Residential schools a history not soon forgotten
By Ben Ingram
After the application deadline for the Common Experience Program passed on Sept. 19, some First Nations people are reflecting on their own experiences in residential schools.
“I wouldn’t want to do that again, I’d rather have stayed with my parents,” Albert McCallum, a billet in the Rossignol School for eight years said of his experience.
The CEP pays $10,000 for the first year plus $3,000 for subsequent years spent in a residential school to surviving students of the schools.
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a public apology for the government’s involvement in the residential school system, a dark history extending more than a century into our nation’s past.
Operated as joint ventures between the government and Christian churches, the schools separated thousands of First Nations peoples from their families, forcing them into a system of assimilation.
“All my brothers and sisters were there too, about seven of us from the family,” McCallum said. The children spent 10 months a year at the school away from their families, and brothers and sisters were also separated.
Attempts were made to dilute the culture of First Nations people by forbidding the use of their own languages and spiritual practices.
Victor Mispounas attended the Beauval Residential School from Sept. 1, 1955 to June of 1964. For him the experience left lasting impressions, both mentally and physically.
“It affected my life very, very badly, I’ll tell you that much,” Mispounas said.
His school was a Roman Catholic institution that operated in the area. Mispounas said he had become aware of a variety of transgressions during his time there, including physical and sexual abuses.
He recalled a supervisor who used to wake the children who had slept in by firing off a track-and-field starter gun in their ear. Mispounas said he became one of the victims of this method one fateful morning.
“The bugger, he busted my eardrum on the left, my ear’s been ringing for about over 45 years. I’m kind of off balance when I walk, especially on uneven ground, sometimes I’ll just fall on my face,” he said.
Like thousands of others, Mispounas had no choice as to whether to attend the school or not, and neither did his parents.
Recollecting a later conversation with his elders, Mispounas described their response when he asked why they placed him in the school.
“They said they had no choice, the Indian Affairs had told them either they left their kids in or they’d end up doing jail terms and having their kids taken away from them,” he said. “We had no choice either, we had to go.”
In addition to the government of Canada, public apologies have been made by the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church and the RCMP.
For those who have missed the deadline for the Common Experience Program, applications will still be accepted for one year so long as exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated.