May 29th, 2024

SACPA hears about stolen children era

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on April 19, 2024.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Sociology assistant professor at the university of Lethbridge, Tiffany Hind Bull-Prete speaks about the "stolen children era" during this Thursday's SACPA session at the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization.


The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs hosted Tiffany Hind Bull-Prete, University of Lethbridge associate professor of Sociology and intergenerational survivor of residential schools to speak about what indigenous children endured during the “stolen children era.”

Hind Bull-Prete started her presentation Thursday by explaining why she uses the term “stolen children era” instead of using the residential school era and said that she discovered within her own research, that the Canadian government devised multiple school models to try to assimilate Indigenous children into a Euro-centric way of life.

“Today the residential school model receives a lot of attention and rightfully so, as we do have many survivors today who attended residential school and so to represent this entire area that the government use education as a tool to assimilate Indigenous children I use the language of stolen children,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

 She went on to let those in attendance that she was going to focus her presentation on truth and reconciliation, the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), why reconciliation is still relevant today and why each of us should consider engaging in reconciliation work.

 “Truth telling and retelling is a term that we use in Canada when referring to what happened during the stolen children era from the perspective of those who have first-hand accounts and experiences with this era,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

 She said historically in Canada this history has been told from a colonial perspective and she hoped that those in attendance would be open to consider a new perspective, one they may not be very familiar with.

 “As you consider these new perspectives, I hope you’re willing to challenge some of the beliefs and assumptions that you might have formed through other sources that favoured a colonial perspective,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

Those in attendance learned about the role different Christian denominations played in residential schools.

“As we know there were several Christian denominations that the Canadian government partnered with to run the different school models throughout the stolen children era. During the 1,880s,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

 She explained the government did this because prior to the 1880s there were Christian denominations who were already engaged in missionary work across pre-confederate Canada and missions continued to be established after confederation.

 “These missions in most cases already had some type of existing infrastructure and would’ve received funding previously from their own religions,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

 She explained that those religions already had the means and the workforce to open and operate schools under the direction of the Canadian government.

 “The use of Christian religion was also favoured, as one of the goals that the Canadian government had for Indigenous peoples using their own terminology was to ‘civilize Indigenous peoples’ and we know this because of the different acts and legislation the Canadian government created,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

 She referred to the Indian Act, which was an abbreviation of “an Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting Indians.” Hind Bull-Prete explained there were many acts and legislations previously created to control or dominate indigenous peoples prior to the Indian Act being established.

“There was this believe that civilization equated to being a Christian and to be Indigenous meant to be not civilized under the law,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

She said that because of this, the Canadian government developed a standard of what it was considered civilized and decided to educate indigenous people to the point where they were considered civilized, but not enough to be fully educated.

“The main tool the Canadian government used to reach this standard was the colonial school system. As they thought that they would be in a better position to try and assimilate Indigenous children into an euro-centric way of life,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

She explained that the government thought that once children met this standard they would no longer want to be Indigenous, they would forgo their indigenous identities in order to become a Canadian citizen.

Hind Bull-Prete explained that those who entered the education system were told to choose between becoming a rancher or a farmer and once a path was chosen they were only given education to an elementary school level. Males were taught how to be either farmers or ranchers and females were taught how to become their wives.

When speaking about the TRC, Hind Bull-Prete explained that it was created as a result from the biggest class action suit against the government.

She said it took 10 years for the Canadian government to work out the details of this class action suit and in 2006 the Indian residential school’s settlement compensation packages was announced and implemented in September 2007.

 “This settlement agreement was composed of five parts and one of those parts was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

 She said it is estimated that more than 150,000 Indigenous youth attended residential schools from the 1880s until in 1990s with over 130 residential schools in operation during those years.

Hind Bull-Prete said one of the main goals of the TRC was to inform all Canadians about what happened in the Indian residential schools, to document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the legacy of the schools and to guide and inspire process of reconciliation and renewed relationships.

“The calls to action report is a crucial component of the TRC and it outlines 94 calls to action aimed at addressing the legacy of Indian residential schools and advancing a process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples within Canada,” said Hind Bull-Prete.

She closed by saying that she hopes that by gaining understanding of what happened, people would stop asking Indigenous people to “”Why don’t you just get over it?”

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