Why Has This Six-Year-Old Aboriginal Girl Left Home?
Why has this six-year-old Aboriginal girl left home to live in a residential school? The answer, in short, is what Gulliver brags about to the king of the giant Brobdingnags. Gulliver swells to speak of England's "trade, and wars by sea and land, of...schisms in religion, and parties in the state [among other things]" (Swift, 1726/1985, pp. 145-146).
The king, "after an hearty fit of [sarcastic] laughing," says that Britons have "their titles and distinctions of honour; they contrive little nests and burrows, that they call houses and cities; they make a figure in dress and equipage; they love, they fight, they dispute, they cheat, they betray" (Ibid., p. 146). The king is describing British Imperialism--the fire in Gulliver's heart. How does it relate to the Indian girl's going to a residential school? I'll add Timothy J. Stanley's comment about Imperialism to what the king says: "Imperialism and racism went hand in hand. Imperial expansion required the subjugation of the peoples already inhabiting the land. In Canada, expansion was not a peaceful process, but was carried out by the same means employed in other parts of the British Empire: troops, gunboats, police, government agents, civilian traders and missionaries" (1995, p. 40).
The Federal Government of Canada used missionaries and residential schools to promote Imperialisim, to teach the White man's ways and the White man's religions [to Imperialize Aboriginals]. Jean Barman explains this governmental direction: "In 1885 the newly established School Branch of the Department of Indian Affairs laid down a...curriculum [for Aboriginal children. The curriculum]...proclaimed [the] federal goal of Aboriginal people's assimilation" (1995a, p. 62) Assimilation into what? Stanley puts it this way: "Between 1885 and 1925 textbooks presented...students with...'wider knowledge' in order to instill patriotic feelings. The 'wonderful acts' of 'national growth,' that is, Britain's imperialistic expansion, linked Canadian classrooms [including residential schools] to the Empire" (1995, p. 43).
"[The missionaries and their] churches believed, and the department of Indian Affairs concurred," says Barman, "that Christianity [from Britain] and civilization were coterminous and, more specifically, that civilization was a White perogative. To Christianize [through the major players: the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches] an Indian was to civilize him, and to civilize him was to socialize him into the dominant culture [Imperialistic Canada]" (1995b, p. 342).
Naturally, those Aboriginal students needed to learn English if they were to be truly Imperialized. "Aboriginal children were expected, once in school, totally to abandon their Aboriginal tongue in favor of English" (Barman, 1995a, p. 66). The abandonment of their mother language contributed to their cultural genocide. The time line that ends with such genocide begins
at the beginning of the white man's rule...[when] Aboriginal people were confined to reserves, most of them far away from schools. When the government was finally forced to do something about the lack of educational facilities, the solution was a partnership between church and state to set up residential schools. Children were removed from their communities and placed in an alien environment that almost destroyed their culture and their language; we call it cultural genocide. (Moran, cited in Barman, 1995a, p. 73)
Why did these children leave "an affectionate environment without restraints or punishments[, with its]...world of...family and band" to become Imperialized in "a closely regulated alien environment" (Barman, 1995b, p. 342)? Barman notes that "an early...public teacher reported that 'it will be a difficult matter to get them [Aboriginals] to attend school as their respected progenitors believe them to be as well off without book learning as with it'" (Leduc, quoted in Barman, 1995a, p. 70). "Many an Indian agent reported that 'parents see in education the downfall of all their most cherished customs'" (Department of Indian Affairs, cited in Barman, 1995a, p. 70). So, again, why did Aboriginal children go to, and why did their parents send them to, residential schools?
Barman provides insight. "Aboriginal parents...sent their children..., as one former pupil put it, 'to learn White people's ways'" (Clare, quoted in Barman, 1995a, p. 70). "A woman born in 1931 remembered her mother's words: 'You're going to have to learn to read and write because when you grow up you're going to have to get a job [in a White man's world]'" (Cook, quoted in Barman, 1995a, p. 70).
My original question is "Why has this six-year-old Aboriginal girl left home to live in a residential school?" The generic answer is to learn the ways of the White man. But there are other answers--to forget the language of her ancestors, to become a British Canadian, to become a Canadian patriot, and, literally, to become a good Imperialist in "a White supremacist society" (Stanley, 1995, p. 39). Doesn't the answer depend on the point of view of the person asking my question?
In spite of problems/nightmares related to residential schools--"Recent critics of residential schools have very persuasively drawn attention to a range of unacceptable practises from prohibitions on speaking Aboriginal languages to incidents of physical and sexual abuse, and to the consequences for the quality of Aboriginal life in Canada into the late twentieth century" (Barman, 1995a, p. 57)--Gulliver, no doubt, even armed with knowledge of such woes, would have applauded the concept of Imperializing Aboriginals. But that giant, that king of the Brobdingnags, who was "struck with horror at the description [Gulliver had given of English cannons that had often silenced anti-Imperialistic voices]," would likely have found residential schools and their problems another reason to be "struck with horror" (Swift, 1726/1985, p. 175).
1 Capilano College, Vancouver, BC, Canada.