The horrific conditions and lack of standard that was held in the Residential Schools really caught my attention in lecture this week. I will never understand the concepts of discrimination, violence or forced labour simply because I have never experienced a lifestyle that integrates any of this, but the fact that people were able to treat other people (children, specifically) like absolute trash, with no respect or dignity, while starving them and exposing them to terminal illnesses makes me sick to my stomach. To make things worse, people were treating other people like this because they were threatened by the fact that they were different.
In lecture, our professor mentioned a little boy named Duncan who ran away from a residential school in the winter of 1902 and was later found frozen to death. When officials were asked to investigate why Duncan would have possibly run away, they decided that Native children must simply be more defiant than white children, and that’s why he ran away. I decided to look a little bit into this case, and found a book online called Victims of Benevolence: The Dark Legacy of the Williams Lake Residential School by Elizabeth Furniss. Link here:
This story opened my eyes to the fact that public attention was drawn to the Residential School after the tragic death of two young boys; Duncan in 1902, and yet another boy named Augustine in 1920. I’ve already mentioned how Duncan passed, but Augustine’s story is just as heartbreaking. He and eight other boys made a suicide pact together, and ate poisonous water hemlock in an attempt to take their own lives (p. 14). The other eight boys survived, were recaptured, and forced back into the school, and Augustine succeeded in his suicide.
It makes me cringe to know that these young children felt so completely hopeless that they took their own lives into their hands, and that so many others were hoping to, or were succeeding to do the same thing. The fact that makes me nauseous is that when officials were informed of these cases, investigations were so weak and useless, and racist assumptions were made about the students’ inherent behaviour.
Imagine if the superior white man was forced to send his children away to a residential school, only to find that they were being starved, mistreated, abused, and forced into labour. An entire law suit would have erupted and all of Canada would be on board to stop these injustices. Heck, I bet this would become International news.
I also can’t believe that the last Residential school was closed in 1996. I remember sitting in a classroom in 1996.. It just seems way too recent, and far too barbaric for the 1990s.
The subject that I found to be most enlightening from lecture this week was the harsh racism occurring behind the scenes throughout Canada’s history. In particular, I think that the early treatment of Asian and Native groups is most horrendous and very unfavourable part of Canadian history. Prior to attending university, I was unaware of this portion of our history and had largely the same harsh eye-opening that Professor McCargar described experiencing herself. I think that the lack of proper historical education given to elementary and even high-school level students is a most concerning issue.
A previous post in this unit’s thread gives an excellent discussion on the treatment of the Native peoples, and in particular their children, so I will instead focus on the treatment of Asian immigrants trying to access a better life in Canada. The laws and societal views established against Asians greatly inhibited their growth and development as part of the Canadian culture, and they were instead directed into jobs that were borderline slavery, where they worked in terrible conditions for low pay and with no guarantee of survival. The University of British Columbia Library gives a very apt and disturbing summary of the conditions endured by Chinese immigrants directed to working in the building of the railroad (1). The harsh conditions described can be used to imply the lack of care that the company and country as a whole had for the welfare of these immigrants.
The part that I find most significant about these disturbing facts is the lack of education that young Canadians now receive about this treatment and similar instances of poor treatment towards minority groups throughout Canadian history. I personally began attending elementary school in 2000, and my experience with this topic has been very limited due to its exclusions from school curriculums. I think that these aspects of Canadian history are a source of shame and embarrassment for the country, and it is for these reasons that it is largely excluded from basic historical education. As of 2013, approximately half of the Canadian population was under the age of 40 (2), meaning that they have grown up being surrounded by the concept of multiculturalism in Canada, which was introduced by Pierre Trudeau in 1971. (3) I think that this cultural perception of multiculturalism has been effectively used to censor the Canadian education curriculums to exclude the negative and racist aspects of Canada’s founders and early life, and I think that this censorship significantly detracts from the historical education of young Canadians. There is a saying that goes something like ‘if we don’t study our history, then we risk repeating it’, and I think that the censorship of our history in the aforementioned ways leaves potential for such an unfavourable repetition.
