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The Direct Proportion of Residential Schools to Poverty

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

Just over two decades since the shut-down of the last residential school in Canada, the country’s progress to overcome this anarchy still has a long way to go as intergenerational poverty is inherited and lurks among the Indigenous population today. With many horror stories of experiences in residential schools surfacing from the increasing awareness of human rights, effective solutions are yet to be implemented, and ignorance of racism in Canada resumes. The “not my problem” mindset is an epidemic amid the non-Indigenous population when perceiving impoverished Indigenous peoples; by rationalizing other trivial factors to be the reasons, as opposed to the centuries of abuse into forced civilization. Residential schools as a core agent of the positions of Indigenous peoples today, this article is aimed to explore the direct proportion of this flawed system of the past to the ongoing destitution of the people as a result. 

Its Initiation Linked to Onset Racism 

In an article by Elizabeth Shelley, she describes “[t]he establishment of residential schools [to be] justified by the inherent assumption [of] European settlers in Canada [as having] reached the pinnacle of human achievement.” To further support this, Brittain and Blackstock introduce Duncan Campbell Scott, “one of the longest servings senior public servants in the federal Department of Indian Affairs  [who] summed up the intentions of the federal government [in 1920]:

I want to get rid of the Indian problem […]. Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian problem, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, and that is the whole object of this Bill. 

Despite objection by the First Nation communities, the bill to force Indigenous children into residential schools without their parents’ consent passed. 

Abuse and Neglect as Primary Experiences in Residential Schools

Propaganda portrayed the assimilation of education and training of the civilized world in Indigenous children. The reality of common occurrences were “psychological and sexual abuse […], and mortality rates resulting from malnutrition, physical punishments and neglect; [all of which] were chronically high.” 

Not only were they taken away from their culture and punished for speaking their mother-tongue, but they were separated from the comfort of their homes with their parents to be raised in a dystopian world that became the reality for the rest of their lives. Additionally, “parents who tried to keep their children from attending the schools faced legal barriers, as well as extra legal forms of coercion including withholding of food rations and the deposing of chiefs who refused the apprehension of their children.” Contradictory to the values of civilization, one must question who the real brutes were, and if “the Indian problem” was merely a speculation stemmed from racism.

Poverty as a Result 

It is easy for non-Indigenous citizens to criticize the problem of poverty among the Indigenous population if they have not been immediately exposed to persistent psychological and physical struggles. Factually, “[m]any former students were socialized into a position of “worthlessness”, contributing to self-esteem damage, substance abuse, and high suicide rates.” Consequently, “despite First Nation children representing less than 5% of the child population, they represent between 30 and 40% of all children involved in the child welfare system.” This link is of no coincidence and directly relates. 

The underlying goal of the government to make their stolen land profitable has been achieved. While one can turn a blind eye to the lack of progress, the years of colonialism are transparent to modern day inheritance of wealth and properties. On the other hand, Indigenous progenies are born on their ancestors’ stolen land, where a “civilized”, oppressive society and government restricts their access to adequate treatment, housing, health care and safe drinking water; thus, intergenerational psychological trauma that stems from experience in residential schools persists. 

Works Cited

Brittain, M. and Blackstock, C., 2015. First Nations Child Poverty: A Literature Review and 

Analysis. First Nations Children’s Action Research and Education Service.

Shelley, Elizabeth. Introduction: Residential Schools. Swisspeace, 2014, Canadian Reconciliation in 

an International Context.

Authored by Natasha Byrne

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