools

The New Residential School System

Just recently I read an article titled “7th Grader Suspended for Saying ‘I Love You’ in Her Language.” Immediately, I am reminded of another article where a teacher’s aid cut off a young First Nations boy’s hair because it was considered “too long.” There were no charges laid because it “wasn’t in the public’s interest” and there were no grounds for criminal charges.

I remember this past weekend I was having a conversation with someone and she made a comment that went like this:

“The education system is the new residential school.”

I wouldn’t doubt it if this type of behaviour continues to happen–cutting their hair and preventing them from speaking their own language? Sounds all too familiar.

Thoughts?

Residential School Children

This past weekend I was able to attend my university’s First Nations Student Association’s powwow. This powwow had a great turn out and I was very impressed. I was also able to meet a few people that I am interested in working with or at least volunteering with. At the powwow, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a booth set up and I was able to meet the person who works with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. I was very interested in talking with this individual because I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Shingwauk Residential School Reunion. When I volunteered at this event, I had some amazing conversations with Residential school survivors and I also learned a few things from this group of people.

The one thing I learned was this: Keep smiling! When I remember this experience, and even though this group of people were brought together under not-so-great circumstances, they still smiled. I remember seeing them sitting together, eating together, laughing together, and most important still smiling together.

Another thing I learned about this experience is that many of the children who did attend the school and who did die at the school, never received proper burial. This kind of made me upset. As a volunteer, I had a tour of the old residential school which is now a university, Algoma University College. On this tour, we were brought to a secluded area behind the university. There was a trail that led up to this area and specifically into the area which we were going to. We were going to the graves of the priests and nuns. In other words, the graves that did not include the children who died at the school. These graves had big tombstones, fencing around the grave site… clear markers that graves existed there. We were told that many of the children who died at the school either died in the river trying to escape the school or died and were only buried in the front of the school. The front of the school was just a big green yard, with obviously no grave markings.

I talk about this experience because when I visited the Truth and Reconciliation Commission website, I saw an article that spoke about an Aboriginal youth, whose name is Charlie Hunter, that died while at a different residential school and his parents were not notified of their child’s burial. Additionally, Charlie’s burial happened outside Charlie’s home community–his parents could not give a proper burial and could not visit his burial site. As the article says,

For years, their family has unsuccessfully pressed the federal government to have Charlie’s body brought home so that they can visit his grave and talk with his spirit.

The burial of a body is a very sacred ceremony for Aboriginal people and it can be agreed upon for any group of people that funerals help with the grieving process. This process is an important part of healing for anyone, whether Aboriginal or not. If you would like to read the entire Toronto Star article, you can read the complete article HERE.

When reading this article, it made me upset with how the Indian Affairs Minister responded to this situation. Mr. John Duncan simply said in a letter,

He feels badly for them but cannot help…

Fortunately, another part of this story is that there is another couple, the Wilsons, amongst others. The Wilsons helped out Charlie’s parents by donating $5,000 to help bring Charlie Hunter home. A trust fund was also set up. The estimated cost to bring Charlie home is estimated to be at $21,500. Throughout the story, there are individuals who are touched by this story and who are willing to help bring Charlie home. This literally brought tears to my eyes. I thought, if only we could bring all children home to their parents.

London Free Press and First Nations Youth

This post is in response to an article titled Siblings Jailed After Fatal Stabbing..

When I first read this article, I was thinking to myself, “Why would a news source announce that these youth were First Nations?” Then I read the readers’ comments, and it made more sense to me now.

A bit of background information (This information is available through the LF press news articles): This occurred last year in August. Both offenders are First Nations. One is a 22 year old mother of three, the other is 18 years old. Both pretty young. One received 2 years (the mother) and the other sentenced to 17 months.

In the Criminal Code of Canada, Section 718.2(e) states the following:


718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

The interpretation of this section was conducted during an Appeal to the decision made in R. v. Gladue. That decision can be read HERE.

