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The title of our theme is a phrase borrowed from “Indigenous Works,”1 a national non-profit agency headquartered in Saskatoon that is focused on Indigenous employment.” The phrase is part of their report on a national study of businesses and their interest in partnerships with Indigenous companies. It seems like an appropriate description of what we wish to address today.
In our Circle, in the next few minutes we will do four things;
First, read Call to action # 92
Second; reflect on the key points of this call to action
Third: Ask, why should business care
Fourth; reflect on how to move forward
Then, with the use of a talking stick, we will share on how we might proceed or are already doing so.
1) First; let’s take a moment to read call to action # 92 (before beginning the circle, identify four people in the circle who can each read a paragraph)
We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:
2) For those of you who have perhaps never read this before, let’s summarize this Call to Action. It addresses a number of dimensions under what the commission calls a “Reconciliation framework for applying the United Nations Declaration. It asks for
3) What is level of involvement now
In 2016, Indigenous Works, the company we mentioned above, commissioned a national study of 500 large and medium sized businesses in Canada. The result reported that 85 percent of companies have no relationships with Indigenous people. Only 2% of corporations were committed partners.2 While the situation is slightly better on the prairies, Manitoba has the weakest engagement with Indigenous people of the three prairie provinces.
Nationally, the study found
Why is this so? In the words of the companies themselves: about 20 reasons were given; for example:
“Never thought of it”,
“we need people with specific designations so that is our priority,”
“not applicable to our business,”
“we would if they reached out to us,”
“never occurred to us,” etc.
Five key factors were identified as to why businesses did not consider such engagement;
4) Why should business care; the benefits
In October of 2017, Don Drummond, former senior economist with CIBC, now at McMaster University wrote that 52% of the future economic growth of Manitoba will depend upon Indigenous work force participation. So, independent of the moral responsibility one could raise, there are economic benefits for business. The Drummond report3 estimates that closing the gap would increase the size of the Canadian economy by $36.4 billion by 2031.
The research by Indigenous Works suggested some solutions.
Things that need to change:
What supports do businesses need to change?
5) So how can businesses proceed?
Let’s back up just a bit. Perry Bellegarde, National Grand Chief stated recently in the Globe and Mail: “Before you try to build anything, build a respectful relationship.” The TRC report – Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed to redress the legacy of residential schools — stresses over and over that respectful relationships are the beginning of reconciliation. And the TRC argues this starts with knowing the Truth. The title of the final report of the TRC is called “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the future.” A business man commented; why worry about the past, let’s just move on to the future.” The TRC refutes that. If we don’t honor the truth of the past, we will never have reconciliation. If we don’t know the past we will never understand intergenerational trauma.
Another common sentiment about residential schools is the following: “They didn’t know back then what we know now. They didn’t realize it was wrong” (CBC Radio, 2017). However, Dr. Cindy Blackstock, member of the Gitksan First Nation challenges this position by sharing the story about Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce. Dr. Bryce was the chief medical officer for the department of Indian Affairs and the department of immigration. In 1904, he was asked to report on the health conditions of children within the Canadian Indian residential school system in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories. When he released the final report in 1907, Bryce exposed the inhuman and unsanitary conditions of residential schools. Bryce revealed: “It suffices for us to know … that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon, nearly 25 per cent are dead,” and “of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.” He continued, “We have created a situation so dangerous to health . . . that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse.”4
The report was eventually leaked and appeared on the front page of the newspaper that is now the Ottawa Citizen, making the report public knowledge. Despite Bryce’s damning report, none of the report’s recommendations were immediately implemented.
As Cindy Blackstock passionately states, Dr. Bryce’s publicized report “puts a red hot poker stick into this myth that people in the period didn’t know any better back then.”
So we need to first honour the truth.
Once that truth is acknowledged, then Murray Sinclair’s, Chair of the TRC, message is loud and clear; he says: “Don’t feel guilty about the past, don’t feel shame, they don’t do any good at all, do something about it.”
So let’s return to the role of business. Call to action 92 suggests that as relationships grow, meaningful consultations will grow. The reverse is also true. Honest consultations will lead to relationships. The first baby steps toward partnerships can begin. The most progressive companies are those that develop an internal business strategy as it relates to Indigenous peoples. They have a procurement strategy; an employment strategy. They have benefits sharing.
