As I have said earlier, the entire system of residential schools had a rotten foundation. That foundation was the unjustified assumption that Europeans were superior to the savages of the North American continent. Nothing built on such a foundation could stand. And it didn’t. In a nutshell that is white supremacy.
The Christian religion was an important part of this system and when it came to the residential schools of Canada it got pretty ugly. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) reported,
“Christian teachings were a fundamental aspect of residential schools. Aboriginal children were taught to reject the spiritual ways of their parents and ancestors in favour of the religions that predominated among settler societies. As their traditional ways of worshipping the Creator were disparaged and rejected, so too were the children devalued. They were not respected as human beings who were equally loved by the Creator just as they were, as First Nations, Inuit, or Métis peoples. Rather their Christian teachers saw them as inferior human beings in need of being ‘raised up’ through Christianity and tried to mould them into models of Christianity according to the racist ideals that prevailed at the time. The impact of such treatment was amplified by the federal laws and policies that banned traditional Indigenous spiritual practices in the children’s home communities for much of the residential school era.”
In this way religion was weaponized by Canada against the Indigenous people of Canada. The TRC went so far as to call this “spiritual violence.” The TRC defined spiritual violence as follows:
“Spiritual violence occurs when
- a person is not permitted to follow her or his preferred spiritual or religious tradition;
- a different spiritual or religious path or practice is forced on a person;
- a person’s spiritual or religious tradition, beliefs, or practices are demeaned or belittled; or
- a person is made to feel shame for practicing his or her traditional or family beliefs.
There is plenty of evidence to support our conclusion that spiritual violence was common in residential schools.”
It is also interesting to note how often that violence was effective. Many Indigenous children became good Christians for life. Many of them “lost” their own spirituality. I think that was a profound harm inflicted on Indigenous peoples by Canada. The effects of this violence were deep. Often it did not end in schools. For example, residential school survivor Theodore (Ted) Fontaine from Manitoba told the TRC, “I went through sexual abuse. I went through physical abuse, mental, spiritual. And I’ll tell you…the one thing we suffered [from] the most is the mental and spiritual abuse that we carried for the rest of our lives.”
All of this in turn has led to intergenerational impacts on Indigenous people that continues to have profound effect on them. The conclusion is clear, as the TRC said, “That Christians in Canada, in the name of their religion, inflicted serious harms on Aboriginal children, their families, and communities was in fundamental contradiction to their core beliefs.”
That is a mighty sad conclusion.