For more than a century, Canada employed a two-pronged attack on Indigenous people under the guise of education. Under the Indian Residential School System, as well as through the Indian Day Schools, Canada pursued an assimilationist and genocidal policy to rid the country of its “Indian problem.”
More than a decade ago, the Canadian government settled a class action lawsuit with the survivors of Residential Schools, worth nearly $2 billion. Yet, survivors of the Indian Day Schools were left out of the settlement, even though their schools had been part of the Residential School system.
Nevertheless, earlier this year, the Canadian government proposed an out-of-court settlement with survivors of the Indian Day Schools. Court hearings were held in Winnipeg last week where individuals were given the opportunity to argue for, or against, the proposed settlement.
The Indian Day Schools were federally funded and operated by churches, much like Residential Schools, and many students were abused by the adults who were entrusted their care, as those who attended Residential Schools. Many of us have heard stories from our parents and grandparents of the abuses they suffered at the hands of the nuns and priests who taught in the schools they attended. Many students were “disciplined” for simply speaking their language on school grounds.
Approximately 200,000 Indigenous children attended one of the more than 700 federally operated Indian Day Schools, and many of them experienced severe trauma, and in some cases were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
The purpose of both the Residential School System and Indian Day Schools was to rob Indigenous people of our distinct languages and culture and turn us into “good Canadians.”
Former Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott has long been considered the architect of the Residential School System.
“I want to get rid of the Indian problem,” Scott said. “I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… 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 question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill (Indian Act).”
From 1868 to September 1988, when all the community schools were officially transferred to the administration of the Kahnawake Education Center, there were 11 Indian Day Schools in Kahnawake, the Mohawk community south of the Island of Montreal. These schools included Kateri School, Karonhianonhnha and Kawennanoron.
The proposed settlement agreement includes $10,000 in individual compensation for thousands of Indigenous students who suffered harm while attending these federally-run Indian Day Schools. Students who also experienced physical or sexual abuse are eligible for additional compensation ranging between $50,000 to $200,000 – based on the severity of the abuses suffered, the government said.
After all these years our people are still here, our languages and cultures are enjoying a resurgence and it is painfully obvious that the government’s grand design has failed.
No matter what the final settlement will end up looking like, should the federal court approve one, there is no monetary amount that can make up for the deliberate attack on our people, culture and ways of life.
Photo: Boys and girls at Indian Day School, Trout Lake, ON, under the supervision of Reverend Leslie Garrett. Date unknown. Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.