Residential schools: the lesson that’s being lost
Our government needs to stop indoctrinating children
As history teachers never fail to remind us, “those who don’t learn their history are doomed to repeat it.” The double meaning is most often lost on their students – that if they don’t pull up their grades, they’ll be doing History 11 next year too. But as adults, it’s the original intent of this adage that we too often overlook: that if painful lessons of the past are forgotten, then we’re going to feel that same pain again. That’s especially true when it comes to the history of Canada’s Indigenous residential school system, where one of the key lessons is being lost.
As Canadians have become aware, the history of the schools is a history of sins being committed against the country’s Indigenous peoples. The sins were of two different sorts, and both have been publicly acknowledged, especially in recent years. But sadly, only one of the two is being universally rejected.
1. Ideological indoctrination
INDOCTRINATION CONDEMNED: Justice Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, called the residential schools, “cultural indoctrination centres.” (Picture credit: Art Babych / Shutterstock)
The first sin involves the indoctrination of Indigenous children. It’s been more than a decade now since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started traveling the country to collect testimonies about Canada’s residential schools. As a nation, we learned about how the schools had been intended to teach the children a government-approved ideology, even over the objections of their parents. When the TRC report was released in 2015, the chief justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin, said the findings amounted to “cultural genocide.” The chair of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair, agreed with her assessment:
"The evidence is mounting that the government did try to eliminate the culture and language of Indigenous people for well over a hundred years. And they did it by forcibly removing children from their families and placing them within institutions that were cultural indoctrination centres.”
It’s the second sin that’s dominated recent headlines. In May of 2021, news broke that “a mass grave filled with the remains of 215 Indigenous children, some as young as three…” had been discovered on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The reaction across the country was immediate: impromptu memorials appeared, and flags were lowered and kept at half-mast for the next half year. Just a few days later a bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate that declared a new statutory holiday: Sept. 30 would be the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Today, eighteen months later, it’s starting to look like this mass grave might not be a grave at all – no bodies have been unearthed. But the initial reports made headlines across the country, and around the world, and in the process brought more attention to the physical harms that had been done within the schools’ walls. The TRC had interviewed more than 6,000 former students and staff, and their testimonies included thousands of instances of molestation and all sorts of physical abuse. The Kamloops mass grave might not be real (and as Mark Penninga notes further on in this issue, it is important to find out one way or the other), but the outrage it spawned brought renewed attention to very real sins of the past.
REPENTING OF PAST, BUT NOT PRESENT SINS: The caption for this June 1, 2021 stock photo noted it was part of a “memorial in tribute to 215 aboriginal children whose remains found in Residential School in Kamloops.” Though the 215 graves look like they won’t turn out to be graves at all, their “discovery” in Kamloops was still a pivot point for the country. It shifted attention from the ideological indoctrination that was behind the creation of these government schools to the physical and sexual abuse that were not. To state it another way, government schools have always been about ideological indoctrination, but it’s only with the residential schools that this indoctrination has been recognized for the wicked government overreach that it is. And then with Kamloops, the nation’s attention shifted. This shift of focus has allowed the government to get away with repenting only of its past abuse, even as its schools unrepentantly continue ideological indoctrination to this day.
Two sins were committed in the residential schools, but our governments are only repenting of one. They are repenting of the past abuses, even as in the present they continue to use their schools to indoctrinate another generation.
It’s the unrepentant and ongoing nature of this sin that makes it the more pressing to deal with. We need to recognize, too, that the problem isn’t simply that it continues, but that it’s built right into the system. The abuse was a matter of neglect, while the indoctrination was a matter of deliberate design. As League of Canadian Reformed School Societies coordinator John Wynia noted in a recent Real Talk episode:
“In residential schools, parents of First Nations children had their kids taken away from them. The idea was to assimilate them into the ideology of Western society, so that they could fit, and that has had devasting impacts on the Indigenous community. And it is recognized as a terrible thing, but it will be interesting to see whether that lesson of history is applied to the sexual orientation and gender identity movement.”
