Work Program at Duck Lake/St. Michael's Residential School


In 1909, Principal Charlebois, of the Duck Lake/St. Michael's Residential School received permission to send students from the school to work in the homes of local white families. The students were supposed to be well treated and not over worked with their wages being saved by the school. In practice, only girls were sent into service. The Department hoped that these girls would be married to "reliable ex-pupils or other Indians on the Reserve." No money was given to the school in receipt of the girls' labor. The parents complained about the situation as they were sending their children to be educated, not to work for white people. As a result of these complaints and at the behest of the Duck Lake Indian Agent, the program was discontinued by the Department.

The Indian Residential School system only marginally pursued goals of educating Indigenous children. This is demonstrated by the average workday being divided into two portions, one half of which was for book learning and religious instruction, and the other half for manual/domestic labor on the school grounds. With this structuring of the school/workday, it was not possible for Indigenous children to achieve the same level of education as their non-Indigenous counterparts. Thus, they were not being prepared to be equal competitors in the workforce. Rather, the structure of their training provides strong evidence that they were being prepared to enter the workforce as manual laborers and domestic servants, thus perpetuating their lower socioeconomic status and preventing socioeconomic advancement. The work program at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School was a logical extension of the racist logic that Indigenous peoples were inherently intellectually inferior to the non-Indigenous population, and thus unlikely to or incapable of aspiring to jobs with professional designations such as doctor, lawyer, clergy, etc. The fact that the work program was only implemented with Indigenous female students is suggestive of gender targeting, as these female students would have been socialized, according to the pre-suffragette Victorian Christian morals of the era, to be submissive and docile. It is also likely, in keeping with the overall ethos of the residential school system, that they would have been socialized to demonstrate an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude for the opportunities granted to them by the school system and white society in providing education and work experience. As such, Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous girls and women were perceived as being highly undeserving of autonomy, either social or political. The staff at St. Michaels and the white employers, therefore, sought to exploit the voicelessness and vulnerability of these girls by appropriating them for domestic slave labor.