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From 1863 to 1998, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and placed in state boarding schools in Canada.
These government-run schools, largely administered by the Catholic Church, were part of the policy to achieve assimilation of native children†
Minors were not allowed to speak their language or practice their culture, and many were mistreated and abused.
Now, the terrifying find of the… remains of 215 children who were students at one of those boarding schools, the Kamloops Indian residential school has once again put the spotlight on the abuses in these institutions.
The Christian churches were essential in the establishment and operation of such schools.
The Catholic Church, in particular, was responsible for operate up to 70% of the 130 boarding schoolsaccording to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
The children were forced to leave their native languageSpeak English or French and convert to Christianity.
Joseph Maud was one of those children. In 1966, at age five, he attended Pine Creek Boarding School in Manitoba.
Students were expected to speak English or French, but Maud spoke only her native Ojibwa.
If the students spoke their own language, their ears were pulled and their mouths rinsed with soap, Maud told the BBC in 2015, when a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was published.
“But the biggest pain was the separation of my parents, cousins and uncles and aunts,” Maud told the BBC.
The report described the government-led policy as “cultural genocide”.
“These measures were part of a consistent policy of eliminating Aboriginal people as separate peoples and assimilating them into the Canadian mainstream against their will,” the report’s summary reads.
“The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wanted to get rid of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and take control of their land and resources.”
Bad conditions and abuse
The report also describes radical deficiencies in the care and safety of these children, with the complicity of the church and government.
Students were often housed in poorly constructed buildings with poor heating and unhealthy, according to the report. Many had no access to trained medical personnel.
With the work of the CVR, it was estimated that some 6000 children had died while they were in boarding schools. Their bodies rarely returned home and many were buried in unmarked graves.
The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and burials of children and more than 4,100 minors have been identified to date.
But many more members emotional, physical and sexual abuse†
Maud told the BBC in 2015 that she had to kneel on the concrete floor of the chapel because the nuns told her “that’s the only way God listens to you”.
“I cried as I got on my knees and thought, ‘When is this going to end? Someone help me.'”
He remembered that if he wet the bed, the nun in charge of his dorm would rub his face with her own urine.
“It was very humiliating, humiliating. Because I was sleeping in a bedroom with 40 other kids,” he said.
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system.
The find at Kamloops School
Operating from 1890 to 1969, Kamloops School was the largest of this type of school system, known as the Indian Residence School System.
Under Catholic rule it came to a up to 500 students when it peaked in the 1950s.
The discovery at the end of May of the remains of at least 215 indigenous children in a mass grave at this school has sparked outrage across the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the find a “painful reminder” of a “shameful chapter in our country’s history”.
Trudeau has also urged the Catholic Church to: “take responsibility” for your role in native residential schools.
The central government took over the administration of the school in 1969 and used it until 1978, when it was closed.
“We must have the truth before we can talk about justice, healing and reconciliation,” Trudeau said.
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