The older children at Kuper Island School were allowed to have Valentine parties under the watchful eyes of their chaperones and Father Renaud, at Lower Post, observed in 1956 that "boys and girls eat together, not only in the same dining room but at the same tables, just like at home. On Sunday night they dance together to music" (Miller 220).
Separate but unequal treatment was the standard in recreation, leisure time and instruction, though gender differences in the classroom was less noticeable. Both sexes were taught the same subjects and the official curriculum statements did not reflect any differences between instructions for male or female students. There was the opportunity for some boys, however, to work full time at operation and upkeep of the institution, rather than attend classroom instruction. It appeared common for boys to be removed from the classrooms permanently when they took on these jobs. Some girls, also graduates of these schools, complained of losing time in the classroom to work for the institution. In keeping with the culture of the day, boys were trained in vocational skills outside the classroom, while girls were taught the "duties of home." Industrial training for girls was generalized, whereas for boys it was specialized in carpentering, farming, stock-raising, boot and shoe-making, blacksmithing or printing. Some girls were taught printing when they worked on the Na-Na-Kwa, the Methodist school at Kitimaat paper, but they usually were taught sewing or "domestic science" to prepare for their futures as wives, homemakers and mothers (Miller 220).
In preparation for farm life, boys were taught agricultural skills and weeded gardens during the summer season. Girls were taught to cook, clean and wash, iron, mend, make break, and sew. As for recreation, boys played sports while "the girls go for walks almost daily. They have small plots of garden in their grounds in the summer" (Miller 251).
During the 19th and 20th centuries, as these Native Aboriginal women grew, they were supposed to spend more time being spiritual, but more than that, they were supposed to do their chores, clean the house, make the beds, cook the meals and serve them. They were also required to clean outer buildings and, in some cases, assist with farming. Taken as children from a free life, where they might also have worked hard, but outdoors more often than not, these young women now became laborers indoors, where clocks, whistles and schedules dominated. They were required to do half a day's labor and were schooled for half a day. The labor was considered to be their contribution to subsidizing the operation of the schools. Taken unwillingly from their parents, these children were submitted to involuntary labor, a condition under which the Aboriginal people of Canada have suffered for a century (Miller 252).
Taken screaming from the arms of their frightened and anguished parents, Indian children were rounded up from Indian reserves by the Indian Agents, the RCMP constables. They were each given a number, herded onto cattle cars and transported to the residential school in Winnipeg or other cities (Miller 289).
In the 1960s, a worker at the Anglican Chooutla school at Carcross, Yukon, reflected at how closely the school resembled a stockyard and the children cattle, where "their health, nutrition, shelter and physical well-being were looked after. 'The children are moved, fed, cared for, and rested by a rotating crew of overseers who condition the herd to respond to sets of signals.'" This worker found the Carcross school "impersonal, homogenized and insensitive."
Women who survived these schools testified at hearings in 1993 that labor was the main occupation during the day for them as schoolchildren. They felt that they were only valued for their strong backs. The women's negative memories were of bad "food, clothing, health care, supervision and protection, discipline and punishment." They experienced, more than anything else, however, a pervasive lack of emotional support and nurturing by the staff members, usually something that only parents can give a recalcitrant teenager. The resulting depression and mental problems that plagued these women into their adult life may have come from this inhumane treatment and care.
All of the women recalled with bitterness the lack of food and the inferior quality of the little food they got. Institutional meals are never excellent, no matter in what institution they are served, but growing teenagers and young adults have appetites that are demanding, because of their growing bodies. While the food was too little and unappetizing, the setting in which it was consumed and the inhospitable surroundings created an unforgettably bad memory in most of the women's minds. "We were always hungry" (Miller 290).
Mistreatment at the hands of a poorly trained and insufficient staff became the lot of children following 1945, when a lack of personnel confounded the nation. Especially non-Catholic schools, such as the Methodist missionary schools, weaknesses in character on the part of staff members compounded the normal problems in dealing with youth. Children were submitted to cruel physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for them.
Some children detached themselves emotionally from the hurt they were suffering. In 2000, a female survivor testified that she acted like a clown "so that I wouldn't be hurt," and that "right to this day I won't let anybody see me feeling hurt" (Aboriginal 44).
Finally, in the late 1950s and during the 1960s, the Indian Affairs and missionary organizations began to observe and attempt to correct the training of administrators, childcare workers and teachers in the Native Aboriginal schools. Even though staff at the religious schools were chosen and served because of their religious beliefs, at other schools competing salaries and better conditions elsewhere created a dearth of good teachers and staff. In these places workers were hired without questions about their qualifications, their past or their training for the job they were to do (Miller 318).
But toward the middle of the 1990s, there was an extreme movement for change from the public and from government. Multiple Native Indian political organizations in the communities and within the schools put pressure on the system to advance to more human treatment and better conditions within the residential schools. The Indian Affairs policy was resisted by the groups of Native Aboriginals and the children and young adults within the schools made their objections known, as well. Children resisted being taken from their homes, parents resisted the authority's demands for their children, children ran away from the schools and Indian Affairs caved in to the mass of demonstrations and protests on the part of the Native Aboriginals. School officials realized that ignoring objections could lead to political problems which might cost them their jobs, while missionaries tried to reconcile the parents' demands that their schools become more like other denominations' schools. Parents removed their children from schools when they felt that a rival denomination might have a better school (Miller 344).
The testimony of former students has had a great deal of influence on the changes that have taken place in residential schooling for Inuit and other Indian children since World War II. Following a major parliamentary inquiry into the Indian Act in the 1940s, and policy reviews in the '50s and '60s, widespread doubt was spread among Canadians that custodial educational institutions for Native Aboriginal children was beneficial to the children, or to society at large. Public support was undermined and the availability of Christian workers began to taper off. Native Aboriginal leaders had influenced government leaders to the extent that it was with increasing reluctance that funding and support of residential schools was given (King 2).
At a Special Joint Committee meeting of the Senate and House of Commons, the Indian Act was considered by Committee in 1946 and 1948. The Committee made its recommendations, but did not know with what to replace Indian Affairs. Native and non-Native groups pressed for an overhaul of the laws. It was pointed out that Indian men had turned out in extremely large numbers to join Canadian armed forces. Racism became frowned upon and the Canadian public was embarrassed by their segregation of the ethnic group in their midst through the Indian Act and the denominational residential schools (Miller 378).
Overwhelmingly, the Native bands and other groups were in favor of changes in the educational system forced upon the Native Aboriginal people. Out of 127 briefs submitted to the committee, 5 were in favor of the current system, while 110 stated they were unhappy, dissatisfied and demanded change. The mood was summed up by Joseph Dreaver, a spokesman for the Union of Saskatchewan Indians: "Our greatest need today is proper education" (Miller 378).
The women who had grown up and suffered under the Native Aboriginal residential school system testified in great numbers and offered important criticisms to the Special Joint Committee and were crucial in helping to defeat the old system…