February 23, 2016

Residential schools legacy: The numbers don't support the narrative

Brian GiesbrechtRebel Blogger

The residential schools story is now well known to Canadians.

It is accepted wisdom that residential schools were created to strip aboriginal children of their culture. The children who attended the schools were often physically and sexually abused by their teachers, and returned to their communities as broken people, resulting in the alcohol abuse, domestic violence and general social breakdown that plague so many aboriginal communities today. That story is accepted with few questions from the media, and now taught in our schools.

But how much of that story is true?

In the first place, the numbers simply do not support it. Most aboriginal children did not attend residential schools.  According to the Report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) a total of 150,000 children attended the schools from 1800 to 1970. Although more children attended in some years than in others, this is an average of less than 1,000 per year. That is a small number in relation to the millions of aboriginal people who lived during that time period.

And of that small number, how many were actually abused at the schools? While it is definitely true that there were some perverted teachers who molested children, it is simply beyond reason to believe that any more than a small percentage of the teachers did those things. I would guess that the great majority of the teachers were decent people who would be astonished to know that they were being lumped in with a small minority of sexual predators.

Is it true that the schools were set up by racists with the intention of committing “cultural genocide”? We have to be careful here, because if we judge yesterday’s people by today’s standards (as the TRC does), all of our ancestors would have to be considered racists. But if you look at the debates leading up to the establishment of these schools, you will see that it was the progressives of the day who argued in favour of residential schools. Their prime motivation was to try and provide aboriginal children with the educations they were not receiving on the reserves. In fact, progressive aboriginal leaders were some of the most passionate advocates for the creation of the schools.

Those people advocated so strongly for the creation of the schools because children were not receiving a meaningful education on the reserves. The government was not involved with such matters in the early years, and left any attempts at education to the churches. The main business of the churches was religious instruction, but even in cases where a priest or mission pastor had some competence in teaching and felt a responsibility to teach, the results were poor. Historical accounts from clergy on reserves talk about schools emptying out when the caribou came, or when the fish were running. The fact is that sitting in a school room was alien to aboriginal culture.

The mission school model was a failure. Aboriginal children were receiving either a very poor education, or no education at all. The people who saw the need to correct this by establishing residential schools were from a different age, with attitudes very different from our own. They spoke of “civilizing the Indians”, and used other pejorative terms that are completely unacceptable today. But those were the beliefs of the time, and it is wrong and highly simplistic to portray these people as cruel racists. 

In fact , the true racists didn’t care about aboriginal education. They were happy to see aboriginal people languishing on reserves.

And languishing they were. The hopelessness and dependence that characterizes life on so many reserves had already set in. Not only did the great majority of aboriginal children who did not attend residential schools receive little or no education, an astounding number did not even make it to adulthood. If an aboriginal child survived birth, he or she had a one in four chance of dying from tuberculosis alone. Other diseases hit reserve residents particularly hard, and most of the children who survived childhood lived and died in poverty. It was clear that education was the only way out.

What about the claim that the tiny minority who were abused were responsible for the dysfunction in the larger aboriginal community? While in individual cases there were undoubtedly people who were so traumatized by their abuse that the resulting dysfunction within their families lasted for generations, it is simply not possible that the small numbers abused at the schools were responsible for the dysfunction within the larger aboriginal community. That dysfunction was already there. This statement can be proven by the fact that in the vast areas of Canada that had no residential schools at all -- entire provinces, in fact – the social dysfunction on reserves was and is no different from that which exists in areas where the schools operated.

None of this excuses the harsh treatment or sexual abuse of children who were victimized, or the bigotry of the time. The legitimate surviving victims deserve every bit of compensation awarded to them. Residential schools were a dismal failure. But most of the children who attended were not abused. And the suggestion that the students who were not abused were so traumatized by virtue of attendance alone that a successful life after graduating became impossible is belied by the fact that most of the aboriginal leaders of the last few generations were residential school graduates. The schools did provide an education, while the great majority of the children who were left behind on the reserves never had a chance. Some good came of an experiment gone wrong.

In short, the residential school story is greatly exaggerated.

But if the story is exaggerated does it matter now? After all, the TRC Report just asks for “Reconciliation”. Maybe we should just let it go.

Well, it matters a whole lot. “Reconciliation” turns out to mean accepting the aboriginal leadership’s political agenda – namely, a permanent and much expanded system of “separateness." If you look at the TRC report you will see that the most significant recommendations are basically a repeat of those from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996.