Will that lesson be applied? It hasn’t been to this point. The reason the lesson is being lost is because the connections between past and present aren’t being made. In a January 5 article the National Post’s Tom Blackwell highlighted a current and devasting example of how government schools are still deciding they know better than parents what’s best for their own children:
“When a student in a Calgary Grade 6 class came out as transgender this year, the teacher made one thing clear to the other pupils: they mustn’t let slip their classmate’s new gender identity to her parents. The couple was not yet aware of the change. It seemed like an odd message for a group of 11-year-olds, says the mother of one of the pupils. ‘This upset me so much,’ she says. ‘Kids were being taught to lie to parents.’”
Blackwell clearly doesn’t like what’s happening. But he didn’t make the connection to what happened in the residential schools. He didn’t recognize that this is just more of the same.
The lesson is even being lost on the victims. Instead of opposing today’s “cultural indoctrination centres,” Indigenous groups are trying to use government schools to present their own ideology to students. In British Columbia, for example, university education students have been required to include one of nine “First Peoples Principles of Learning” in their lesson plans. Some of the principles are pretty mundane, more Dale Carnegie or Jordan Peterson-esque than anything specifically Native. “Learning involves patience and time.” Sure. Okay.
But the very first principle reads:
“Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.”
Learning does not support the spirits and the ancestors. And pushing that on education students is a promotion of a Native spirituality, over and against Christianity.
In November of last year, Canadian Reformed teachers in Western Canada came together for an “Indigenous Perspectives in Reformed Schools” conference and I was allowed to tag along. One of the speakers, Patti Victor, is a Pentecostal pastor, a member of the Stó:lō, and a First Nations advisor for Trinity Western University. I asked her what she thought about the government requiring more First Nations content in the curriculum, regardless of what parents might want. She conceded that the approach was less than ideal, but argued that sometimes less than ideal means have to be used to push forward what needs to be done. She didn’t recognize that this same sort of thinking – pushing a certain ideology even against parents’ wishes because it’s for the kids’ good – would have been a motivation for the residential schools too. She wasn’t making the connection either.
Lost no more
IT'S STILL HAPPENING: Sooke School District students on a public school system float in the 2019 Victoria Pride Parade. The government has never stopped using schools as cultural indoctrination centers. (Picture credit: Blake Elliot / Shutterstock)
Our history teacher’s adage has proven itself true: Canada hasn’t learned from its history, so we’re doing it all again. Even when a government or First Nations leader expresses horror at how residential schools were used as “cultural indoctrination centres,” they don’t apply the lesson to what’s going on today. Of course, it’s no surprise that our governments aren’t making those connections. But what they won’t do, we can. When Sept. 30 comes again this year we can voice the lesson that’s been lost: that education is a God-given parental responsibility, and government will never be up to the task.
To demonstrate the government’s inability, we can remember what happened in the residential schools, and make the connections no one else will, to the horrors going on in government schools today: the far from safe-sex that’s taught, and the gender confusion, depression, and anxiety that’s being fostered. We can explain that this is all a fruit of what the government’s schools are teaching about God. As R.C. Sproul put it:
“Every education, every curriculum, has a viewpoint. That viewpoint either considers God in it or it does not. To teach children about life and the world in which they live without reference to God it to make a statement about God. It screams a statement. The message is either that there is no God or that God is irrelevant. Either way the message is the same.”
For generations residential schools taught First Nations children that their parents were irrelevant. Today’s schools teach that God is irrelevant too. It all has to stop.
While “stop indoctrinating children!” is a good message, God’s people – and specifically our Reformed churches – can give the rest of our country so much more. God has gifted us with Christian schools, and while we aren’t going to open the doors to the rest of Canada, we can invite them to come take a look. They’ll need to: the government has been running its schools for so long, the average Canadian can’t even imagine how education could be done any other way. We can show them there is another way: parental schools do exist! We’ll need to invite our neighbors, friends, and community, to come see what a family and a community looks like when parents are taking up their God-given educational responsibilities.