Call to Action 92 calls for informed Employment decisions; it calls on corporations to investigate where to find new talent, how to design training, and partnering to support employment of indigenous people; ensure cultural sensitivity, maintain an adoptive and innovative workforce. Companies don’t have to start from scratch. Here are just a few examples of opportunities in Winnipeg. The Manitoba Construction Sector Council trains Indigenous people for jobs. Build, Inc. offers a training program for those Indigenous youth facing barriers to employment. Opportunities for Employment (OFE) is another agency that both trains and seeks employment for people, including Indigenous people. Amik provides employment services. Clayton Sandy, who is key to our Circles for Reconciliation conducts all kinds of workshops on preparing Indigenous people for employment.
Once reconciliation is on a business radar, business development decisions and community development decisions can also begin to be considered. On the business development side, those interested can being to think about how reconciliation can influence where to open new locations, how to market their business, their procurement policies, mutual development of their business and Indigenous businesses to grow market share, diversify products and service, strengthen reputations
Companies that begin to think about reconciliation can reflect on community development decisions, specifically what groups or events to sponsor, how to minimize their impact on environment, how to strengthen communities where they operate, invest in education, combine intelligence and information, and identify other opportunities for involvement.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE ON RECONCILIATION
(As an Individual; as a corporation)
Actions you can take as individuals
Actions you can take as a business
1. Host a Circle for Reconciliation
2. Have your Indigenous employees invite non-Indigenous employees to form a circle.
3. Contact the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba for a free speaker
4. Contact the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce
5. Learn about Aboriginal Skills and Employment Strategy (ASET), federal government employment support for Indigenous people
6. Learn about the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC)
7. Reach out to an Elder or Indigenous leader for advice on how to proceed or contact
Circles for Reconciliation
8. Sponsor an Indigenous event
9. Host an Indigenous celebration or event
9. Promote the naming or renaming of sites to original Indigenous names
10. Contact a business that has had success creating a partnership
11. Contact “Indigenous Works” in Saskatoon
12. Contact “Working Warriors”
13. Invite an Indigenous person to sit on a board you are on
14. Other suggestions?
Mary Kate Dennis, Heather McRae and Maya Simpson
Some non-Indigenous Canadians may struggle with the facts and experiences revealed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Indigenous people were subject to many forms of colonization and assimilationist policies, characterized as cultural genocide, with the central element of the establishment and operation of residential schools (TRC, 2015). Fortunately, there are Canadians who wish to honour the experiences of the Indigenous survivors of residential schools and are committed to building new relationships with Indigenous people that are based upon respect and reciprocity. In today’s circle, we will look at some ways non-Indigenous people can begin to understand their unique roles and responsibilities in the lifelong journey towards reconciliation.
Commonly, when talking about residential schools, the following sentiment it is often shared: “They didn’t know back then what we know now. They didn’t realize it was wrong” (CBC Radio, 2017). However, Cindy Blackstock, member of the Gitksan First Nation and the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, challenges this position by sharing the story about Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce. He was a physician whose work helped document the mortality rate of Indigenous children in Canadian Indian residential schools.
In 1904, Dr. Peter Bryce, the chief medical officer for the Department of Indian Affairs and Department of Immigration, was asked to report on the health conditions of children within the Canadian Indian residential school system in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories. When he released the final report in 1907, Bryce exposed the inhuman and unsanitary conditions of residential schools. Bryce revealed: “It suffices for us to know … that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon, nearly 25 per cent are dead,” and “of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.” He continued, “We have created a situation so dangerous to health . . . that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse.”
The report was eventually leaked and appeared on the front page of the newspaper that is now the Ottawa Citizen, making the report public knowledge. Despite Bryce’s damning report, none of the report’s recommendations were immediately implemented.
As Cindy Blackstock passionately states, Dr. Bryce’s publicized report “puts a red hot poker stick into this myth that people in the period didn’t know any better back then. And we really need to lift up people like Dr. Bryce, who spoke up and spoke out to save children’s lives at a time that was critical” (CBC Radio, 2017). On Dr. Bryce’s legacy, the First Nations Caring Society states, “The Story of Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce is an important part of our history and demonstrates to us the importance of speaking out for what is right and just, even when it is difficult to do so” (Wattam, 2016, p. 1).
Reconciliation must be grounded in the voices, experiences and aspirations of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of Canada. Since the release of the TRC’s Final Report, many Indigenous peoples and their allies have started to talk about reconciliAction (Ubokudom, 2017). Truth-telling, empathy and listening are instrumental to reconciliation but without action, reconciliation will gradually lose meaning and become another token response to systemic injustice.