That backward looking document demanded the continuation and expansion of the same racial separateness scheme that served as a model for the creation of apartheid South Africa’s “homelands” system – the same racial separateness scheme that keeps most of Canada’s aboriginal people poor and dependent.

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commented 2016-02-28 13:27:59 -0500
Nobody seems to remember the North West Mounted Police was created to protect Canadian Indians : Fort Whoop-up was located by present day Lethbridge and run by American whiskey traders who were more than happy to allow Indians to trade every thing they owned for whiskey . These men rode from the end of the rail road ( at that time Winnipeg) on eastern horses not used to the climate,every member was issued two blankets . After losing horses due to the cold the Troopers put one blanket on each horse. At that time the Dominion of Canada considered ‘Ruperts Land ’ a wasteland (can’t grow anything there short grass, no trees) and went to some length to prevent American incursion, one of the reasons the railroad crossed the praires was to prove development and thus give America no right to come and lay claim. You have to remember that at that time the US did indeed practice attempted genocide of the Indians ; Custer did indeed butcher women,children and babies under Gov’t sanctions ,interesting to note if he had been two days later the Indians would have been gone as they were out of food. By allowing Sitting Bull into Canada (rightfully so ) and given the US mindset at the time that was almost a declaration of war on the part of Canada . So enough of the negative crap already, sure mistakes were made but historically Canada went to great lengths to protect the Indians . By the way some white orphans suffered the same abuse at the hands of the church , but they were white so they don’t count ?
commented 2016-02-26 14:42:06 -0500
Joey, In Your first paragraph you seem to be implying that the Canadian government is somehow responsible for all the deaths of all of the natives who expired between 1870 and today? Also how is that relevant to residential schools?

The only information I could find using 1/25 residential student deaths and 1/26 for WW2 Canadian deaths, was in a CBC article,which was very damning indeed. 1/25 is based on 6000 deaths out of 150,000, if that number is valid, that is a lot. http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/truth-and-reconciliation-commission-by-the-numbers-1.3096185 It was also easy to find many other totals in a multitude of sources. So at the very least there is no definitive number. It seems it was somewhere between 3000 and 6000. It would be helpful to know the causes these deaths. Even though it was over a period of 100 years, somewhere between 1/25 and 1/50 is still substantial.
Disease was definitely a contributing factor, tuberculosis for example was rampant back then. http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/new-documents-may-shed-light-on-residential-school-deaths-1.2487015 as was the Spanish flu, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/at-least-3-000-died-in-residential-schools-research-shows-1.1310894 The war time number of 1/26 out of 709.000 over a 7 year period from the CBC article http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/second-world-war/second-world-war-dead-1939-1947/Pages/files-second-war-dead.aspx doesn’t even compute. ( that link was given in first CBC article, to do with the actual truth and reconciliation report). The casualty number for soldiers in the war was 44,090, so it would be more like 1/16, not 1/26 as quoted in the CBC article.

An apology and compensation for many Canadian governments mistakes starting back from the late 1800’s has to be worth something, as is the promise to not do it again.

But somehow without (self) segregation, there must be a way found to integrate into the society we can all reap the rewards from. How does Clarence Louie (Osoyoos band leader) manage to encourage his people to live and work in society as it exists, and still maintain a strong and vibrant cultural fabric? Somehow we all have to move on.
commented 2016-02-25 16:22:18 -0500
Liza Rozie

Here are a few questions:
If he said there were millions of Indians in Canada during that period but now..even though we’re the fastest growing segment of the population..don’t even reach 1,000,000.. so..how many MILLIONS of Indians died between 1870 and today? That’s an example of a lack of numbers.

Also, wtf does “averaging” the number of students over a period of time have to do with anything? It’s one of those lies, damn lies and statistics type statements this clueless author added to his say-nothing blog post.

Here’s an average you should care about more than his:

Native kids had a 1 in 25 chance of dying whilst in the residential schools while our soldiers had a 1 in 26 chance of dying while fighting fascism in Europe and abroad.