3. McCargar, Marilla. “Unit 11: Issues of Race and Ethnicity.” Western University: History 2182. March 24, 2014.
I want to make a reference to the prior response post that claims our generation has not experienced “discrimination, violence, or forced labour”. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception that we are detached from events occurring in other areas. Indigenous individuals continue to be discriminated against, which is explicit in the Indian Act, yet the majority of individuals consider this separate from their own issues. I think it’s imperative that we recognize that we inherently play an active role in the system of discrimination. Although there are extremely heartbreaking stories of suicide within residential schools, this is a problem that still persists amongst the Indigenous community. These issues are also illustrated through the recent article that was mentioned (“Via Rail blockade by First Nations that halted Toronto-Montreal ends”), which places white women as the subjects who need to be protected, while information on the murdered Aboriginal female is lacking.
Another instance that perpetuates this idea of white individuals as the victims is the famous photograph of the Oka crisis, depicting a faceless Mohawk (Brad Larocque) and a white soldier (Patrick Cloutier). The photograph excludes the presence of Cloutier’s weapons, yet Larocque’s gun is apparent, representing the idea that the Mohawk tribe are the perpetrators of the violence. Other media portrayals, such as news broadcasts over-dramatized the scene, discussing the many weapons that the Mohawk tribe withheld. A news anchor describing the scene can be witnessed in the film “Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance” at the fifty minute mark. The news anchor describes the scene as a violent and dangerous situation, yet the camera pans to a group of Aboriginals who are simply watching the media portrayals of themselves.
I found this week’s lecture to be one of the most interesting and eye opening lectures I have attended due to the amount of information touched upon that I consider very relevant and important to Canadian history BUT has not been covered in any of the prior Canadian history classes that I have taken. The point that was addressed at the beginning of lecture that I found very thought provoking was the idea that race is a social construction, with groups of people being considered different races at different points throughout history. I did some further research on this and was surprised at the amount of scholarship that exists that addresses this racial construction and how biology has been used to wrongful justify these constructs throughout history. During this preliminary research I found a quote that I thought addressed the time period that we are studying in class in terms of race relations: “When race emerged in human history, it formed a social structure (a racial social system) that awarded systemic privileges to Europeans (“whites‟) over non-Europeans (“non-whites‟). Racialized social systems, or white supremacy for short, became global and affected all societies where Europeans extended their reach.” (1) This link between racial classification and white supremacy is very prevalent throughout history in the global context, not just in terms of the Canadian past. It is even more interesting that the classification of races has changed, but what has not changed, even today in some areas of the world, is the idea that “white” people are superior in some way to all other races. In Canada, most people in the younger generations realize that this is not the case but the history behind why this hierarchy of racial classification being created by society is not well understood. The above response post makes an excellent point in saying that “I think it’s imperative that we recognize that we inherently play an active role in the system of discrimination.” (2) I completely agree with this statement and the fact that discrimination still occurs in society today and although people are more education today on what discrimination is, does not mean that they still do not actively discriminate against people who for some reason or another they think to be inferior to themselves.
On another note, I found the oppression of First Nations women due to the Indian Act of 1876 to be another dark spot in Canadian History. The fact that it was not until 1960, only 54 years ago that First Nations peoples could exercise the franchise while maintaining their official Indian Status, which maintained their right to live on reserves, receive education, health benefits, etc. Prior to 1960 if an aboriginal person wanted to vote they would have to give up their Indian Status and become a British subject. What was especially oppressing to women, which was addressed in lecture, was that if a Native woman’s husband denounced his Indian status, she would automatically lose her status as well. Therefore, women’s lives were greatly controlled by the decisions made by their male counterparts. Women were also held to higher moral standards than men living on reserves, which is a theme we have seen throughout this course, women being expected to be more moral than men. The fact that this expected morality was enforced by Indian Agents withholding rations, money and other necessary goods from Indian women is a terrible example of how women have suffered due to their inability or perceived inability to meet these socially constructed moral expectations. First Nations women have faced a double burden of discrimination, being discriminated upon because they are women and because First Nations people have been treated as an inferior race by white settlers throughout Canadian history.
(1) Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Roman & Littlefield, 2006.
(2) Class Blog Post, Unit 11 Open Thread, JSS • March 29, 2014 – 1:32 am.
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