This isn’t about showing off our bricks and mortar, textbooks and curriculum. It’s about taking off the bushel and letting our light shine. Shy sorts that we are, we might not want to invite our neighbors’ scrutiny since we know we’re far from perfect. We’ll need to remember this really isn’t about us; what we’re showing off is that God’s ways are best, and how it’s only because we’re listening to Him that we have fruit to show. Our homes aren’t perfect, but they are calmer, our kids better adjusted, harder-working, less troubled, kinder and happier – they are a light! So we should invite the world to look, and tell them that it has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with our God.
And, finally, we can invite our fellow Canadians to imagine what it would look like in their own families, communities, and in the country if parents everywhere took up their God-given responsibilities to shape and mold their own children.
This is one of several articles we’ve published about Canada’s history with its Indigenous peoples, with the sum of the whole being even greater than the parts. That's why we'd encourage you to read the rest, available together in the March/April 2003 issue. Top picture is of a Kamloops Indian Residential School. Picture credit: ProPics Canada Media Ltd / iStockPhoto.com
The Truth matters: analyzing the facts beneath “mass burials” at residential schools
History, Indigenous peoples, News
Residential schools: what worldview is to blame?
We’ve seen at least ten Canadian churches burnt down and others damaged by fire since unmarked graves at two former residential schools became front page news in June. Many children who attended these schools did not live to return to their families, and it’s not a leap to think the arsonists are blaming the churches for their deaths. That’s the direction Prime Minister Trudeau took too, when he called on the Roman Catholic Church to apologize for their involvement. There is blame to be directed at individuals and organizations. However, to learn the right lesson here we need to look beyond just the people, and find out what worldview was the root cause. We can point to people who professed to be Christian as perpetrators, and the State was overseeing it all. So was the problem that people were acting like Christians, or that they were acting like agents of a secular State? Was this tragedy caused by too much Christianity or too little? To answer, let’s compare and contrast the worldviews that were involved: Christianity, and the secular worldview that has long been prevalent in government. Secularism is godless and consequently holds that the State is the highest authority, since it is the mightiest (if there is no God, then why wouldn’t might make right?). The only limits on its power are self-imposed. The State gives rights and therefore can also take them away. Thus parents have only as much authority as the State grants them, and the State can take away that authority whenever it wishes. Under this worldview education is a State responsibility, if it so decides. Christianity acknowledges that God is the highest authority, and that He’s allotted limited authority to not only the State, but also to parents. God is the source of our rights via His commandments so, for example, His prohibitions against stealing and murder give us rights to property and life. While the State does often violate those rights, it can never take them away. God has given parents the primary role in the education of their children (Deut. 4:9, 6:7, 11: 19, Josh. 24:15, Prov. 1:8, 3:1, 15:5, Eph. 6:6, Heb. 12:7-8, etc.). When the Canadian government took these children away from their parents, it was acting as godless governments have always done, and in a manner consistent with secular conviction: without restraint, and as if might makes right. However, when professed Christian individuals and groups aided in these abductions they were acting in opposition to the Truth they professed, against principles God spells out in His Word. We need to understand then that the horrors perpetuated at these residential schools were not caused by Christianity, but by its lack. Today our government continues using schooling to indoctrinate children against the values of their parents. In the State's public system the abduction is no longer physical, but still mental and spiritual, with children taught the government’s secular perspective on God, the unborn, sexuality, rights, gender, and more. As our country continues to look at what happened in these residential schools, God’s people need to help their friends and neighbors unpack why it went so horribly wrong. It was wrong, but not according to the secular worldview – that the State disregarded parents is completely in keeping with our current Prime Minister's secular worldview. The only reason these abductions were wrong is because God is in fact King. They were wrong because He has granted parents the responsibility to care for and educate their children, and the State has no authority to take our children away. The lesson Canada needs to learn is to reject godless governance, and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Photo by Blake Elliot/Shutterstock.com....
