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External Cultural Pressures

External Cultural Pressures

- Nishnawbe Aski Nation Indian Residential Schools in Ontario, 2005 -

The arrival of non-Aboriginal people changed the way of life for the Cree and Ojibwe. Traditional economic activities were changed by the market type economy of the fur trade where everyone fended for himself. The social and family bonds of the extended family kin-groups were changed by the European concept of the smaller nuclear family. Individual rights were stressed at the expense of group rights. Aboriginal individuals lost their status as a unique part of a functioning unit within the kin-group. Education was also changed. In Aboriginal societies education was the responsibility of the kin-group and each member of the group was responsible for teaching children, whether girls or boys, the things that made them unique in the group. In European societies, education was a function of the state or government. In this model, schools were set up and children expected to attend. The residential schools were established to civilize, educate, assimilate and Christianize Aboriginal people in Canada. There were many residential schools established by the Federal Government of Canada and were operated by various religious groups across Canada. Aboriginal children were forced to attend these schools due to the compulsory attendance provisions of the Indian Act.

Although the heyday of the residential school system has long since passed – it peaked in the 1930’s when there were about 80 schools in operation in Canada – it has produced an indelible and enduring legacy. While some of those who are familiar with the system – both First Nation’s and others – claim that the schools provided Aboriginal children with the modern education they required at the time, the majority believe the system was an unmitigated disaster. It is hard to imagine a circumstance, its harshest critics say, in which it would be best for children to be forcibly removed from their parents, placed in institutions in which they are forbidden to speak their own languages, and prevented from mastering and celebrating their own customs and traditions. And where, we have since learned, the children who resided at the schools were sometimes physically and sexually abused by those who were responsible for their care [1].

[1] Driben, Paul. Lakehead University. Notes from a lecture entitled, Where the Spirit Lives.