PeerNet BC states that allyship “begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalized individual or group.” Allyship requires a commitment to unlearning and learning about privilege, power and oppression and involves a “life-long process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals or group.”
Allyship is hard. Ally is a verb that requires action. Allyship is not an identity, nor is it a performance. Allyship is a practice. Allyship requires an ongoing commitment to working in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. Allies are not self-defined but are recognized and affirmed by Indigenous peoples. To practice solidarity, non-Indigenous people must be accountable and responsive to the voices, needs and political perspectives of Indigenous peoples (Walia, 2012). Allies must recognize how they have participated in and benefited from colonialism while working towards supporting Indigenous self-determination.
Responsibilities while practicing allyship:
Two key pitfalls to avoid are taking leadership and self-identifying as an ally. From an anti-oppression perspective, meaningful support for Indigenous struggles cannot be directed by [non-Indigenous peoples] (Walia, 2012). The second principle of self-identifying as an ally highlights the importance of “building long-term relationships of accountability and never assuming or taking for granted the personal and political trust that [non-Indigenous peoples] may earn from Indigenous peoples over time” (Walia, 2012). This speaks to why an ally must be acclaimed or identified as an ally by Indigenous peoples.
According to Gaa wii ji’i diyaang (2017), a collective of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working towards reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, there are five key ways in which non-Indigenous people demonstrate their commitment to building new relationships with Indigenous peoples:
For Indigenous participants:
For non-Indigenous participants:
For all participants:
Bryce, P. H. (1907). Report on the Indian schools of Manitoba and the North West Territories. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau. Retrieved from http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/3024.html
CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning. (2017, June 2). Ottawa doctor who sounded alarm on residential schools remembered with exhibit. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/peter-bryce-exhibit-ottawa-church-residential-schools-1.4142766
Gehl, L. (n.d.). Ally Bill of Responsibilities. Retrieved January 18, 2017 from http://www.lynngehl.com/uploads/5/0/0/4/5004954/ally_bill_of_responsibilities_poster.pdf
Gaa wii ji’i diyaang (2017). Terms of Reference. University of Manitoba
Groundwork for Change website: http://www.groundworkforchange.org/
PeerNetBC (n.d). Allyship 101. Retrieved from http://www.peernetbc.com/
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future. Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Walia, H. (2012). Moving Beyond a Politics of Solidarity toward a Practice of Decolonization. Organize!: Building from the Local for Global Justice, 240.
Wattam, J. (July 2016). Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce: A Story of Courage. First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. Retrieved from https://fncaringsociety.com/sites/default/files/Dr.%20Peter%20Henderson
Ubokudom, D-A. (2017, November 15). UMSU encourages university to develop an Aboriginal language degree program. “ReconciliAction campaign to foster Truth and Reconciliation on campus”. The Manitoban. Retrieved from http://www.themanitoban.com/2017/11/umsu-encourages-university-develop-aboriginal-language-degree-program/32876/
van Dijk, T.A. (1992). Discourse and the denial of racism. Discourse & Society, 3(1), 87-118.
By: Niigaan Sinclair
I have a daughter.
She’s entering teen years.
She’s my life.
It’s hard not to think of her when reading about what happened to Tina Fontaine.
The details are haunting. I can’t talk about them objectively or without emotion. Anyone who can just doesn’t feel.
I especially can’t talk about the way Tina has been represented. She was not a broken person whose blood-alcohol level or choice or whatever resulted in her treatment — regardless of what media or a lawyer says.
Tina Fontaine is a girl who endured a brutal child-welfare system and many who failed her along the way.
She is, however, more than that.
She is a daughter, a niece and a beautiful Anishinaabe young woman who, by all accounts, had dreams, plans and hopes. She is an inspiring human being who not only brought love and light to all she met, but continues to do that today.
Tina Fontaine is someone stolen from all of us, and we are lesser as a result.
It’s hard not to condemn Raymond Cormier, the man charged with killing her. Regardless of guilt, at the very least, Cormier exploited an underage girl and — according to the Crown’s final argument — had a motive: to avoid a statutory rape charge.
Cormier treated an Indigenous girl as an object he could manipulate and exploit.
Maybe even something he could dispose of.
Certainly not a human being.