History, Indigenous peoples, News
Residential schools and the devastation of State-perpetrated family breakup
For the past several months, Canada has been convulsed by the heartbreaking rediscovery of hundreds—and likely thousands—of child graves outside residential schools where Indigenous children were placed (incarcerated is probably a better word) by the Canadian government to “kill the Indian in the child.” The history of residential schools is one of the blackest in Canadian history, and anyone who has read even portions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report (I did research on forced abortions in residential schools several years ago) must conclude that this was a systematic crime committed against entire peoples. As Terry Glavin wrote in the National Post: "Imprisoned in chronically underfunded institutions that were incubation chambers for epidemic diseases, the children died in droves. Enfeebled by homesickness, brutal and sadistic punishments and wholly inadequate nutrition, they died from tuberculosis, pneumonia, the Spanish influenza and measles, among any number of proximate causes. At the Old Sun boarding school in Alberta, there were years when children were dying at 10 times the rate of children in the settler population… "The TRC report chronicles barbaric punishments, duly recorded by federal bureaucrats and officials with the churches that ran the schools. Students shackled to one another, placed in handcuffs and leg irons, beaten with sticks and chains, sent to solitary confinement cells for days on end — and schools that knowingly hired convicted “child molesters.” Only a few dozen individuals have ever been prosecuted and convicted for the abuse those children endured." In much of the debate over the nuances of these re-emerging stories, I think an opportunity for appropriate empathy is sometimes lost. Yes, it is true that not all of the children were abused. Yes, it is true that healthcare standards during that time meant that diseases were far more deadly. Yes, some students remain ambivalent about their experiences to this day. But none of this changes the central fact of the matter: Children were forcibly removed by the state from their families for the express purpose of destroying their family bonds and eradicating their language and culture. If they'd come for our kids... I hail from the Dutch diaspora in Canada, and like many immigrant groups in our multicultural patchwork, our communities have remained largely culturally homogenous. Imagine if the Canadian government had decided, at some point, that Dutch-Canadian (or Sikh or Ukrainian or Jewish) culture needed to be destroyed for the good of the children in those communities, who needed to be better assimilated. Then, imagine if the government forcibly removed children as young as three years old from the parental home – state-sanctioned kidnapping. At school, they were deprived of their grandparents, parents, siblings, language, and culture—and told that their homes were bad for them. At the end of the experience, if the child survived disease, abuse, bullying, and loneliness, he or she would have been remade in the image of the state – and community bonds would have been severed and many relationships irrevocably destroyed. The children who died of disease were often buried on school grounds. That means many children were taken by the government – and their families simply never saw them again. Imagine, for just a moment, if that was your family. If you were removed from your family. If your children were removed from you. How might you feel about Canada if her government had, for generations, attempted to destroy everything precious to you? It is a question worth reflecting on. Over the past decade, as religious liberty has been steadily eroded by Western governments, many Christians have wondered, fearfully, whether the authorities will eventually interfere with how they raise their children. Christian parents have been presented as a threat to their own children because of their “hateful” Christian values. When considering the residential schools, Christians should realize that what happened to Indigenous people in Canada is their own worst nightmare. This happened to real children and real families within living memory. Those families have not yet recovered. That devastation cannot be undone – it can only be survived. The intergenerational damage from these state-inflicted wounds ripples forward in time – and social conservatives, of all people, should be able to understand the fallout from family breakup. Except in this case, the families were forcibly broken up, against their will. As a father and member of large families, I cannot fathom the helplessness, despair, and rage that those who saw their family members stolen from them must have felt. Imagine losing your three-year-old son or daughter to the government, with no recourse for getting your child back. Imagine never seeing that child again. Hatred is absolutely never the answer. But I can certainly understand it. Why minimize this crime? If it had been my child stolen from me, who then died from disease years later and was never returned, I can imagine how I would feel if the response from people was: “Well, lots of people died from disease.” Or: “Many of the educators tried their best.” Or: “It wasn’t feasible to send the bodies of the stolen children home.” I can imagine how I would feel if I heard that in response to raw pain and grief at state-perpetrated injustice. I would feel as if people weren’t listening; didn’t care; and were simply, once again, making excuses. There are times when injustice must be faced in the raw, and the intricacies of healthcare in the early part of the last century can be discussed some other time. Over the past several weeks, residential school survivors have come forward anew to detail their experiences. Many of them