It must be highlighted that this section of the Criminal Code of Canada does not give special consideration to Aboriginal peoples but in reality acknowledges the fact that many of them occupy prison systems. Harper’s Truth in Sentencing Act was seen as a step back because it failed to acknowledge this state of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This Act removed the 2-4-1 sentencing, where time already served would not be acknowledged in final sentencing. Further exacerbating the rate at which Aboriginals populate prison systems.

Now, I won’t comment on the sentencing and the length that they received but it must be highlighted some of the factors that court’s consider when sentencing.

Some of these include:

  • First Time Offender?
  • Present Situation: education, family, employment
  • Social background: family life, childhood, etc.

In the case of these two individuals, they were both young, one was obviously drinking underage, and one already had three children before reaching the age of 25. This is what life is like in Canada for most Aboriginals. There is alcohol abuse, young parenthood, violent environments (Wasn’t one already carrying a knife…who carries a knife around if they are in a “safe” environment).

I am not promoting bad behaviour or violent behaviour among Aboriginal youth in any way. I am just attempting to address the comments some of the readers had in the article which can be read HERE.

They ask why was the term First Nations used? Why did that have to be mentioned? And one even states that using this term contributes to stereotypes in society. I thought the same thing.

But then I read a comment that said:

Look at the bright side, if you’re a white male, you’ll get at least 15 years for the same crime.

Hmmm, but race is not the case here. What is the case is that Aboriginals are over-represented in the Criminal Court system, including prisons. You say that still is dealing with race. No, it is dealing with the social situation that Aboriginals presently face. The decision in the appeal in R. v. Gladue highlights this.

Within this decision, it states:

  1. This section does not mean that judges should pay more attention to Aboriginal offenders, but attention to their unique characteristics.
  2. That Aboriginals are over-represented in prison systems.
  3. “The unbalanced ratio of imprisonment for aboriginal offenders flows from a number of sources, including poverty, substance abuse, lack of education, and the lack of employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. quoted @ para. 65.
  4. “It arises also from bias against Aboriginal people and from an unfortunate institutional approach that is more inclined to refuse bail and to impose more and longer prison terms for Aboriginal offenders.” quoted @ para. 65.
  5. Aboriginal people who suffer from systemic and direct discrimination are then both offenders to society and fall victim to society.

With the above, I tried my best to grasp the most important points, although this case is significantly important in every which way as it pertains to Aboriginals who enter the criminal court system. I guess by mentioning that the two offenders were First Nations, the news source may have been acknowledging the fact that Aboriginal people still face great disparities when it comes to society.

Relating to this LFpress article, this situation is nothing new to Aboriginal people in Canadian Society–violence amongst its young or its young going to jail, leaving behind futures and children. The thing that I am most annoyed with in this article is the fact that the comments just focus on “First Nations” and fails to acknowledge that some Aboriginal people face huge disparities in comparison to other groups within Canada. Not one comment, showed concern for the 3 children left behind or showed concern for young person who chose to throw their life away.

In the end, some people might respond to this post and say, “Well, who cares? That is their fault.” No, this isn’t their fault. Some Aboriginal people lag behind in education, employment, and some even live in poverty… despite having social supports. These are the inter-generational effects of colonialism, displacement of culture, loss of identity, and most importantly the effects of the Residential School system.

I hope more people begin to understand that Aboriginal people do not have it the best in Canada, and that we don’t get everything “for free.”

Read my post titled I get everything for free! and also my post titled Tax Exemption.

I hope this post changes one individual after reading it. Not everyone. I am content with one 🙂

Residential Schools(Miseducation)

The other day our professor asked in class: what are some push and pull factors for youth leaving school?

Some of my peers answered: Drugs, family.

Our professor replied: Those are pull factors.

I raised my hand and said: Knowing this as a First Nations student, some teachers have a certain view about First Nations’ issues and the way they present those issues may affect other First Nations students.

What I really wanted to say: A teacher at my high school told her class that Residential Schools were created to educate First Nation children, when in fact they were really created to assimilate First Nations into “mainstream” culture. That type of miseducation can marginalize what really happened and what continues to affect certain communities and families who had members enter the Residential school system. In turn, affecting the way First Nations students view the material being taught in school: just a bunch of nonsense.