Shaketh your head!
commented 2016-02-25 09:39:42 -0500
I have know many natives who went to residential schools and enjoyed it, many others who didn’t like it so much (I also remember hating school as a child ) One old woman who was a friend of my mothers many years ago told her it was the first time she was never cold and hungry and the teachers were kind and helpful. This is just an attempt for lawyers to get more tax dollars for their pockets
commented 2016-02-25 06:23:34 -0500
Canada has now gone to hell in a handbasket. I simply can’t see it EVER being the Canada I knew again.
commented 2016-02-25 03:52:21 -0500
Of course the negative effects of the residential schools are exaggerated. It seems like aboriginals want you to think that the residential schools was the worst atrocity ever committed. Some aboriginals will even go so far as to say that the blacks had it better off with slavery.

This whole truth and reconciliation over cultural genocide is about money. That’s all.
commented 2016-02-25 02:05:16 -0500
This collusion between the collectivist Jurocracy and the white guilt extortion industry, really has nothing to do with residential school restitutions or reconciling anything. This is about creating a 2 tiered national justice system and undermining the provincial titles law and deed systems – think Caledonia trespass occupation nation wide
commented 2016-02-25 01:52:08 -0500
I say this to all the hypocrites on the left, you are aghast at the residential schools , but you support co-parents and the schools brainwashing our kids into good useful idiots and grooming them for pedophiles.
commented 2016-02-25 01:50:34 -0500
Nathan W they were not stolen form their parents, and why do you support the state stealing kids though the schools today if you are so aghast? HYPOCRITE!!!
commented 2016-02-25 01:49:44 -0500
Rick Jackson what a load of crap, maybe look at real history, natives hurt each other in much worse ways before we got here, and one of the worst human rights abuses in history? LMAO! yeah sure. And sorry but we did not do this, and they need to quit using it as an excuse.
commented 2016-02-25 01:39:44 -0500
Indian parents were very much in favour of residential schools. They recognized that they were going to have to move from the stone age to the steam engine age quickly…. or languish.

The great majority of those parents remembered that they were against residential schools when they saw the money.
commented 2016-02-25 01:24:47 -0500
Joey Jack, Brian Giesbrecht is asking, how many children out of the yearly est. of less than 1000 were abused. No one is saying sexual abuse and other types didn’t exist. No one is saying residential schools were the greatest plan in the first place. The way its looked at is that residential school = abuse.
I ask, so is it done now, or will there be compensation for the next generation of relatives of residential schools? It has been made into such a taboo subject that motives can’t even be questioned (of both gov. and the lawyers representing students and relatives). Never mind pointing out the unlikelihood of all 150,000 students being victims of abuse. Abuse by virtue of being students there is the way the government is doling out compensation, but that is not to say all were treated badly or sexually abused.

The numbers came from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, except for the less than 1000 yearly est. which was Brian’s.
commented 2016-02-25 00:00:06 -0500
If the “numbers don’t match the narrative” do you mind offering some concrete numbers?

I didn’t think that Levant et. al would go after this blight on our history….but I’ve never heard of this writer so I guess its amateur hour.
commented 2016-02-24 21:34:24 -0500
Rick Jackson posted, “……it was one of the worst human rights abuses in history we’ll never make up for it it was physical, cultural, mental, spiritual and sexual abuse and most of the most abused are dead now so no one can know the whole story”

As was Catholic school for non natives even in my childhood. And as Lilo Cadrin points out in her post and link, there was suffering experienced by kids brought over from England for ‘whitestock’ and cheap labour.
I agree with Bill Elder completely, overblown, and didn’t just happen to Indian kids. Time to move on, you can’t drag that stuff through generations for eternity. What does it have to do with me. How much restitution is enough for the doings of a misguided government before our time? Haven’t all the survivors of the residential schools already been compensated? If not get it over with and be done with it.
commented 2016-02-24 20:50:04 -0500
I knew Indians who were in those schools when I was a kid before any of this came out they thought butter was white is was lard one kid stole a pound of butter instead of searching the kids the nuns put them in a room and opened the stove up and raised the heat till the butter melted they made all the kids endure the heat if they spoke their own language they made them wear a vest made out of horse tail under their clothes against their skin while they worked in the garden the vest would wear their skin off until they were raw and that’s only some of the stories I heard

They told these stories while we were sitting around no one thought they would go public or anyone would care just stories about what happened to them

My opinion is it was a plan made up between the gov and the church the tax payers of the day had no idea what they were paying for I’m sure my parents and grand parents would never have supported paying for it had they known

The church never looking after those kids for free and they made a fortune
it was one of the worst human rights abuses in history we’ll never make up for it
it was physical, cultural, mental, spiritual and sexual abuse and most of the most abused are dead now so no one can know the whole story
commented 2016-02-24 20:28:24 -0500
I’ve always maintained the residential schools flap was blown vastly out of perspective to further a narrative which rewrites factual history with a transposed identity group politics spin. It aids the expansion of the victimhood industry and grows government and government largess to buy partisan voting blocks.