Raymond Cormier is a person in our community. He is someone’s son, someone who walked our streets, someone who voted. Someone who is a Manitoban and a Canadian. Maybe he is even someone’s uncle or father. I don’t know.
And so, here we are again, at the mercy of a jury determining if a Canadian is guilty of killing an Indigenous person.
Regardless of the verdict, Tina is still gone. The factors that led to her murder are still here. The treatment of Indigenous women and girls remains abhorrent, brutal and violent in all factors of society — from pop culture to policy. There are more Indigenous children in the child-welfare system than the number removed during the time of residential schools. The Indian Act is still here, hammering our communities into brutal, abject poverty.
Canada has a sickness when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women and girls bear the brunt of it.
Tina’s death is a product of Canada.
It’s not just one person who did this.
So, as we wait for a verdict, there may come some sense of justice — for Tina’s family, particularly.
Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath after the Colten Boushie decision, though.
In the case of a not-guilty verdict, there may never be anyone held responsible for Tina’s murder. I hope this is not the case, but it just may be.
Injustice is too often a part of Indigenous lives.
Are we tired of living in a place where this happens yet?
Every single person in Canada should ask themselves what leads to the murder or loss of thousands of women and girls like Tina — and commit themselves to stopping it.
We must be better. Men, particularly. Indigenous and Canadian men. All men.
Don’t wait for a #MeToo hashtag to make you aware of the issue. Changing the way Indigenous women and girls are treated begins with us. Now. Today.
If we’re better brothers, uncles, grandfathers and fathers, that’s how to start. If we see Tina as one of our own, as family, that’s how we make sure the violence she lived in stops.
Then the real work begins. We must help educate others and join in a march together. We must help build families. Communities. Revoke, write and implement law. Consult meaningfully. Share land and resources. Demand change and never stop till it happens.
Actually become Treaty people and not just say it at a Winnipeg Jets game.
It all feels so hard to imagine — and even idyllic — because Canada has never been this place. It’s a violent place that creates experiences like Tina’s every day.
I know this, for some, is hard to hear. But it’s true.
And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Tina’s death is on all of us. Now we have to be part of the solution.
We have to listen — especially to Indigenous women. Learn. Act.
In coffee shops, boardrooms and classrooms we have to be better. All of us.
So, as we wait, remember this.
We have a daughter, a niece, a sister.
Her name is Tina.
We never really knew her until it was too late.
But she is our life.
She is our life.
Niigaan Sinclair is an associate professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba.
First published in the Winnipeg Free Press on 02/21/2018. Republished with permission.
Histories and legacies of the residential school system in Canada are intricately tied to the history of the ‘Sixties Scoop’ and the Child Welfare system that we know today.
Cumulative failures of the residential school system influenced some changes in the late 1950s and 1960s. One major turning point occurred after changes to the Indian Act in 1951 when more power was transferred to the provinces to remove children from their families. Increasingly, children were still being taken from their homes, often without notice and apprehended by social workers inside the provincial child welfare systems. Thousands of Indigenous children were adopted out of their homes and ‘scooped’, in many cases without any prior notice to the parents or families. Children were often adopted out of the province and into the United States. There are continuing efforts today to reunite family members who were ‘scooped’ away into adoptive families. The ongoing impacts of forced separation from their parents and families are impacting individuals and extended families today.
Many adoptive families and parents loved and cared for the children ‘scooped’ from their homes in the 1960s, 70s and 80s ‘Scoop’. There are also countless cases of children who were abused, exploited and discriminated against in their adoptive homes. While the treatment of children varied from family to family, the children are united in the shared impacts on their connections to culture, identity and languages. In addition, the Sixties Scoop and the present-day Child Welfare system for First Nations and Aboriginal children is a story of a deeply broken system. A system that is quite like the residential schools, notoriously under funded and it has a dangerously low level of support for children, workers and families. Presently, the number of children currently in foster care far exceeds the number of children who attended the residential schools at the height of the schools’ operation.
In 2016, following a 10 year legal battle, the First Nations Caring Society won a case in front of Canada’s Human Rights tribunal. The tribunal found that the Child Welfare system for First Nations children living on Reserve is clearly discriminating against First Nations children in care and in its jurisdictional distribution of health care to First Nations communities. While the operation of the Child Welfare system has experienced changes since the 1960s, it remains a critical failure of upholding basic rights, support for health and for wellbeing of Indigenous children in Canada.