struggled with substance abuse as a result of what they endured; many of the issues with alcohol and drugs on some Indigenous reserves today stem from the state-perpetrated breakup of their families. It is easy for those looking at reserves from the outside in to criticize without realizing the context for the state of many families, which would likely still be whole if the Canadian government had not intentionally destroyed them. This is not to say that people bear no responsibilities for their actions. It is to say that we should consider how we would think if the government had perpetrated this on our own communities. Christians know how important families are For several generations, social conservative and Christian scholars have been warning that family breakup is at the root of many of our social ills. Largescale family breakup results in crime, risky behavior, substance abuse, mental illness, PTSD, and other traumas and anti-social behavior. Fatherlessness is one of the greatest disadvantages a boy can face. In the case of our society at large, family breakup was largely facilitated by the Sexual Revolution (and in many communities, wealth has cushioned the blow and masked the damage). In Indigenous communities, family breakup was inflicted by the state, and the consequences they have suffered as a result have been devastating. Social conservatives should be able to intuitively understand this. I’ve said many times that I believe the real “privilege” in our society is not primarily racial, as progressives claim – but the blessing of growing up in a two-parent home where a mother and father love their children. This is a tremendous social advantage, and it was denied to generations of Indigenous children by the government, who felt they would be better off without the love and influence of their parents and grandparents. In her recent book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, Mary Eberstadt explored how family breakup inhibits the passing down of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. Again, this is a key part of the puzzle that social conservatives should instinctively recognize. During university, I toured an abandoned residential school in British Columbia with several other students. Our guide was a survivor who told us about the children who had died there and the abuse they had suffered. I remember the cold, damp chill of a dark tunnel in the basement as he told us how he and others had been locked there in the blackness for using their own language. His voice was heavy with pain, and it struck me again that these things are not history – they are still memory. There are thousand of Indigenous Canadians still living with the effects of these government policies, and their anger is well-warranted. We should listen to them and remember once again the horrors that unfold when the government wields power over families for the so-called good of the children. Jonathon Van Maren is an author and pro-life activist who blogs at TheBridgehead.ca from where this is reprinted with permission. Jonathon was the guest on a recent edition of the Real Talk podcast. Photo is "All Saints Indian Residential School, Cree students at their desks with their teacher in a classroom, Lac La Ronge, March 1945" and is cropped from the original in the Library and Archives Canada collection....
Christian education, Indigenous peoples
No other gods
The Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #64 is a challenge to Christian churches and schools… and the First Commandment **** Last year Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published its final report as well an accompanying document with 94 “calls to action.” The TRC report resulted from over seven years of hearing abuse allegations from aboriginal Canadians who had been students in the country’s Indian residential schools (which operated from the 1870s until the last school closed in 1996). The exact extent of the abuse that took place may never be known because the Commission heard complaints but had no power to compel testimony. That meant abuse claims could be heard, but not fully investigated – the accused individuals were never brought forward to either answer for or defend their actions. When the TRC released their 94 calls to action the Liberal Party quickly promised to implement every one of them, and reaffirmed this promise after forming the government of Canada. Promoting truth and reconciliation sounds noble, but the conclusions of this report are radical, promoting one culture and religion over all others. This article will limit its focus to a key recommendation that pertain directly to Christian churches and schools. Requiring native spirituality at school Because some of the abuse occurred at Christian residential schools, some of the report’s calls to action were directed towards Christian schools and the churches associated with them today. Call to action #64 states: "We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal elders." By “denominational” schools, the report is likely targeting all religious schools, regardless of their formal connection to specific church denominations. Forcing religious schools to promote aboriginal spirituality, even if such spirituality violates the Christian faith, flows from a consistent message in the TRC report that requires churches and religious institutions to “affirm Indigenous spirituality in its own right.” These institutions are being called on to “formally recognize Indigenous spirituality as a valid form of worship that is equal to their own.” Freedom of religion should mean being free from State coercion If someone were to ask me, or the Christian school I’m a member of, to teach that aboriginal spiritual beliefs are equal to my own Reformed Christian faith, I would respectfully point out to them that they are wrong and there is no way I will comply. Doing so violates the first commandment – it is idolatry. Pagan aboriginal spirituality has little in common with the gospel of Jesus Christ and I’m not going to confuse my children by claiming that the competing faith claims are the same. But Natives are free to try to convince me otherwise, just as I will encourage my neighbors to consider the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. But it is a different matter altogether when the TRC demand that the State compels its citizens to undermine their beliefs by forcing the indoctrination of pagan spirituality. And when the Liberal government promises to follow through, then our fundamental freedoms are at risk. Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms lists the fundamental freedoms that all Canadian possess and that must be protected from any actions by the State. They include freedom of conscience, religion, and association. All three are involved here - when Christians come together to form churches and schools, they do so protected by the freedom to associate, and the freedom to live according to their religion. When the State forces these churches and schools to promote a religion that undermines their own, these constitutional rights are violated. Natives don’t want to be treated this way Even aboriginal Canadians should speak up against this assault on freedom. In fact, the very same TRC calls to action includes the demand that all faith groups commit to: "...respecting Indigenous people’s right to self-determination in spiritual matters, including the right to practice, develop, and teach their own spiritual traditions, customs, and ceremonies…" So all faith groups may not interfere in indigenous spirituality, but the TRC report, supported by Canada’s government, demands that interference into the religious teachings of all other faith groups. It is a one-way street. This is the very reason why we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms – to protect citizens from the State including when the State thinks it can tell people what to believe! Conclusion The politicization of the residential schools has made it difficult to get a firm handle of what really happened in these schools. It is indisputable and unjustifiable that abuse occurred. It is also completely inappropriate for the State to require the removal of children from their homes to be placed in institutional care, except in extreme circumstances. Where wrong was done, justice must be served, also when churches or governments are responsible. But we also know that the residential schools were well-intentioned and went a long way towards helping disadvantaged people with education, nutrition, skills, and medical care. When good was done, that too must be acknowledged. Canada’s federal government is not helping anybody, especially Canada’s aboriginal peoples, by endorsing all of the demands from the TRC....
Indigenous peoples, Politics
Looking at two more of the TRC’s Calls to Action
The goal of Canada's Indian Residential Schools – which were run by churches along with the government – was to educate, but also convert and civilize Native children, replacing their culture with a Western one. Starting in 1884, school became compulsory for Native children under 16, and when a local school wasn’t available Native children would often be forcibly taken from their families and sent to these boarding schools. In other instances families were threatened with fines or prison if they didn’t send their children. This practice left the children on their own, away from any family or trusted adults they could turn to for help. That left them especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse. For six years, a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (TRC) traveled across Canada to hear from former students of the schools. More than 6,500 were heard, and their testimony collected. The Commission also issued 94 calls to action, all of which the Liberal government agreed to. But not all of these recommendations were of the same quality. In his article "No other gods," Mark Penninga highlights how #64 would require Christian schools to promote native spirituality. That isn't the only one that's got problems. But lest readers think they are all problematic, I wanted to list one more bad one, but also highlight one that could be great. The bad: #6 Of the Commission’s 94 recommendations some are simply wrong. For example, #6: "We call upon the Government of Canada to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada." This is the section that specifically grants parents a defense when they use “reasonable force to discipline a child” – this is a legal recognition of parents’ right to spank their children. The reason the Commission is calling for an end to spanking is likely because of the physical abuse some Native children suffered in the schools. But in making this recommendation they are overlooking the vast gulf that exists between beating up a child and spanking one. The good: #81 One of the best recommendations might be #81, to make a monument to remember the evil done to these children and their families. "We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities." We want our country and especially our legislators to be continually confronted with the horror that the government committed in stealing children from their parents to teach them values their parents opposed. In Ontario right now the government is pushing forward on their proposed and hotly opposed Sex-Ed curriculum. Those in power are still eager to force their worldview on other people’s children. So let’s build a monument, make it huge, and place it somewhere in Ottawa that legislators will walk past every day. Stealing and indoctrinating children remains a temptation for lawmakers, so they need to be reminded of past wrongs in the hope that this memory will restrain them from committing future evils....