Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 18, 2002
An Oblate view of the history of Indian residential schools
By FR. CAMILLE PICHÉ
Dene leaders formed a delegation to lobby the Catholic Church for a residential school.
The sisters built nursing stations and hospitals to care for the ill and disabled, opened homes to care for needy and orphaned children. No work was deemed more important, however, than providing a future for aboriginal youth through education. In remote areas where people still lived off the land, regular attendance at day schools often proved onerous if not impossible. Seen as the best alternative, residential schools were built by the government and staffed by vowed religious men and women.
History will serve as judge in determining the role of the government in educating aboriginal children. Education was, after all, included as an obligation in treaties signed by the Canadian government with First Nations. In the Northwest however, these promises remained largely unfulfilled for many years. Church institutions in the meantime filled an all-too-evident void.
For example, let us consider the Dene Th a of northern Alberta. In 1947, local Oblate Missionary, Father Fran‡ois Arbet, counted 139 children who were of school age. Although they signed Treaty 8 in 1900 and the Dene Th a chief had often made formal requests for a school, it took 50 years before it was built.
Frustrated by the lack of response, Dene leaders formed a delegation to lobby the Catholic Church for a residential school. The delegation met with Father Jean-Marie Liz‚e, in Hay River, NWT, asking for the immediate admission of some of their children in the nearest residential schools. In 1949, the federal government asked the Grouard Diocese to build and operate a residential school in Assumption (Chateh), Alta.
Similar situations arose elsewhere. Church workers and organizations attempted to provide educational opportunities for aboriginal children at a time when the public was not concerned with the plight of Canada's aboriginal population. I uphold that the majority of the religious men and women who dedicated their whole lives to the service of God and neighbour acted in the best interests and out of genuine love for the children in their care.
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