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Residential Schools in Canada Essay Sample

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Residential Schools in Canada Essay Sample

From the late 1800s to the 1980s, more than 100,000 First Nations children in Canada attended residential schools To attend these schools, children were taken away from their families and communities. At the schools, the children suffered from emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse. The worst abuses were often used as punishment for speaking their indigenous languages. The imposition of residential schools on First Nations children has led to significant loss of indigenous languages, and this language loss has led to further cultural losses for traditional First Nations cultures in Canada. One far-reaching result of the residential school system is the loss of indigenous languages in Canada. A major cause of this loss was the removal of children from their families and language communities. reports that, having been removed from their families at an early age, children lost the opportunity to continue to develop their mother tongues. At the schools, only English or French were used.

Furthermore, children were punished and abused for using their indigenous languages. Survivors of residential schools report priests and nuns punching, slapping, verbally abusing, and sticking pins in the tongues of very young children for speaking their mother tongues. In the face of this abuse, many children quickly lost the ability to speak their indigenous languages. A long-term result of residential schools is a significant reduction in the numbers of speakers of indigenous languages. According to the 2001 Canada Census, only 24% of people who identified themselves as aboriginal said they could communicate in an aboriginal language In addition, over the past 100 years, at least ten indigenous languages have become extinct . Although residential schools were not the sole cause of this loss of language, they played a significant role in the decline. This loss of indigenous languages caused by residential schools affected traditional family and community relationships. First, children’s loss of their ability to speak their mother tongue affected their relationships within the family. As residential school survivor and researcher Isabelle Knockwood reports, it “drove a wedge between family members,” even between siblings at the same school.

For example, a residential school survivor, Freda Simon, tells of arriving at a residential school speaking only her mother tongue to find that her sister, who had been taken to the school two years earlier, could no longer speak their language. This example shows that even at the schools, family members were separated due to language loss. When children went back to their communities, they were unable to communicate with parents and elders. They felt “suspended in limbo” . As a result, the early survivors of residential schools were unable to develop bonds with older members of their communities and were unable to learn the traditional ways of their people through “songs, games, stories and ceremonies” .A strong traditional value in First Nations cultures was respect for elders , but with no ability for young and old to communicate, meaningful relationships between the generations became impossible. Besides damaging family and community relationships, the loss of indigenous languages also distanced many First Nations people from their traditional belief systems.

One common belief among First Nations traditional cultures is that “all of life is spiritual: everything that exists, animals, plants, people, rocks, the sun and stars have elements of sacredness” . This suggests that aboriginal peoples’ connection to nature is crucial to their spirituality. Aboriginal spirituality is passed on orally by elders through myths and rituals. Without knowledge of their traditional languages, young people could not learn about the spiritual beliefs of their people. This spirituality was all encompassing, affecting not only their thoughts about the spirit world but also their knowledge of places, plants and animals and traditional skills such as fishing, trapping, and tanning .Without access to the elders’ knowledge of nature, young people lost access to the beliefs and practices their people had developed over thousands of years.

Therefore, the loss of language led to the loss of traditional spiritual beliefs and connection to nature. In short, interpersonal relationships and traditional belief systems were both sacrificed when residential schools contributed to the decline of First Nations children’s indigenous language abilities. The effects of these losses continue to this day despite attempts to reverse the damage. On June 11, 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper offered an official apology on behalf of the Canadian government to survivors of residential schools for the treatment they had received there. Following this apology, Beverly Jacobs, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, noted that aboriginal people need more than an apology; they need a government commitment to dealing with the negative impacts of the schools in areas such as “language, culture, . . . tradition, and spirituality”. The effects of the residential schools on First Nations’ language and culture will never be undone; all Canadians can do now is support efforts by aboriginal people to preserve and revitalize those linguistic and cultural traditions that have not been lost.

References

Blair, H., Rice, S., Wood, V. & Janvier, J. (2002). Daghida: Cold Lake first nation works towards Dene language revitalization. In B. Burnaby and J. Reyner (Eds.), Indigenous languages across the community (pp. 89-98). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Couture, J. E. (1996). The role of native elders: Emergent issues. In D. A. Long and O.P. Dickason (Eds.), Visions of the heart: Canadian aboriginal issues (pp. 4-56). Toronto: Harcourt Brace. Fitzpatrick, M. & Nguyen, L. (2008, June 11). Harper apologizes to residential school survivors. CanWest News. Retrieved from Canadian Newsstand database. Knockwood, I. (1992). Out of the depths: The experiences of Mi’kmaw children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Lockeport, NS: Roseway. Llewellyn, J. (2002). Dealing with the legacy of Native residential school abuse in Canada: Litigation, ADR, and restorative justice. University of Toronto Law Journal, 52(3), 253. doi: 10.2307/825996 Native women’s leader reacts to Canada’s apology. (2008, June 12) [Transcript of interview Canada AM – CTV Television]. Retrieved from ProQuest database. Norris, M. J. (2007). Aboriginal languages in Canada: Emerging trends and perspectives on second language acquisition. Canadian Social Trends, (83), 20-28. Retrieved from CBCA Complete database. Petten, C. (2007, July). Knowledge of aboriginal languages in decline. Windspeaker, 25(4), p. 22. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database. Rajotte, F. (1998). First Nations faith and ecology. London: Cassell. Steckley, J. L. & Cummins, B. (2001). Full circle: Canada’s first nations. Toronto: Pearson.

[ 1 ]. Llewellyn, J. (2002). Dealing with the legacy of Native residential school abuse in Canada: Litigation, ADR, and restorative justice. University of Toronto Law Journal, 52(3), 253. doi: 10.2307/825996 [ 2 ]. Steckley, J. L. & Cummins, B. (2001). Full circle: Canada’s first nations. Toronto: Pearson. [ 3 ]. Knockwood, I. (1992). Out of the depths: The experiences of
Mi’kmaw children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Lockeport, NS: Roseway. [ 4 ]. Norris, M. J. (2007). Aboriginal languages in Canada: Emerging trends and perspectives on second language acquisition. Canadian Social Trends, (83), 20-28. Retrieved from CBCA Complete database. [ 5 ]. Couture, J. E. (1996). The role of native elders: Emergent issues. In D. A. Long and O.P. Dickason (Eds.), Visions of the heart: Canadian aboriginal issues (pp. 4-56). Toronto: Harcourt Brace. [ 6 ]. Rajotte, F. (1998). First Nations faith and ecology. London: Cassell. [ 8 ]. 7 Fitzpatrick, M. & Nguyen, L. (2008, June 11). Harper apologizes to residential school survivors. CanWest News. Retrieved from Canadian Newsstand database. [ 9 ]. Native women’s leader reacts to Canada’s apology. (2008, June 12) [Transcript of interview Canada AM – CTV Television]. Retrieved from ProQuest database.

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