Since the initiation of the European colonial conquest in 1492, the First Nations people of the “Americas” have been treated unfairly. The residential schools are a major example of the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in Canada. This paper will discuss the impact of residential schools on First Nations people, and how these institutions have characterized Native people within their communities and within Canadian society. It will subsequently assess the current situation, looking at contemporary issues of disparity within Native communities, and the educational initiatives in place to alleviate the inequality within these communities, and within the larger educational context.
Although there is some discrepancy among the statistics, it is known that between 90-95 percent of First Nations people died, or were killed, during the first two centuries after the arrival of European explorers (Banasik, 2002, p. 22). Banasik claims that there is little research describing the period of time between the arrival of the Europeans and the implementation of the first residential schools. However, it is widely accepted that during this period aboriginal people had their own educational system based on survival and subsistence. (Banasik, 2002, p. 22-23).
Residential schools in Canada, were initiated by missionaries, and were developed in partnership with the Canadian government, to assimilate First Nations people. The authorities intended to subjugate them through learning a new religion, language, culture, and way of life. Under the Indian Act, Canada implemented residential schools as early as 1874, “to assist with the integration of Aboriginal people into the broader Canadian society” (Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada). Starting in the late nineteenth century, aboriginal children, forcibly enrolled in residential schools, were taken from their parents and communities as effort to facilitate the assimilation process. Miller states, “Since the Indians were an obstacle, they would be removed, not by extermination, but by assimilation.” (Banasik, 2002, p. 24) One reason, stated by Adams was that is was cheaper to educate the “Indians” rather that kill them. “Carl Schurz…estimated that it cost nearly a million dollars to kill an Indian in warfare, whereas it only cost $1,200 to give an Indian eight years of education” (Adams, 1995, p. 20)
In 1892, the federal government joined forces with the Christian missionaries and agreed to contribute between $110 and $145 per student per year (Thomas, 2003, p. 2). During this time, residential schools emerged in most Canadian provinces and territories, except Newfoundland, New Brunswick and PEI. Adams explains that the government claimed to be upholding their promise to the Natives, offering “civilization” in exchange for land. He continues to explain their rationale, “Indians not only needed to be saved from the white man, they needed to be saved from themselves.” (Adams, 1995, p. 8)
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