“My mother didn’t always drink that medicine, not as much as my father did. That’s when she would clean the house, bake, do the laundry and the sewing. If she was really happy, she would sing us songs and at night she would rock Cheryl to sleep. But that was one kind of happiness that didn’t come often enough for me. To prolong that mood in her, I would help her with everything, chattering away in desperation, lest my own silences would push her back into her normal remoteness. My first cause for vanity was that out of all the houses of the people we knew, my mother kept the cleanest house. She would tell her friends that it was because she was raised in a residential school and then worked as a housekeeper for the priest in her home town.” (pg. 2-3, April Raintree.)
April’s mother, like most Aboriginal children of her generation, had to go to one of Canada’s residential schools. Those schools are part of a period in our history that is sometimes hard to believe and it wasn’t spoken about for a long, long time. As I was growing up, nobody ever told me anything about these schools, and some of them were still running at the time. Your generation is the first that is finally getting a look at the terrible conditions and circumstances at those schools.
These things are hard to talk about and hard to listen to, but very important. Many families today, including families at our school, were directly impacted by having a family member attend one of these institutions. An entire generation of people grew up being terribly mistreated, and those effects are far-reaching.
Sometimes we brush off events like this or The Holocaust or wars like the one we’re reading about as being so far in the past that they don’t impact us today. If it happened a long time ago, what’s it got to do with me today? Well, a lot, actually. Relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians was so badly damaged that it will take a long time to recover and truly accept each other. I’m proud to be part of what will hopefully be a change in that to come.
Today I will ask you to react to what we see, hear, and discuss, and consider how it affects all of us today.
In 2016, a famous Canadian named Gord Downie, leader of one of Canada’s most popular rock bands, The Tragically Hip, released a project called The Secret Path, which brought to life the story of a boy named Chanie Wenjack who died while trying to escape the nightmare of the school that he was sent to.
You can view the project here if you wish:
Here are some survivors speaking out about their experiences:
You will write for me a thoughtful response explaining your thoughts about these schools from both a historical and current perspective. Your response should touch on topics such as:
- Why do you think those schools were allowed to exist for SO LONG?
- What would this have been like for someone involved (either a student, family member, or even a teacher or member of society back then)?
- What do you think the lasting legacy of these schools is?
- How does this situation impact us today?