News, Politics

Coming To Grips With A Shameful Past

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Photograph of male students from Fort Albany Residential School in class overseen by a nun c 1945. From the Edmund Metatawabin collection at the University of Algoma. Source: http://archives.algomau.ca/
Photograph of male students from Fort Albany Residential School in class overseen by a nun c 1945. From the Edmund Metatawabin collection at the University of Algoma. Source: http://archives.algomau.ca/

Canada is trying to come to grips with a difficult chapter in its past.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, many First Nations people (also known as indigenous or aboriginal people) living in Canada were done a terrible wrong by the federal government. Indigenous children were put in boarding schools, known as “residential schools.”

The schools were mostly run by the Catholic, Anglican and United churches. The government believed that indigenous people should be taught to become more like “Canadians”—primarily, white Christians at the time.

Some very bad things happened to the more than 150,000 children who were put into residential schools. Not only were they taken from their families, but they weren’t allowed to speak their own language or practise their own faith. They were often also physically abused or exposed to diseases without proper medical care.

The first residential school was opened in 1840 and the last one closed as recently as 1996.

In 2008, the Canadian government apologized for these actions, but that was not enough. They also put in place a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to study the history and gather information from people who had been put in residential schools.

The idea is that by listening and talking about the damage done, we can begin to learn about the harm that befell the people who were placed in residential schools—and then, it is hoped, the present generations can come to some kind of an understanding.

The Commission produced a report with 94 recommendations for the government. In this case, that means things the government should do differently.

Recently, more than 10,000 aboriginal people gathered in Ottawa to mark the final stage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Now, Canadians will wait to see whether the government will follow up on the recommendations made in the report.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
As the article explains, thefirst residential school was opened in 1840 and the last one closed as recently as 1996.” However, the Canadian government did not apologize for the mistreatment of indigenous people until 2008. Why do you think it took the government so long to apologize?

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
The article states, “In 2008, the Canadian government apologized for these actions, but that was not enough.”

Using your own experiences and knowledge of other world events, answer the following question: Is an apology ever enough? 

Junior
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Intermediate
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Language Feature: Word Choice
In order to examine Canadian residential schools and the impact they had on indigenous people, the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” was created. What do the words truth and reconciliation mean? Do you think the name of the commission accurately describes what they are trying to do?