Please see the First Nations Caring Society for additional resources and information on their advocacy work, on behalf of First Nations and Indigenous children in care.
Blackstock, Cindy. 2007. ‘Residential schools: Did they really close or just morph into child welfare?’ Indigenous Law Journal, 6(1), 71-78.
Blackstock, Cindy. 2009. ‘Why Addressing the Over-Representation of First Nations Children in Care Requires New Theoretical Approaches Based on First Nations Ontology.’ Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, no. 3, vol. 6: 24-45.
Blackstock, Cindy, and Nico Trocmé. 2005. ‘Community based child welfare for Aboriginal children’. In Handbook for working with children and youth: Pathways to resilience across cultures and contexts, edited by Michael Ungar, 105-120. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Chartrand, Larry, Tricia Logan and Judy Daniels. 2006. Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools in Canada. Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
Fournier, Suzanne and Ernie Crey. 1997. Stolen from Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.
Johnson, Patrick. 1983. Native Children and the Child Welfare System.Toronto: Lorimer.
Kimmelman, Edwin. 1985. No Quiet Place: Final Report to the Honourable Muriel Smith, Minister of Community Services/Review Committee on Indian and Métis Adoptions/Placements. Winnipeg: Manitoba Community Services.
Lavell-Harvard, D. M. and Lavell, J.C. (editors). 2006. Until Our Hearts Are On The Ground: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth. Toronto: Demeter Press.
Sinclair, Raven. 2007. ‘Identity Lost and Found: Lessons from the Sixties Scoop’. First Peoples Child & Family Review. 3.1, 65-82.
Timpson, J.B. 2010. Four Decades of Child Welfare Services to Native Indians in Ontario: A Contemporary Attempt to Understand the “Sixties Scoop” in Historical Socioeconomic and Political Perspectives, D.S.W. Dissertation. Wilfred Laurier University, Faculty of Social Work.
Trocmé, Nico, Knoke, Della and Blackstock, Cindy. 2004. ‘Pathways to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in Canada’s child welfare system’. Social Service Review, 78(4), 577-601.
The ‘Indian’ day schools in Canada are considered part of the entire system of residential school systems. The term ‘residential school’ often encompasses a number of different kinds of schools including: boarding, industrial, mission and day school, hostels, residences, TB sanatoriums and hospitals. While the legal definitions are often limiting, the full experience of the ‘residential school system’ includes a number of different kinds of schools operated by the federal government, provincial government(s) and various religious denominations. Day scholars also attended residential schools and had similar experiences but since they did not stay overnight they were also not eligible for compensation.
While majority of day schools were not ‘officially’ recognized in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), the day school system was very much part of the whole system of residential schools. Most importantly, many former students and Survivors who attended day schools had very similar or identical kinds of day-to-day and long-term experiences as Survivors who attended boarding-style residential schools.
Smaller ‘mission’ or day schools were operated across Canada and typically co-administered by either Protestant or Catholic churches, the provincial/territorial governments or in some cases, the federal government. Student attendance at day schools would often rely on the location of the school, denomination of the school and often the identity of the home community or of the children and parents. Often, Métis children attended the day schools in large numbers since many considered that Métis were the ‘responsibility’ of provincial governments. Métis often slipped into a jurisdictional gap between government administrations and their school attendance was often defined by these gaps.
Students did not stay overnight at the day schools, many were able to go home at the end of the school day, but often the conditions at the school and treatment of the children, by clergy and teachers was similar or identical to that at the residential schools. In other day schools, many children were billeted into homes or stayed at a hostel or residence while they attended the day school. In many large boarding-style residential schools ‘day scholars’ would go home at the end of the day as well but still faced the same treatment, day-to-day as the rest of the students.
These experiences vary but they are often recognized in the broad experience of the ‘residential school experience’ in Canada. Of note though, is the legal battle many day school students and day scholars still carry on with, today. The 2005 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) does not ‘officially’ recognize the experience of a majority of day school attendees. So, while many students faced the same treatment as students who attended boarding-residential schools, the Settlement Agreement did not recognize their experiences and many carry on with legal battles, today. Schedule ‘E’ of the IRSSA lists the ‘officially’ recognized schools and in order for any former attendees of residential or day schools to apply for the Common Experience Payment (CEP) or the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), their school had to be listed on the ‘official’ list. If their school did not appear, they could apply for an appeal and potentially their school could be added to the list or they would be denied compensation under the IRSSA.
