The Truth On Residential Schools

Julie Vaillancourt

During years, we did not hear of what was happening to Indians when we were not looking. But now, they spoke up. We can see through many books and songs what they have been through and how tough it was. One of the hardest things was probably the residential schools. It is in Celia Haig-Brown's Resistance and Renewal : Surviving the Indian Residential School, that we can more clearly see what really happened back then in the 1950s. The fourth chapter - Going Home - exposed me to ideas that I had not previously considered. It talks about the good of the residential schools, they taught the children that attended them. It also touches on catholic and traditional religious confusion, the difficult task of coming home after having attended the schools, the parents of the students, and even a little bit about the students as parents later. There are many other topics covered by the book, such as death and leaving the residential schools, but we will not discuss them here.

First of all, I have been pleasantly surprised to see that the children came away from the residential schools with something positive. This is not to say that it was a positive experience attending the schools. Indeed, the children mention how little they learned and how they would have liked to learn more. One interesting part is when the children say that they "credit the school with making them tough." (Haig-Brown, p.115) They think that nothing can be harder than everything they have been through, and their experience of attending the school and coming out alive showed them how strong they really were.

Second, we can also clearly see how confused the children were after they came home with two religions and different beliefs. Of course some of them completely rejected the Catholic religion. But there are some that kept only that part. One testimony also showed that it was possible to believe in more than one thing if you want to. "I am Catholic today, a practicing Catholic. And whatever I believe from my ancestry is real and I believe in that." (Haig-Brown, p. 122) We rarely think of what happened to their beliefs when they came home but that is one of the many problems they encountered.

Another problem the children had when they came back was with their parents. The mothers felt useless, unwanted, and unnecessary, and because of this they began drinking. Also, they knew some of the bad things that had happened in their kids' school, but could do nothing about them. Instead, they were forced to allow them to attend the school for years. Sometimes, the mothers even thought the children would blame them for letting them go. They felt the terrible pressure between the desire to keep their kids and the government insisting on sending them. Some parents even committed suicide.

My overall opinion of the chapter is quite positive. I think it is one of the most eloquent testimonies I have read. There are a lot of people who shared their point of view, who told us their anecdotes in the different schools. They did not concentrate on one story of one person who went to residential schools, they concentrated on the residential schools themselves. We often hear only parts of what happened there, little stories about the prayers or how they tried to escape but never managed to. It was the first time that it was described well enough for me to imagine what it looked. The first time that someone brought me further than just saying they were treated badly, they showed the schools and its repercussions on their lives. I have to say that in general I loved the book and what it told me about the children. But one thing I didn't like much was the way it was written. I thought it went from point A to point B without explaining how exactly they got there. They passed through so many interesting subjects, but I think the book could have dedicated more time to transitions. Also, because it is not a story, it is hard to follow. Sometimes it was difficult to understand that author's sayings. She talked about a girl, a boy return to the girl, comes back to the boy, he is constantly changing characters, without really saying it. This may because I am francophone but still the reading was quite difficult, even if I tried very hard to understand.

To conclude, Celia Haig-Brown gave us a book that everybody that is interested in Indian history should read. The residential schools are something important for them and she a good job describing it. She explained the good side of it but also the hard parts after coming home. She also talked about the complexity of having two religions. She gives a good knowledge you should have if you are to fully understand that book and its setting. Celia gave a lot of examples, talked about many thing that had been left unsaid, and gave us more information than I thought possible. The only bad thing I could say about it was that I found it hard to read because it is not very fluid. I now see the residential schools differently, and that they were almost hidden by our country. I think it is quite something that the Indians were only allowed to speak about their experience 100 years after the residential schools opened. It is clear that the government truly had something to hide.


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