Metis Experiences in Residential Schools

In regard to Métis children, churches were eager to admit them to their boarding schools as it aligned with their goal to convert Indigenous children. However, ­the federal government policy on provision of schooling to Métis children was conflicted. It viewed the Métis as members of the ‘dangerous classes,’ Residential Schooling was implemented to ‘correct.’ However, from a jurisdictional perspective, the federal government believed that the responsibility for educating and assimilating Métis people lay within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. ­There was a concern that if the federal government began providing funding for the education of some of the children for whom the provinces and territories were responsible, it would find itself having to take responsibility for the rest.

 Because provincial governments and school boards were often unwilling to build schools in Métis communities or to allow Métis students to attend public schools, Métis parents who wished to have their children educated often had no choice but to send them to residential schools. Falling between federal and provincial jurisdictional conflicts, Métis children who attended Residential Schools often "slipped through the cracks". That is, their attendance was undocumented, one reason being because the boarding schools they attended were not recognized as official residential schools.

Métis children attended most of the residential schools from Saskatchewan that are named or discussed in the final TRC report. Métis children suffered in the same ways as other First Nations children did, undergoing experiences such as: high death rates, restricted diets and starvation, crowded and unsanitary housing, harsh discipline, heavy workloads, neglect and abuse (psychological, spiritual, physical and sexual). Many Métis children remember feeling rejected and discriminated against as they were too "white" for the Residential Schools, and too "Indian" for the provincial public schools. Many former students describe the trauma of being separated from their families.

For an example of Metis experience at residential schools, please consult the interview excerpt contained below under "relevant resources", in which Helen Sinclair describes the cutting of her hair and the subjection of students to the hazardous procedure of non-hospitalized tonsil removal, conducted without the consent of her legal guardians (parents).

Date Explanation
The last residential school in Canada shut its doors in 1996.
Leads

Capitaine, Brieg, and Vanthuyne, Karine, eds. Power through Testimony: Reframing Residential Schools in the Age of Reconciliation. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2017. 96.

"Power through Testimony" is a collection of essays from  on their experiences within Residential Schools. The authors also reflect on the post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. They emphasize the limited involvement and collaboration of the government and churches with the TRC. Moreover, the work on the TRC is framed in its historical, political, and social limits. In fact, the TRC does not examine other types of institutions that were equally damaging facets of settler colonialism. For example, schools for settler children subsumed Metis children's education in many cases where Metis children reported discrimination from students and school staff. The research broadens the perspectives on the history of Residential schools, showing aspects that are often obscured when research is being done. See “Learning through Conversation: An Inquiry into Shame” by Janice Cindy Gaudet and Lawrence Martin/Wapisan, p. 95. for more.

Satzewich, Vic and Wotherspoon, Terry. First Nations: Race, Class and Gender Relations. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1993. 112-146.

In the "Education and Job Training" chapter, Satzewich and Wotherspoon analyze the ways in which State policy has interrupted and changed Indigenous economies and redirected labour. Epistemological biases and the needs of Canadian capitalism shaped education and jobs, through coercive, punitive, and assimilating pedagogies. They address the paragraphs: human capital and struggles for educational control; the role of education in the colonization process; education and the process of state formation; segregation and the deterioration of Indigenous education; steps towards the integration of Indigenous peoples into the educational system; steps over the devolution of First Nations education; recent trends in post-secondary and vocational training.

Helen Sinclair, interviewed by Margaret Jefferson, “Helen Sinclair interview on Metis experiences of being adopted, attending Muskowekwan (Muscowequan) boarding school in Lestock and economic activity” (transcript), Gabriel Dumont Institute Visual Museum Oral Histories Archive, August 13, 1982, accessed May 2017. http://www.metismuseum.ca/media/document.php/00982.Sinclair,%20Helen%20(M.%20Jefferson).pdf

