Implications and Contentions - Residential Schools
The first Aboriginal residential schools were opened in Canada in the 1870s, although some sources state that European missionaries sought to open schools of this sort in the late 18th century in New France. The schools were operated by the federal government and by various religious denominations including the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.
The overarching goal of the residential schools was to make the Native youth self-sufficient Canadian citizens. The government believed that by inculcating Aboriginal youth with European value systems, such as teaching them the importance of believing in a Christian God and honing the skills of agriculture, the Natives could easily adapt to the white settlers inhabiting the Prairies.
There were two kinds of schools that children were sent to. There were day schools, in which children attended schools located on the reserves, and there were residential schools, which were located further away and required children to leave the comforts of home. The school schedule remained the same until the 1950s in that the first part of the day was spent in a classroom, while the latter part of the day was in the field learning the craft of agriculture.
Residential schools were set up across the reserves of the Treaty 7 Nations. For example, the Methodist Missionaries set up a residential school on the Morley reserve for the Nakoda (Stoney) First Nations Peoples. The Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) reserve near Fish Creek was located south of Morley, and Methodist missionaries established schools there as well. Indian agent documents reveal, however, that the Tsuu T’ina – and other Treaty 7 Natives – did not welcome the schools and the ideas and values taught at them.
It comes as no surprise that the First Nations of Treaty 7 rejected the residential schools. It was at these schools that the Native culture was obliterated. The missionaries sought to assimilate the Native youth by not allowing them to speak their own language, participate in their own ceremonies, or even see their own families. The schools were often poorly maintained and the food lacked nutritional value. The children were treated without respect and sadly the agricultural programs were physically demanding.
The schools came at a huge price and are believed to be one of the root causes of the social problems faced by Aboriginal people today. By the mid-twentieth century the schools started closing. The last school was closed in 1996. Today, numerous litigations have been settled or are pending against Christian churches and government agencies who created and supported the residential school system.