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katherineH

"I Am Not a Number"

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katherineH

By day, I work as a children's librarian and we recently received a biographical picture book called "I Am Not a Number." It is about a young Native girl in Canada who is taken from her home by a government agent and send to a residential boarding school to be educated by a group of sisters. The scenes with the sisters are painful. In one scene, Irene is told that she is no longer to be referred to by her name but by a number instead.  She is also told by a certain Sr. Mary to go take a shower to "wash all of the brown off." I was not aware of this terrible practice in Canada that separated children from their parents in an effort to assimilate them into dominant culture. I know religious communities have not always made good decisions and have at times been complicit in oppressive and dehumanizing government practices, but for some reason this particular story really moved me.  I don't know why I feel compelled to share about it here. Do any Canadian posters know just how extensive the cooperation between religious communities and residential school programs was?

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truthfinder
2 minutes ago, katherineH said:

By day, I work as a children's librarian and we recently received a biographical picture book called "I Am Not a Number." It is about a young Native girl in Canada who is taken from her home by a government agent and send to a residential boarding school to be educated by a group of sisters. The scenes with the sisters are painful. In one scene, Irene is told that she is no longer to be referred to by her name but by a number instead.  She is also told by a certain Sr. Mary to go take a shower to "wash all of the brown off." I was not aware of this terrible practice in Canada that separated children from their parents in an effort to assimilate them into dominant culture. I know religious communities have not always made good decisions and have at times been complicit in oppressive and dehumanizing government practices, but for some reason this particular story really moved me.  I don't know why I feel compelled to share about it here. Do any Canadian posters know just how extensive the cooperation between religious communities and residential school programs was?

It was huge.

It wasn't only Catholic religious orders, there were also residential schools run by the Anglican, United, as well as a couple non-denom schools.  It is a very long history of the government requiring the forced taking of the children often away from their communities, to lose their language and culture (I'm not going to say that teaching them the Faith was wrong, but it was often beaten into them). It started in the late 1800s and continued on with vigour until the 1970s although the last school closed in the 1990s. Canada is still trying to deal with the aftermath. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a work which has been going through Canada over the last couple years which includes both the affected Aboriginal peoples as well as the various church groups. 

Some clergy did take care of the children and tried to help preserve their languages (it was a government policy that they shouldn't). They were often dealing with very poor government funding which got pressed on to the children (although there are numerous stories that the nuns and priests would frequently eat much better meals than the students and do less labour - the children were often required to do hard labour every day both as a way to produce food and teach them a trade but also as a way to break them). The religious orders that ended up teaching were often never meant to be teachers - often their apostolates were as missionaries or healthcare, or some of the sisters were even supposed to be looking after rectories, not raising children. Physical abuse was common, although not necessarily out of step with physical punishment of 'regular' students of the time. Sexual abuse also occurred.  There are many disputes over where exactly the fault lies, and when it comes to abuse, how common and prevalent it was. (One extreme has called it a genocide with records supposedly being hidden to hide the murder of up to 50,000+ children). And children did die - many were very ill, a combination of the hard work, bad housing, and lack of food; others were suicides.

JR Miller is one of the best historians on this matter. Here's a link to a brief article giving a bit more detail: http://activehistory.ca/papers/history-papers-13/

I can give more details if you have more questions.

  

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Antigonos

The quite wonderful series, North of 60 [available on YouTube], frequently addressed the problems this Canadian governmental policy caused.

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Nunsuch

It needs to be noted that this also happened quite extensively in the U.S., as well as with indigenous people all over the world. This is not a pleasant dimension of human history, to say the least, but one that needs to be acknowledged so that it is never repeated.

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Spem in alium

It's also been the case in Australia --- until not too long ago, many indigenous Australians were forcibly placed in missions (run by the church/missionaries) or reserves or stations (sometimes managed with church involvement). Most notable is the great number of children who were forcibly separated from their families; they are called the "Stolen Generations" here.

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beatitude

My PhD research involved historical trauma (trauma that is passed down through generations, meaning that grandchildren may be affected by something their grandparents experienced, because of the way the legacy of those events plays out in the home) and the methods I used were informed by the work of a Native woman, Barbara Charbonneau, who had attended a mission boarding school herself and who wrote a thesis on how the experience affects the overall health of Native people today. It is important to remember that this is not just history - many people who were incarcerated in these places are still alive.

I know it's painful to realise that Catholic institutions were involved in such systemic abuse and cultural genocide. That sisters could have rinsed children's mouths with harsh soap as a punishment for using their own languages (languages that today are a mother-tongue for almost no one). I'm always uncomfortable when we point to the involvement of other churches and the secular government. It doesn't excuse us. We're supposed to be like a city that can't be hidden, not to blend in with the landscape. ("Well, everyone else did it.") The fact that everyone else did it makes it all the more shameful that we went along with it, and were a major player.

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BarbaraTherese

 

37 minutes ago, beatitude said:

It doesn't excuse us. We're supposed to be like a city that can't be hidden, not to blend in with the landscape. ("Well, everyone else did it.") The fact that everyone else did it makes it all the more shameful that we went along with it, and were a major player.

Well said :like2:

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Vocation to love

It"s so important that things that have been quite clearly immoral and unjust be brought to the light.  Truth has nothing to be afraid of it is only badness that takes refuge in the dark.  We should always be cleansing ourselves both individually and as a Church so that we can truly follow Christ who is the light of the world. 

 

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Quasar

It's so disappointing that religious were involved in this.  There is endless evidence of the sinfulness of man.  Like beatitude said, the Church should stand above and apart.   I'm glad we now have ICWA here in the US to protect Native American kids and families against this type of thing.

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