This article describes how the Canadian government has failed to collect and archive documents related to the residential schools that indigenous children were forced to attend for over a century, despite legal requirements. These schools, which also existed in the United States and Australia, were set up to assimilate Native children into Euro-American society. They intentionally removed children from their families, languages, and cultural traditions as they grew up, which was inherently harmful to families and communities, and the children often suffered further abuse. It is a dark part of our very recent histories in much of the English-speaking world.
According to the Globe and Mail,
The government had intended the documents to be the basis of a resource centre at the University of Manitoba, where survivors and their families could find out what happened behind the walls of the church-run schools.
Federal departments knew they were required to produce the material, but a senior bureaucrat has indicated they procrastinated for years, then dumped the burden on the commission when costs mounted and time ran short.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in 2008 as part of the $1.9-billion settlement between former students, the Canadian government, the churches, and others, to record the experience of the schools.
It says it has neither the time nor the resources to search for the documents. It is taking the government to court for refusing to release the material that could shine light on the abuse of first nations, Inuit and Métis children during the schools’ 130-year history.
This is why historical records have gaps and biases. Historical records aren’t deposited naturally. They’re created when people make efforts and direct resources toward them.
This is why it is the people who receive the least protection who also have the least input into these histories. Inequality in the past affects the history that is written and accessible for us now…and what we choose to do, or not to do, to bring that inequality to light shapes the historical record we will leave for the future.
This is why historical archaeology exists. It’s one way of addressing those gaps and biases, and trying to get a different perspective on life in the past from different forms of evidence. It’s not perfect, but it’s one thing we can do to help.
This is why Idle No More exists – because this is what North American history looks like, whether we hide it or bring it into the light. I’m neither a First Nations member nor a Canadian citizen, but I can see why it’s “not just an Indian thing“.