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The Government View

The Government View

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

Davin’s Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds was presented to the Minister of the Interior on March 14, 1879. The Davin Report was well received by the Canadian Government. The strongest selling point was its pursuit of “aggressive civilization.” Indian people were widely viewed as difficult to deal with as noted in the following section of Davin’s Report:

The experience of the United States is the same as our own as far as the adult Indian is concerned. Little can be done with him. He can be taught to do a little farming, and at stock-raising, and to dress in a more civilized manner, but that is all. The child, again, who goes to a day school learns little, and what little he learns is soon forgotten, while his tastes are fashioned at home, and his inherited aversion to toil is in no way combatted.

Thus, from the point of view of the Government, the major purpose of the schools was to use education and Christianity as vehicles to force the assimilation of Indian people. Under this system children would be removed from parental control and cultural influences. Only in this way could the children be de-socialized from their culture and then re-socialized in a new culture – that of the dominant society.

There was often a benevolent purpose in admitting children to the schools. For example, following the end of the First World War, one Member of Parliament wrote to the Department requesting that they take children into the schools who had been orphaned when their fathers had been killed during the War and their mothers had died due to epidemics and other causes. This benevolence is noted the in the following passage:

On top of this comes the condition arising out of the influenza epidemic, and without entering into the details I feel that your records will show that in every district of which an Indian school forms a center, it will be found that there are in some cases hundreds of Indian children who are left complete orphans, and in many cases, destitute. I can give you specific instances of families of Indian children whose father went Overseas and in whose absence the mother had died, the children now being cared for by other Indian families who have all their own problems to confront. It may be said that these children can be cared for by moving them out of the country altogether, but it matters not where they are, they must be cared for or abandoned to such charity, as their case will command. I do not think that once the case is properly understood, the Government will agree to either of these. In the first instance, it is not practical to move the children out. They will, in so far as they are able, refuse to go, and I do not think we can be very much surprised at that. In the second instance, we owe the Indian something better, particularly in view of the splendid record made when the manhood of Canada was called upon to do its part in the recent war. It just narrows itself down to this, that the Indian school is an absolute necessity if we are going to fulfill our common obligation to these people[10].


[10] RG 10, Vol. 6193, File 462-9, part 1. Letter, G.B. Nicholas, M.P., to Duncan Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. March 4, 1919.