I’m sure the real number of abuses probably equaled that of other non native kids – in much the same way the current hysteria over missing native women and violence to native women(8%) has statistics identical to non native women (7%)

I’m sure there were abuses just nothing significantly more than that non native orphans experienced in similar systems.

Get over it, Move on, there are far greater atrocities to worry about committed by big government against the electorate.
commented 2016-02-24 19:55:22 -0500
1000 child a year stolen from their families? A small number? Are you for real?

Here, let me take your child away from you and raise them in a foreign culture, and let’s see how long until you think ONE is too many.

“it was the progressives of the day who argued in favour of residential schools”

By what standard do you call them “progressives”? This is historical revisionism, plain and simple.

Kudoz for unambiguously acknowledging that it was not the right thing to do. Canadians are that strong. We can look history in the face, ensure that the history books will not be full of coverups and lies, and shamelessly promise to do better.

Reserves are not apartheid. They are land promised to the Indians under treaty. Indians are free to vote, and enjoy 100% mobility across the entire nation. The allusion to South African apartheid is way out of line. What you seem to tacitly endorse in so saying is an elimination of the reserve, an abrogation of our treaties with natives, and streamlining them into modern capitalist society, something they should be free to do at their own time of choosing.
commented 2016-02-24 18:51:03 -0500

Marjorie Too Afraid to Cry:
A Home Child Experience

Patricia Skidmore

Marjorie Arnison was one of the thousands of children removed from their families, communities, and country and placed in a British colony or commonwealth to provide “white stock” and cheap labour. In Marjorie’s case, she was sent to Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School, just north of Victoria, British Columbia, in 1937. As a child, Patricia was angered that her mother wouldn’t talk about the past. It took many years to discover why — it wasn’t because she was keeping a dark secret, but because she had “lost” her childhood.

For 10-year-old Marjorie, forgetting her past, her family, and England was the only survival tool she had at her disposal to enable her to face her frightening and uncertain future. This is Marjorie’s account as told by her daughter. It is a story of fear, loss, courage, survival, and finding one’s way home.
commented 2016-02-24 18:27:53 -0500
I believe it is in the interest of the band chiefs and other people who are in positions of power to keep Indian people poor, uninformed and isolated. I do not understand why the Indian people themselves do not question that these people are so much better off than them…..where does all the money go? Why don’t they demand transparency from their leaders?
commented 2016-02-24 18:25:25 -0500
How much longer are Canadians….who had NOTHING to do with this travesty…..going to have to pay for this? This was done in a totally different time….different generation and was a failure! Indians need to stop the ‘victimization’ of their people and get on with integrating into Canadian society and making a living and a life for themselves. They whine on and on about things the ‘government’ has done to them well…..welcome to the real world. The government is no one’s friend…..get over yourselves, stop looking for special treatment and let history go…..it is just that….history! Has no bearing on today.
commented 2016-02-24 18:04:03 -0500
Residential Schools, or the gift that keeps on giving. When will this ever end?

Interestingly, I was in the US a few years back visiting Monument Valley, which is situated on the Arizona/Utah border on a Navajo Reserve. While visiting the “Welcome Centre” I was gobsmacked to come across a few of panels that told the story of the famous Navajo Code Breaker’s contingent of the US Marine Corp during World War 2, Pacific Theatre. These Navajo warriors played an important role in defeating the Japanese during the war with their ability to transmit tactical messages in their native language that was virtually unbreakable by the Japanese forces. A very senior Marine Corp Officer was so impressed by the work ethic and intelligence of these Native Americans that he asked one of their leaders how on earth they displayed such a high intellect without any real formal education. The response: “Many of our people were provided with a basic but very fundamental and practical education by the various missionary groups that came out to our lands to establish schools.”

