Where Are The Children?

Josiane Lemire

Shocking! Shocking, shocking, shocking! That's the only word that comes to my mind when I think about residential schools. How can the government of Canada and the Church make such a horrific arrangement to assimilate aboriginal children? This arrangement lasted over 100 years, from 1831 to 1969, until natives were finally allowed to attend regular schools. Generations of natives had to send their children straight to hell, knowing exactly how poorly they would be treated. In 2001, an exhibition was created in order to "acknowledge the experiences of, and the impacts and consequences of Canada's Residential School System on Aboriginal peoples; to create a public and historical record of this period in Canadian history that could be easily accessed by Canadians; and to promote public awareness, understanding and education of the history and legacy of residential schools." This exhibition, called Where Are the Children? Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools is now exposed on a website containing many other resources, videos, testimony and information regarding residential schools, http://wherearethechildren.ca/

First, the exhibition consisted of 118 framed pictures, maps, text panels and government papers. Those pictures and artefacts represent the life of aboriginal people after, during and before the residential schools. "Visitors come to understand the history of residential schools and the lasting impact that residential schools have had on generations of Aboriginal peoples, and on First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis cultures, languages and communities" (Legacy of Hope). On the website, the exhibition is divided in 18 different sections such as Introduction, Leaving Home, School Activities, Language and Looking Within for Healing. This exhibition is now found on the website, including the artefacts as well as descriptions and explanations. This is a great interactive way for Canadians to become more aware of what truly happened.

Moreover, a detailed timeline of residential schools in Canada is also found on the website, going back as far as the arrival of religious entities at the beginning of the 17th century. By navigating through the interactive timeline, or reading through the research done, one can learn about how aboriginal people were happy at first that they could be educated. However, they soon understood that not only were their children poorly educated, but they were led to assimilation by losing their culture, religion, language and beliefs. The research done regarding the schools is complete, and we learn about difficult situations such as the many deaths because of the poor living conditions. "The ongoing outbreaks of tuberculosis at the schools were taking a toll on the students' lives. The disease spread quickly through the poorly ventilated and overcrowded school dormitories, and the malnourished and physically weakened Aboriginal students easily succumbed to the infection. Thousands of residential school children died from tuberculosis and from the many other ailments they contracted at the schools." This is shocking! Testimony is included in the timeline, as well as reports. Dr. Peter Bryce, a Medical Inspector of Indian Affairs, wrote a report in the early 20th century. "In his official report, Bryce called the tuberculosis epidemic a "national crime"... [and] the consequence of inadequate government funding, poorly constructed schools, sanitary and ventilation problems, inadequate diet, clothing and medical care". He also stated that the mortality rates ranged from 35% to 60% among the children found in the residential schools.

Also, there were many sexual and physical abuses. Some children tried to escape the schools, and many were found dead around the schools, either frozen during winter or from health issues. There are about 80 thousands children of the Residential Schools still alive today. They are called survivors, "a term that tragically acknowledges the many children who did not survive the school experience". However, many of those people sadly have personal issues. "Abused children are often unable to expess their feelings about the abuse because they may internalize their anger, fear, gried, and guild.hese unresolved feelings can cause emotional trauma and ler to re-enactment or destructive behaviours, like substance abuse or addiction, self-sabotage, self-harm to others, dissociation (the inability to feel), and risk taking". The title of the exhibition, Where Are the Children, refers to all those children who never came back home after a school year, or all those who were never even found.

Lastly, the website has many videos of survivors. Having a look at a few of them will make you realize the inhuman events that took place in the Residential Schools. Is it hard not to become emotional when watching them, but they are a great way to understand the impact that those school still have today on aboriginal culture and families. So many people were destroyed and now believe they are worthless. Sharing this website and stories of the survivors will raise awareness among Canadian population, which is important, because many people do not understand aboriginal issues and realities. Note that the website is also available in French.

To conclude, the website includes a realist and interactive exhibition regarding the history of Residential Schools in Canada. A detailed time-line is also available as well as many videos of survivors. Anyone who wants to know more about the horrific and shocking events that took place during more than 100 years, destroying generations of aboriginal culture, language, beliefs and families should take the time to read it and observe the artefacts.

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