Currently, Survivors and former day school attendees are still fighting legal battles for abuses they endured at the day schools and for recognition of their experiences. In individual and class action suits, day school Survivors carry on with important work for recognition and to attain the same or similar support as all Survivors of the entire residential school system.
For more information on legal action and class action suits for day scholars, please see:
Chartrand, Larry, Tricia Logan and Judy Daniels. 2006. Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools in Canada. Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation
Métis children were included in the residential school system and system of ‘Indian’ day schools from the time that the schools first opened, until the closure of the last school in 1996. Along with First Nations and Inuit students, Métis attended the schools forcibly and in later years of the schools’ administration, also attended voluntarily. While many Métis Survivors share stories of similar school experiences to First Nations and Inuit students, there were often conditions around the admission of Métis students and their treatment by staff and fellow students that made their experiences quite distinct.
In the residential school era, Métis were not considered ‘Indians’ legally, under Canada’s Indian Act. They were considered the responsibility of the provincial governments and often education and health support for Métis fell into a jurisdictional gap between these levels of government. In large boarding-style residential schools, Métis were often considered ‘outsiders’ and their attendance at the schools depended on a number of different variables. At the end of the nineteenth century, Métis were cast as ‘rebellious’ and were often considered to be ‘the dispossessed’. For most of the first half of the twentieth century Métis were marginalized politically, economically and socially. Their treatment in Canadian society often mirrored their treatment in the schools and whether or not they would be taken to residential schools, mission schools, day schools, provincial schools or no schools at all.
Early in the administration of the boarding-style residential schools in Canada, the department of Indian Affairs circulated a document to schools about the ‘Admission of Halfbreeds’ into their schools. Métis or ‘Halfbreeds’ were to be considered in three classes, by the schools. Their class would determine whether or not they were to be admitted to schools. In the early years of the residential schools’ administration (1890-1920), correspondence from the Department of Indian Affairs would often cite the following ‘classes’ for Halfbreeds:
Halfbreeds may be grouped into three fairly well-defined classes.
1. Those who live, in varying degrees of conditions, the ordinary settled life of the country.
2. Those who live, in varying degrees, the Indian mode of life.
3. Those who – and they form the most unfortunate class in the community – are the illegitimate offspring of Indian women, and of whom white men are not the begetters.
Those of the first class make no claim upon the Government of the Dominion for
the education of their children; nor has any such claim as far as the knowledge of the undersigned goes been made on their behalf. The third class are entitled to participate in the benefits of the Indian schools; and in so far as the afore quoted … [w]hen Indian Treaties are made the illegitimate children … of Indian treaty women were excluded and payment of their annuity money for them on their behalf was refused. That policy appears to have been adopted to discourage illegitimate breeding. As to the second class of Halfbreed the undersigned at once admit that they present a difficult educational problem, but the very difficulty effects a strong reason against drawing a hard and fast line such as it drawn. This second class of Halfbreeds maybe divided into three groups:
1. Those who live apart from Indians but follow somewhat Indian mode of life
2. Those who live in the vicinity of Indian Reserves
3. [Those who] [l]ive on the Reserves
(PAM, RG10, vol. 6039, file 160-1, part 1)
Many Métis still attended outside of this class system for various reasons. Occasionally, skin colour would influence whether or not a student looked more or less ‘Indian’ to the administrators of the school. Additionally, many Métis families were Catholic families and they would be admitted into residential schools or day schools according to the denomination of the schools operating the school. Admission to schools often appeared to be ad-hoc, or later on, taken on a case-by-case basis.
Social, political and economic factors also influenced whether or not school officials, RCMP or clergy would take Métis children from a specific family or community to a residential school. Métis fell into a jurisdictional gap and lived hidden lives in many parts of Canada. Métis leader Malcolm Norris once said about the Métis and education:
I have always understood that it was against the law not to send the children to school, and Inspectors are maintained for that very purpose, but unfortunately our people have been discriminated against, and to such an extent, that even though they may pay taxes, no steps are taken by the authorities to see that their children are sent to school, apparently the Half-breed is not worth caring about. (TRC, 2016, p. 26)
Métis political resistance grew in the later half of the twentieth century and their campaigns advocated strongly for better education for Métis communities. They often cited these government and church failings between the systems that left Métis falling through the cracks.
