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The Notion of Removal

The Notion of Removal

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

The notion that First Nation children had to be removed from their homes and families in order to be educated appeared at an early date. Proponents of the notion believed that it was necessary to remove children from the cultural influences of their parents, particularly where the parents spent a lot of time roaming on the land away from the community. All of the schools established along the St. Lawrence by various orders of the Roman Catholic Church were established on this notion. However, these first schools encountered resistance from the parents. After the early schools had been in operation for some time, it became difficult to recruit students. The reasons for this were related to opposition from parents who did not want to send their children to a school that was so far away from their home, or to subject the children to the possibility of catching an infectious disease that might kill them. The parents loved their children and enjoyed having them around. If the parents sent their children to school they would miss them:

The students who went to school did not like the confinement and regimentation of life at the schools and often ran away. As noted by J.R. Miller:

…the schooling regime that eh abortive missionary efforts of New France attempted to impose on them was simply unbearable. The alien quality of regimented hours, indoor classrooms, structured lessons, and a competitive ethos were for most of these children foreign, stressful, and painful in the highest degree[18].

The students “were also repelled by the competitive pedagogical techniques that the missionaries, especially the Jesuits, employed. The use of prizes, examinations, and public exercises to create competition and bring about higher levels of achievement was utterly foreign to First Nations ways, including the indigenous peoples’ methods of educating their young[19].”

The notion of removal persisted in spite of these early warnings, and the Alnwick Industrial School at Alderville (1848) and the Mount Elgin School at Muncey (1851), established by Dr. Ryerson, were established on this principle. And one of the major premises of the policy of “aggressive civilization” adopted by the Government following the Davin Report, was the notion of removing children from their parents:

The first greatest stone in the foundation of the quasi-civilization of the Indians, wherever seen, was laid by missionaries, men who had a supreme object and who did not count their lives dear unto them. Schools are scattered over the whole continent, wherever Indians exist, monuments of religious zeal and heroic self-sacrifice…The missionaries’ experience is only surpassed by their patient heroism, and their testimony, like tat of the school teachers, like that of the authorities at Washington is, that if anything is to be done with the Indian, we must catch him very young. The children must be kept constantly within the circle of civilized conditions…The plan now is to take young children, given them the care of a mother, and have them constantly in hand. Such care must go pari passu with religious training[20] 

The notion persisted for many years and even as late as 1908, the Principal at the Fort Frances school commented to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs that:

On account of the roaming habits of the Indians, it is impossible to get a large and regular attendance; besides, to civilize the Indian children you have to take them away from their surroundings[21].

Thus, in almost all instances, children were taken away from their homes to be educated, “Christianized” and “aggressively civilized”. The result was startling. The children did not learn much of their own culture, resulting in a loss of some parts of their “Indian-ness”. They suffered a fate that changed them forever because they were caught between two cultures.

[18] Miller, at pp. 57

[19] Miller, at pp. 56

[20] Canada. Annual Report, 1880, Department of the Interior "Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds". Nicholas Flood Davin. 14th March, 1879.

[21] RG 10, Vol. 6194, File 463-1, part 1. Letter Rev. Father J.N. Poitras, to Frank Oliver, Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, March 20th, 1908