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  • “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”:On the painful legacy of Canada’s residential schools
  • Daniella Zalcman (bio)

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Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School (1953-1963)

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“It was the worst 10 years of my life. I was away from my family from the age of six to 16. How do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then. I was a number.”

“Do you remember your number?”

“73.” [End Page 73]

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Marieval Indian Residential School (1967-1970)

“When I was eight, Mormons swept across Saskatchewan. So I was taken out of residential school and sent to a Mormon foster home for five years. I’ve been told I’m going to hell so many times and in so many ways. Now I’m just scared of God.”

For more than a century, Canada’s sustained effort to eradicate Indigenous culture hinged on targeting the population’s most vulnerable group: its children.

The government funded a network of church-run Indian Residential Schools that were designed to forcibly assimilate Indigenous [End Page 74] children into Western thought and practices. Students were stripped of their tribal language, traditions, and spirituality. They were told the only valid historical authority belonged to Canada’s European settlers, not their own elders.

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Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School (1965-1966)

“My parents came to visit, and I told them I was being beaten. My teachers said that I had an active imagination, so they didn’t believe me at first. But after summer break they tried to take me back, and I cried and cried and cried. I ran away the first night, and when my grandparents went to take me back, I told them I’d keep running away, that I’d walk back to Regina if I had to. They believed me then.”

“Just by separating us from our parents and grandparents—that was enough for us to forget [End Page 75] who we are,” said Grant Severight, who went to St. Phillips Indian Residential School from 1955 to 1964. “We never did powwows until two or three years ago. We’re all Christianized, we’ve all lost that part of ourselves, of our culture. It’s a real deep indoctrination. I had a hard time coming out of it, because I was afraid of going to hell. I still remember the pictures they had

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St. Michael’s Indian Residential School (1963-1965) Prince Albert Indian Residential School (1965-1974)

“I fought like hell all the time. The nuns would try to drag us away and they’d try to touch me. But I fought back, so they’d throw me in the cellar as punishment. But I loved it down there.

It was quiet and dark and no one could bother me. … This nun used to take a broomstick and shove it down there. She did it to all of us. How can you sing to God and treat us like that?” [End Page 76]

in school, of Native men being thrown off a cliff into a fire.”

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Beauval Indian Residential School (1959-1969)

“It’s hard for me to really love my children. I grapple with the word love. By the time I got out of school I’d started drinking heavily—I went to a center for alcohol abuse, and it was like a prison, but it felt like home. I knew how to live in that environment. … I got caught in the wrong place and time in history. I don’t think we can ever heal from this. We’re just going to have to die with all the pain.”

The practice wasn’t limited to Canada. Nearly identical schools developed in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, and other forms of coercive assimilation education have been imposed nearly everywhere Indigenous populations have existed—Norway, Greenland, [End Page 77] Brazil...


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pp. 72-85
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