Christian missionaries were the first to set up residential schools in an attempt to convert natives to Christianity. Presbyterians, Catholics, and Methodists were the first three groups to start these schools; the missionaries viewed the aboriginal people as savages, who needed to be civilized. Their attempt to convert the aboriginal people to Christianity achieved remarkably little if it achieved anything. Later on, the colonial masters set foot in Canada and supported the schools. The reason why the colonial governments took charge of the schools was to achieve their goals of colonization. One of these goals was economic empowerment; to achieve this, they required more labor. The natives were strong and could provide the cheap labor needed after turning them away from their cultural system. The European community wanted to assimilate the aboriginal people to European way of living by forcing children to leave their families.
Residential schools refer to institutions that have existed for a long time. They include boarding schools, hostels, billets and student’s residences. The schools were present in all the provinces in Canada except New Brunswick and the Prince Edward Island. The creation of these schools had two main objectives - the separation of children from their families and the elimination of the native cultural system, which the colonial government believed was not worth to preserve. To get rid of the aboriginal cultures the first target was the native language The Missionaries running these schools banned conversing in any other language apart from English or French. The children received heavy punishment if they spoke their native language. Speaking mother tongue resulted to severe punishment, such as needles were pushed through ones tongue. They forced the children to desert their families and live in this school, and they forced them not to interact freely in the schools. This aimed at discouraging the children to form close friendships to replace the lost family ties. For a long time, the colonial masters did not allow children to see or hear from the relatives they left behind.
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The missionary people who taught in these schools had the aim of converting the natives to Christianity. They based most of their lessons on the bible and emphasized on the Christian way of life. These missionaries believed that the only way to get rid of the cultural practices and beliefs of the aboriginal people was to teach them a new system of belief, which is Christianity. The Christian community that operated the schools forced the children to attend Bible studies during the holidays; this was to keep them away from their family occasions such as the traditional hunt for caribou and moose. Most studies argued against the cultural and religious beliefs of the aboriginal group of people. This aimed at convincing the children that Christianity was the best alternative.
The schools were useful in providing the aboriginal people with self-sufficiency skills. Learning in these schools was different from the education in public formal schools. The Europeans lowly regarded the natives, and as a result, they only taught the natives manual skills and no other academic work. In these schools, they taught boys skills such as hunting, blacksmith and other skills considered as jobs for men, while they taught the girls how to cook and farm. This is because the people in authority viewed the natives as a source of cheap labor. The Missionaries decided to civilize the people immediately after they arrived in Canada. They had the notion that the traditional practices of the aboriginal people were weak and against God’s will. When the European came into Canada, they took the same opinion as the Missionaries. During colonization, the colonial masters grabbed the opportunity to exploit the native communities by denying them access to formal learning. That was to prevent future competition with the European children.
Researchers have conducted several studies to explain the current behaviors of the aborigine people. The aboriginal theory of the mind and mental health are the models used to relate the condition of the mind of the natives before and after interacting with the European. The theory tries to confirm previous theories on the aboriginal community of Northern America, most of which originate from Europe. The community is the unit of study, where a relational theory tries to compare the state of mind, how the natives regarded themselves and how the identity they gave themselves before and after the European invasion. The native people were a happy group of people before the formation of residential schools. A good number of survivors who attended these schools attest that they lived happily and suffered mentally when the Europeans forced them to leave their families. The theory does not differentiate mental illness and physical sickness. These schools had a significant impact on the personal lives and mental health of the natives. Today, the generations of the native people continue to feel the effect of these schools and will probably continue to experience the same in the future.
The children who joined these schools experienced emotional, psychological and sexual torture. The children separated from their parents underwent serious mental torture, because they were extremely young. The unfriendly living conditions affected them psychologically. Corporal punishment was the main form of punishment in these schools. Besides, the adults working in these institutions sexually abused the helpless children, who out of fear of facing heavy punishment chose to maintain their silence. The teachers taught the children that discussing their sexuality was evil and sinful. This contributed to their silence when the adults sexually abused them. Teaching them this way was to make sure they did not give an account of what was happening in their lives.
Almost half the number of children in the residential schools fell ill because of the unhealthy living conditions in the schools. The children suffered from all sought of hygiene related sicknesses due to the poor sanitation and medical attention given to them. Many of these children succumbed to diseases. Since the Europeans lowly regarded the Native community, the school managements did not provide medical care or attention for the ailing children. Some of the missionaries and nuns in charge of these institutions tried to help, but since they had little medical expertise, their aid accomplished minimal results. The children in residential schools mainly ate vegetables and other unhealthy foods. This gave rise to malnutrition and diseases killing almost half the population of these children before their adult years.
The schools achieved the objective of educating the native community. According to Meagan (2005 p5), by the age of five most of the aboriginal children had learnt how to conserve the environment. According to Grace et al (2009 p81), they had also acquired significant survival skills such as hunting, fishing and gathering. This shows that the residential schools had a few positive outcomes on people’s survival and living. The main reason of forming these schools was to equip the natives with skills. The skills attained were to help them get jobs as casual workers in their colonial masters’ farms and homes. One can argue that this, to some extent, helped the natives as they got skills that would help them make a living in the later future.
