Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School, Saskatchewan. Parents camp outside school grounds waiting to be allowed to visit their children. The photo starkly highlights the fact that incarceration in Residential Schools was not voluntary. During the time that Indian Residential Schools flourished, 1892 - 1975, Registered Indians (Treaty Indians) were Wards of the Crown and enjoyed civil and legal rights that were equal to those enjoyed by drunks and insane persons, which was, for all intents and purposes, none. Children could be, and were, sized by Indian Affairs officials at will. (Photo may be copyrighted)

May 21, 1999 Halifax Herald

All-consuming desire to kill First Nations' cultures

An article by Michael Downey in the April 26 edition of MacLean's magazine, entitled "Canada's genocide," re-emphasizes how deeply ingrained in the minds of people of European descent was the desire to eradicate First Nations Cultures from the face of Mother Earth. For many bigots, this hope still abides.

Downey relates in his piece the heart-wrenching tale of how thousands of First Nations children were "legally" seized from their parents by provincial governments during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and placed with white adoptive parents in homes around the world. Placement agencies in the United Sates often received fees from the adoptive parents in the range of 15 to 20 thousand dollars per child.

The stage for the playing out of this tragedy was set in the 1950s when the federal government shirked part of its constitutional mandate for insuring the protection and welfare of Registered Indians and delegated to the provinces, via federal-provincial agreements, its responsibility for the care and control of minor Native children. Downey relates how quickly the process mushroomed into another fast-track process to rob First Nations of their most precious possessions, their children: "In 1959, only one per cent of Canadian children in custody were Native; a decade later, the number had risen to 40 per cent..."

Tie this child grab in with the mid-1800s establishment of Indian day schools and with the late-1800s establishment of Indian residential schools - institutions where the white teachers perceived their most important duty to be to teach Native children to be ashamed of who they were - and it adds up to a wholesale attempt by government to kill First Nations cultures by destroying any pride their children had in their heritage. The results for the children were horrific - the mental, physical and sexual abuse dished out in these homes and institutions badly damaged, and in many cases extinguished, self-esteem.

Of the several incidents of abuse which Downey relates, this one perhaps best exemplifies the extent of how children suffered:

"Carla Williams was four when the authorities knocked on the door and took the terrified native youngster away from her parents forever. It was 1968, and Williams was thrust into a white society where nobody spoke her native tongue. Three years of cultural confusion later, she was adopted by a family that then moved to Holland. The young girl was permitted no contact with her grieving parents back in Canada. Subjected to emotional and sexual abuse, she had three babies by the age of 16---two of them, she says, by her adoptive father, and one was given up for adoption.

“Finally, after her descent into alcohol, drugs and prostitution, the Dutch government received an official request from Canada to have her returned. Williams left Amsterdam in 1989 at the age of 25, shouting, ‘I'm going home!’ She arrived back in Canada too late to meet the parents she had barely known; after the removal of three of their children, her mother and father had committed suicide. Williams is now a saleswoman in Winnipeg and has had considerable success in turning her life around."

Downey's article appeared on the advent of the completion of an adoption report which was commissioned and funded by several Native groups and four Ontario government ministries. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, Toronto consultants Stevenato and Associates and Janet Rudgell carried out the study. As yet, I don't have a date when the report will be made available for public scrutiny.

The largely unwarranted attacks on First Nation children by governments badly damaged many First Nations cultures, but did not kill them. I often ask myself what evil force created such a burning desire in the councils of white governments, which held sway for almost three centuries, to use any means possible to eradicate these cultures? A logical answer eludes me, and probably always will. Racism is part of the answer, but the extent of the attempts indicates something even more malignant; guilt, shame, and probably the need to feel superior and plain blind hate figure in.

What I do know for certain is that the usual blarney put forward by governments in defense of their atrocious behaviour sickens me. It goes something like this: "There was no intent to do harm; it was done with the best intentions." When something is done by whites with the intent to kill a culture, which was created by a people of colour, the proper term to describe such actions is "white supremacist activity." There can never be any other credible description offered.

In the 1980s, the ungodly attempts to destroy was stopped. As a result, thank the Great Spirit, apprehended Native children today are, wherever humanly possible, placed in Native homes. In cases where they have to be placed in non-Native homes, the contact with their culture has to be maintained.

Will governments ever gather the courage to acknowledge the crimes against humanity committed by their predecessors, and offer First Nations Peoples an across-the-board apology? This will only happen when ethical behaviour takes precedence over greed, or if the Assembly of First Nations forces it by winning a class-action lawsuit!

Daniel N. Paul


Click to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.danielnpaul.com/UniversalDeclarationOfHumanRights.html

Click to read American Indian Genocide: http://www.danielnpaul.com/AmericanIndiansGenocide.html

Click to read the Genocide Convention: http://www.danielnpaul.com/UnitedNationsGenocideConvention.html

Click to read about the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School: http://www.danielnpaul.com/IndianResidentialSchools.html

Click to read the Carlisle Indian Industrial School: http://www.danielnpaul.com/CarlisleIndianSchool.html

Click to read about British extermination Policies: http://www.danielnpaul.com/BritishScalpBounties.html

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