Métis experiences at residential school
In a school system built originally as a ‘solution’ to the ‘Indian Problem’ and operated by Indian Affairs, Métis were outside of federal responsibility and had been socially and politically relegated to the margins of Canadian society. Whether century. Since they sometimes attended residential schools without official federal funding, they were not provided with food, access to washrooms or school uniforms like the rest of the students. In schools already notorious for their legacies of neglect and abuse, excluding students based on ‘class’ structure and government-constructed identities created added pressures on children at the schools. Whether
that move was literal or metaphorical, Métis existed in the margins of society and the road allowances 1of non-Indigenous communities for several decades of the 20th A brief addition to the seven volumes of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada is a history of Métis experiences at residential school. One of the stories included in the report, from a Métis student describes bullying by other students:
When attending the Pine Creek residential school in Manitoba, Raphael Ironstand, a boy of mixed descent who had been raised in a First Nations community, was bullied by Cree students. The Crees surrounded me, staring at me with hatred in their eyes, as again they called me ‘Monias,’ while telling me the school was for Indians only. I tried to tell them I was not a Monias, which I now knew meant white man, but a real Indian. That triggered their attack, in unison. I was kicked, punched, bitten, and my hair was pulled out by the roots. My clothes were also shredded, but the Crees suddenly disappeared, leaving me lying on the ground, bleeding and bruised. Although the sisters had showed little sympathy at the time, Ironstand had a very special memory of a nun who showed him kindness. I poured out my story to this understanding nun about my confused feelings, being a non-person with white skin, even though I was an Indian. At that she put her arm around me and assured me that I was a very important person to her, which immediately raised my self-esteem. It was the first time since I came to the school that anyone had touched me without punishing or beating me. As she ushered me out of the door, she stopped and gave me a hug, which made me feel warm all over. Such shows of affection were rare. Even if they developed close friendships, most students felt unloved. (TRC, 2016, p. 53)
Métis Survivors often described feeling bullied by fellow students, members of staff and their communities when they returned home from residential school. In some places, Métis were often cast as ‘worse off than Indians’ or because they were Halfbreeds, they were considered by others to be less than either one of their ‘halves’.
Inside Métis communities, the myths and stereotypes about the Métis damaged many, but also fuelled centuries of resistance and resurgence. Métis carried on with their political, legal and social structures, even hidden and often while they were being sternly discriminated against. Métis languages also came under threat during residential school eras and through ongoing colonialism in Canada. Métis languages and cultures have experienced resurgence and Métis often lead movements towards ongoing resistance and reconciliation in Canada. Métis, First Nations and Inuit across Canada survived these colonial structures and school systems. Their times in schools included struggles but they undoubtedly included strength, as well.
Métis were not officially included in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) and many feel left out in this contemporary era of apology, compensation and reconciliation. Many attended day schools and schools that were not included in the official settlement agreement. Métis communities still face barriers placed up by government definitions and imposed identities. Métis communities will face the barriers as they always have though, and continue to re-define, maintain their own identities and rely on the unquestionable strength of their communities.
For additional stories about Métis experiences, or for more information please see:
Canada’s Residential Schools: The Métis Experience, Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2016
Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools, Larry Chartrand, Tricia Logan and Judy Daniels, 2006
Provincial Archives of Manitoba, (PAM, RG10, vol. 6039, file 160-1, part 1)
Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorian and D.R. Préfontaine. 1999. Resources for Métis researchers. Winnipeg and Saskatoon: Louis Riel Institute of the Manitoba Métis Federation and Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research.
Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorian and D.R. Préfontaine (eds.) 2001. Métis Legacy: A Métis Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications Inc.
Daniels, Judy D. 2003. Ancestral Pain: Métis Memories of Residential School Project. Edmonton, AB: Métis Nation of Alberta.
Chartrand, Larry, Tricia Logan and Judy Daniels. 2006. Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools in Canada. Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2016. Canada’s Residential Schools: The Métis Experience. Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press.
1 “The Road Allowance People were the Métis, who, without a homeland, were forced to build homes and communities on the crown land known as “road allowance” land set aside for a highway. They lived a precarious existence, welcome neither in white settlements nor allowed to live on Treaty land. The Crown land, of course, could be appropriated or developed at any time; people were often burned out of their homes or otherwise forced to move.” “The Road Allowance People,” by Carolyn Pogue, United Church Observer, May, 2013.
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