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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Anglican/Methodist Missions and Schools

It is misnomer to believe that there were no schools or schooling in Rupert’s Land until the arrival of the missionaries and priests, the Hudson’s Bay Company had regulations in place since 1836 that everyone in the post attend divine services every Sunday, that the women and children be given useful occupations, and that the fathers were to expose their wives and children to their mother tongue by speaking it at home, and that they were to "devote part of his leisure hours to teach the children their ABC and Catechism together with such further elementary instructions as time and circumstances may permit."

In the early schools, those established before 1880, there was much less emphasis on forcing the children to learn English or French, and more emphasis on ‘Europeanizing’ them. Many of the first teachers either spoke the Aboriginal languages already, or worked very hard at learning them. There would seem to have been a different attitude.

In the years after Confederation, the Federal Government of Canada took on some of the roles the HBC had fulfilled, paying assistance to the Church Mission Societies who ran the residential schools. When the treaties were signed between the Government and the Aboriginals, the Government entered into a parental relationship with them. They promised to care for them but they did not take care of the people.

The Aboriginals suffered a famine after the buffalo were becoming extinct. It was during this difficult time that the government made rules that the children must be sent to residential schools. There was also a change in how the schools were funded. The policy was changed from a line-item budget into a per capita budget, and other saving policies were made. One policy was that the children were to attend school for half a day, and work the other half. The reason given for the change was that the children needed to be trained in trades. However, it seemed that farming was the only trade to which they were exposed. The change in budget left the schools operating without adequate funding. One of the first places they cut the budget was in food.

Life in school

Life in the residential school was very different from life at home. It was standard practice for the children to sleep in large dormitories, all the girls in one big room, and all the boys in another. They were kept on a tight schedule, and as the schools were run by missionaries, religious instruction took up a sizeable portion of the instruction time. One of the first changes they went through was a haircut and a change into a uniform.

A routine day began with worship, followed by a breakfast of porridge, eaten in the huge dining room where everyone was seated on backless benches pulled up to long tables in rows. The children then performed their chores, followed by either time in the classroom or time at work. After a lunch of thin soup, those who had had classes in the morning went to their work assignments, while those who had worked in the morning went to the classroom. After the school day, everyone had more assigned chores. Between chores and supper, or just after lunch, the students would be given half an hour of free time in the yard. That would be followed by evening prayers, bath-time, and time for bed.

Altogether, a child might spend two hours in the classroom, and six hours working. They were instructed in English, both oral and written, basic arithmetic and other elementary subjects, as well as other religious instruction, including singing hymns. In some of the better schools, the best students might be selected to learn to play musical instruments or receive other one-to-one tutoring.

Much of the emphasis, in Methodist, Anglican and Catholic schools, was to transform the children into English or French speaking citizens able to hold a job as farmhands or house servants. For some of the instructors, the goal was the saving of souls, the Christianizing of the Aboriginals.

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Traditional Beliefs

Anglican/Methodist Missions and Schools

Catholic Missions and Schools

Pilgrimage (Kootenay Plains)

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