In this interview, Metis woman Helen Sinclair (who was adopted by a First Nations family and attended Muskowekwan/Muscowequan boarding school in Lestock) details her experiences at the boarding school, including the cutting of her hair and a medical procedure that was conducted without their or their parent's consent in non-sterile conditions. She reports that one child almost died after the procedure: --- Margaret: "Do you have pictures of the girls you went to school with when you were younger?" --- Helen: "No." --- Margaret: "No." --- Helen: "No, they never gave us any pictures. But they did take pictures. But the one that had them pictures of our school days she had them pictures but she passed away, I don't know who had them now. But you had long hair, we had braids. And then I was (inaudible) my hair when sometime that, you know, cut our hair very short." --- Margaret: "Who was going to cut it?" --- Helen: "Pardon." --- Margaret: "Where were you going to get it cut at? Who was going to cut your hair?" --- Helen: "Oh there was somebody there that done that." --- Margaret: "Oh. Just to get it trimmed you mean not to get it all cut off." --- Helen: "Short, short, yeah short all of them. They took all our braids, I had long long hair. And then in 1924 when I was at the school there was thirteen of us girls and three boys went through an operation they took our tonsils out, right in school we didn't go to no hospital." --- Margaret: "Right in school?" --- Helen: "Right in school, they gave us that ether to sniff and oh boy I woke up with a sore throat and blood. My two sisters too, the ones that passed away they had their tonsils out. There was a whole, there was a bunch of us girls, thirteen girls and three boys." --- Margaret: "Well, did they always take everyone's tonsils out, or..." --- Helen: "Well, these thirteen girls had their tonsils out there, one just about died she had to be looked after by a nurse from Edmonton." --- Margaret: "Well why did they take your tonsils out, were they bothering you?" --- Helen: "I don't know. The doctor came and examined all the girls and boys that had big tonsils and they took them all out. All these, I mean these thirteen girls and boys." --- Margaret: "And then you got..." --- Helen: "We didn't know." --- Margaret: "You were sick after that eh?" --- Helen: "Oh yes." --- Margaret: "Well didn't they have to have the parent's, your mom and dad's permission?" --- Helen: "No they didn't do anything I guess. I never knew where my parents were. We seldom seen our parents, very seldom. My mother used to be in Alberta and my father would be up north, he used to go all over. Never couldn't keep track of them. And the priest used to take us to the sports, old man sports they used to have good times over there in the olden days. Good sports and race horses, and oh everything like that, dances at night on the grounds. Go to old man's and Gordon Reserve, and Lestock, and Daystar's and Raymore, Symons, (?), all over it was. We were able to get there. The priest used to take us Old Man's mostly that's for every year we'd be going." --

Result
In 2006, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was settled between the Federal government, First Nations and Inuit representatives, and churches. Owing to the fact that Métis attendance in Residential sSchools was poorly documented, combined with the lack of recognition of several Métis boarding schools as "official" Residential Schools, many Métis people were excluded from the compensation and settlement process. Métis individuals and communities lobbied and continued to lobby for the addition of schools to the official lists and records as a means of acknowledging their experience as well as their eligibility for compensation.
Métis experiences in Residential Schools shows that the impact of Residential Schools extends beyond the formal Residential School program that Indian Affairs operated. The history of these provincial schools and the experiences of Métis students in unofficial schools are not as widely documented due to the nature of unofficial schooling.

Alphonse Janvier, who spent five years at the Île-à-la-Crosse school, recalls the anger and hurt he felt upon arrival at the school, where he was put in a barber's chair and stripped of his long hair. Métis children were also stripped of their culture and prohibited from speaking their Metis languages such as Cree or Mitchif. Facing hunger, harsh discipline and widespread abuse, many children ran away from the schools. Cultural trauma following hundreds of years of colonization and oppression have left Métis and First Nations communities socially, economically and politically scarred.----- Apology and compensation: In 2006, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was settled between the Federal government, First Nations and Inuit representatives, and churches. Owing to the fact that Métis attendance in residential schools was poorly documented, combined with the lack of recognition of several Métis boarding schools as "official" residential schools, many Métis people were excluded from the compensation and settlement process. Métis individuals and communities lobbied and continued to lobby for the addition of schools to the official lists and records as a means of acknowledging their experience as well as their eligibility for compensation.-----
Rural or Urban
both
End Date
00-00-1996
Sub Event
Adverse effects of residential schools on Metis peoples and communities
Community
Documents
File
File Description
TRC_Métis