I don’t listen to or believe anything that the First Nations or our Government enablers say anymore.
commented 2016-02-24 17:42:28 -0500
Good article. It is about time someone exposed the lies and propaganda the CBC and others promote about the residential schools. And good point Jamie Macmaster about mortality rates for non aboriginals. Many older cemeteries across Canada have children`s sections where there is nothing but non native youngsters who died from many different diseases and afflictions. I would imagine that many couples had lots of children because they knew some would die early.
I once read somewhere that a residential school student said that it helped them. Those kinds of stories are ignored and suppressed. They must be out there.
I would bet that the people back then who created the residential schools were only trying to help aboriginals. Education has always been a positive thing to lift people out of squalor and misery. Even today, African children want an education. Removing children from squalid living conditions and housing them in a school system that had proper sanitation and running water, etc, was likely seen as a good thing.
There seems to be some kind of myth that aboriginal peoples lived in some kind of paradise as portrayed in Dances with wolves. I think it was more like in the movie Black Robe. I just finished watching that movie again and it is quite a story.
commented 2016-02-24 17:28:48 -0500
Not a word about the conversion to christianity. Kind of important,don’t ya think?
commented 2016-02-24 16:04:20 -0500
Join the crowd and wear your labels proudly!
commented 2016-02-24 15:04:06 -0500
The indigenous people of Canada lost their identity when the “white, European” explorer, settler, pioneer made Canada their country. They have been trying to reestablish their identity and “raison d’être” ever since. When a people have lost their soul, it is very difficult to rediscover it.
There is a tendency to place the blame on others. No doubt other people deserve blame and criticism for failed policies that were implemented over the last four hundred years of European/indigenous relationships.
However, the past cannot be rewritten. The past cannot only serve as a reminder of the pitfalls to be avoided in dealing with the present. To make Canadians today collectively responsible for what occurred in the past is erroneous thinking and will not result in a ’better" life for the indigenous people.
I feel that indigenous people need to look within themselves to discover the courage and strength to deal with their own personal crises. Healing comes first from within.
commented 2016-02-24 15:02:39 -0500
There is another set of numbers that needs questioning in this story.

To beef up the tragedy component of this story, we have been fed the news that an ever-increasing number of children died while they were residents at the schools First it was 1800, then 4000, and the last I heard it was “up to” 6000.

These figures are meaningless unless compared with the mortality rates for (rural) non-native children across the nation during the same time periods. My parents were born during the 1920s and they both lost school-age siblings to various ailments. And that seems to have been the case for a lot of rural families who did not have quick access to early diagnosis and medical treatments in the days before penicillin and vaccinations.

And, before the figures have any relevance, we would also need to know what the death rates were for Indian children who did NOT attend residential schools.

I suspect that the 1500 to 6000 out of 150,000 deaths might not look so horrible if the other numbers were known.

But, no member of our ever-diligent MSM would ever think of this, would they?
commented 2016-02-24 14:54:15 -0500
Jim Norward, good link and good example of the corrupt motives of opportunist lawyers, and Chief’s .

“The aboriginal network has played the residential school card at every opportunity, and the sad thing is that even those who did not actually attend residential schools blame all of their social ills on the aboriginal residential school era. I am an alcoholic, I am a drug user, I can’t work, I am a lousy parent, or I commit crimes— all this because of what the government did by sending me or my parents to residential school.”
Don Sandberg the author of the article in the link Jim posted, is a band member of the Norway House Cree First Nation and the Aboriginal Policy Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Bob Rae has a new career, he represents nine different native governments as chief negotiator for the Matawa First Nations. Would you trust this man? He was never one to miss out on a good opportunity. Perpetuating the Indian industry, filling his pockets. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/bob-rae-jumps-into-ring-of-fire/article12768375/
commented 2016-02-24 14:50:59 -0500
I passed on Mr. Geisbrecht’s article to some “academic” acquaintances, as an example of a balanced perspective regarding this serious Residential School Issue. I’m apparently now a racist.
commented 2016-02-24 13:53:28 -0500
«In fact, the true racists … were happy to see aboriginal people languishing on reserves.»

And that’s still the case today.
commented 2016-02-24 13:25:19 -0500
I applaud your courage and integrity to pen such a meaningful and truthful piece in the face of all the established lies, misinformation and sins of omission, promulgated by the Goebbels-like tactics of the lefty/progressive MSM and lying socialists in government, etc.
The strange irony here after reading your piece is, I have developed a somewhat more compassionate view of the Indians in the process…
…and then I watched Ezra’s video and what he exposed about the TRC report.
Compassion and anger and frustration is what I’m left with…
“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” Albert Camus