The maddening cold silence of residential school perpetrators.
- John Cuthand | July 13, 2021
When former students of residential schools shared their heart breaking stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) none of the administrators, staff and teachers of the schools chose to share their experiences and convictions. The lone exception was a retired RCMP officer who tearfully expressed how ashamed he was for removing children from their parents.
Upon their investiture clergy vow to follow the direction of their bishop. The bishops and by extension their leadership gave no order requiring the clergy to appear before the TRC.
The maddening cold silence of the perpetrators was in sharp contrast to how arrogant, smug and controlling they once were. They believed they were doing the best for First Nations despite the protestations of First Nations. For some it was a job for others a diseased cause.
First Nations people were regarded as literal wards of the state. This did not change until First Nations were awarded the right to vote in the early 1960s. A bitter irony is foster children are now also designated wards of the state. There are now more children in foster care than there were at the height of the residential schools.
The residential schools did not attract quality staff. The pay was low. The worksite often isolated and most couldn’t find any other work. They were seldom screened and the vulnerability of the children attracted abusers. Then there were the remittance men, the black sheep of prominent families exiled to distant colonies. Some surfaced and were employed by the residential schools.
There was a male nurse with St Pauls residential school on Blood reserve in southern Alberta back in the sixties. He came from a very well known prominent family famous to this day. He abused little girls, which may explain why he left England at his family’s insistence. He was found out and reported to the principal. The parents wanted him fired but the principal wouldn’t hear of it. He stated it was only certain children telling lies. He said the school was fortunate to have a nurse. Nothing came of the complaint. The parents were powerless. He wasn’t stopped until he abused non-First Nations children off reserve. The residential school administrators across Canada knew full well what took place yet they did nothing.
It was during the early 1970s and, to an extent, the latter 1960s when First Nations began reclaiming their power. Victories were hard won. The old order doggedly refused to relinquish power but it was a different time. Canadian society was changing. The churches influence was waning and their congregations dwindling. Never again would they control the First Nations. First Nations were winning in courts forcing the hand of the Federal Government. The First provincial organizations were formed, united and grew in influence. Such leaders such as Walter Dieter, Harold Cardinal and George Manual forged the National Indian Brotherhood. The schools closed one by one until they were gone.
“Indian control of Indian education” became a rallying cry and many former residential school survivors were at the forefront. Education, once the blunt instrument of assimilation became an engine of empowerment and success.
There is a lot more about the residential school era which needs to be known. The TRC recommendations have not been fulfilled in their entirety. The Roman Catholic Church stubbornly refuses to release critical church records and the pope has not apologized uttering instead a toothless statement of regret. The Anglican Church and the Presbyterians gave a full apology. The Anglicans became bankrupt as a result.
Despite generations of pain and despair a battle is being won. The perpetrators are in hiding. The public has come on side. Truth is told. More is to come.