Canada being the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971, its dark history of cultural genocide against indigenous people may come as a surprise to some. Funded by the Canadian government and Christian churches, the residential school system was developed to "kill the Indian in the child".
The last Canadian residential school was shut down as recently as 1986. Below are 10 lesser known facts regarding the Canadian residential schools system and its victims.
Soon after the residential school system was developed, attendance became mandatory for children as young as 4 until they were 18 years old. Students were forced to assimilate into Euro-Canadian culture and were prohibited from practicing their own culture and religion. In attempts to make the aboriginal children look less like themselves and more like European Canadians, school staff bathed them in toxic chemicals to lighten their skin, cut their long hair short and compelled them to wear western uniforms.
The binding of girls' breasts was common as well, as it was method of making them feel ashamed of their maturing bodies. Children were also forced to accept Christianity, with praying being a daily ritual. Furthermore, communication (including during class time) was allowed in only English or French, languages which many of the children did not understand.
Separation from Family
Since all aboriginal children's attendance was mandatory, the children were often forcibly taken from their homes. Parents who tried to resist were beaten and arrested. Other parents who gave permission for their children to be taken away were deliberately given false information about the purpose of the residential school system and the standard of living at the schools. If siblings were lucky enough to be sent to the same school, they were still separated due to the gender segregation that existed at all schools. Most of the time, students were prohibited from visiting their families at all until they were 18. This included holidays and even the funerals of loved ones (the deaths of whom the children were sometimes never informed of). The children had to write letters home in languages that were foreign to their parents, and any gifts or letters their parents sent back were withheld from them by the priests and nuns that ran the schools.
Poor Quality of Life
The quality of life offered at these schools was terrible. The majority of a student's day was spent running the school by cooking and cleaning, because the residential school system was so underfunded that proper care could not be afforded. The schools were overcrowded and in need of repairs (this made the working conditions unsafe). The students were underfed and malnourished, as well as deprived of medical care and improperly clothed during the winter months.
Subjection to Nutritional Experiments
Sometimes malnourished children were subjected to nutritional experiments with the federal government's knowledge and, of course, without their parents' consent. Children that were already undernourished were starved and used as guinea pigs in experiments that have reportedly not resulted in any significant findings.
Punishments at the schools were cruel and incredibly unreasonable. For examples, children's tongues were repeatedly pierced with needles as a punishment for speaking a language other than English or French. Other common punishments included electrical shock, confinement in cages, burning of hands, public strip searches and force-feeding of students' own vomit when they were sick.