The impacts of the residential schools affect the aboriginal community to date. The parents who attended residential schools grew up with no family nurturing. In the schools, the teachers allowed the children little time to learn of the importance of family values and parental care. This has made many of them have exceptionally poor parenting skills and show no affection to their children. This is because when growing up they did not experience parental love and as a result, did not learn how to offer the same. The lack of the requisite parental attention and love has made their children have esteem issues.
Domestic abuse and violence towards women and children is an effect felt today as an aftermath of these schools. The harsh punishment and living conditions in which the men who attended residential schools lived in has instilled violence in them. They tend to believe that the best way to solve issues is through violence. The violence they exhibit towards their families has made communication in their families to be less open than that of between other Canadian communities’ families. The little communication leads to misunderstanding within the family institution, as a result, the men beat up by their women. The reason why many of the aboriginal men choose violence as a solution to conflicts is that from a young age the adults in their lives subjected them to corporal punishment. They have formed this notion that to solve issues one must incorporate violence.
Divorce and separation cases occur more in families where one or both parents attended a residential school. This is because, in these schools, the children did not get the chance to learn family relations. Not only were the children separated from their parents, brothers and sisters who ended up in the same institutions did not have the chance to communicate (Nancy et al, 2005, pp 2-5). This has led to their poor social interaction skills, which in turn has profoundly affected their social relations. This has made it challenging when it comes to spouses relating with each other. This is because they have all along made their own independent decisions without consulting a parental figure. The aboriginal people find it hard to relate with others because their teachers trained them not to relate with anyone from their early days. This makes it difficult to counsel this group of people as they have a different approach to life. The fact that they have lived a lonely life since they were small children has made them more self centered.
Hopelessness is a feeling that remains among the native community. In residential schools, the teachers instilled low self-esteem in children, because they only taught them manual skills and made to believe they can never handle any other work activity. The aim was to make them feel worthless and incompetent of contending with the rest of Canadian communities. People from these communities feel worthless even today; this explains the high suicide attempts among members of these communities. Low self-esteem is the main reason why majority of people from these communities abuse alcohol and engage in other socially harmful activities. The fact that they have darned few qualifications to land them a sensible job in today’s market has made matters worse, with most of them having large families to feed they now feel they have done little for their families and feel they are worthless.
The aboriginal people are the worst affected by modern diseases, because due to the hopeless feeling many of them have resulted to drug abuse and other unhealthy life styles. This has led to the adoption of unhealthy life styles, marked with unending diseases and violence behavior. According to Fred and lopping (2009 pp 9-11) many of the aboriginal people live in poverty today. This occurs because they do lowly paying jobs which cannot feed their families and provide them with the necessary medical care. This led to the deterioration of their health condition and resulted to high death rates in these communities. Government aid has also done exceedingly little to end discrimination against the aboriginal community. As a result, many still choose to live alone away from other communities. They still detest the European way of life and anything else that comes along with it including the health systems. This has made many of them prefer indigenous medicines to the modern medicines. Most of these medications do not yield positive results, because non-experienced medical professionals are in charge of them. This has led to increased disease in the community. No wonder today more death cases form the annual report from the Aboriginal community than those of other Canadian communities.
According to Robertson (2006, p5), many of the survivors of these schools say they still feel lonely to date. Since the majority of the parents who attended these schools are reservist, many of the native families live in isolated areas away from the other communities. This has deprived their children the opportunity to develop emotionally and socially as they should develop. As a result, many of these children continue to adopt the hostile behavior and a negative attitude towards other people. This has made it hard for the aboriginal to interact freely with other communities, as they still feel discriminated against and unwanted. They continue to hold the idea that other people belong to their own world and the indigenous people do not fit to interact with them. This has made them isolate themselves and denied them the chance of actively partaking in economic activities. This is the reason why majority of the Aboriginal families live in isolated and poor areas.
On the positive though, people who survived the harsh conditions in the said schools developed a unique resilience. The fighting spirit has enabled many people from the native community to achieve extraordinarily in life. The hardship they faced as children, made them aggressive towards life. This can be the reason why they rarely give up and, as a result, a good number have achieved a lot in life. The survival tactics they developed in these extremely harsh schools work to their advantages today’s world. Several of them have used this patience and resilience to accomplish their ambitions. It is necessary to note that a sizeable number remains in high poverty levels.
The natives, who survived the harsh times today, appreciate their cultural values. This is because the European community had denied them the opportunity to enjoy it as young children. The natives are trying to regain their almost extinct language through cultural awareness programs. This passion is because they had almost lost their cultural heritage at one time in their life. The parents of this group insist on the cultural practices more, as compares to the parents of other Canadian communities.
The aboriginal community has started to embrace their long lost cultures and traditions. They now value their cultures more than other communities do in Canada. This can be attributed to the actuality that, at a certain point in their lives, they lost it because of these schools. The elderly are teaching the young ones their cultural heritage in an effort to bring back to life their culture and beliefs. Many of those who attended these schools claim that after abolishing the residential schools, there was a conflict in communication between the young generation and the old generation. This is because many of them had forgotten their language and cultural system. They are now trying to revive the almost extinct language and cultural heritage.
In conclusion, the aboriginal communities in Canada feel the impact of residential schools to this day. The colonial government was able to lower the self-esteem of the aboriginal people, and as a result, these communities report high drug abuse and suicide attempts in Canada. The harsh conditions and punishments given to the children remain in their minds in their adult years. This has made them aggressive and violent in life.
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