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Canada’s Residential schools and American Indian Boarding schools

First Nations Leaders Mourn Passing of Tragically Hip Frontman Gord Downie

Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem tour, July 2016.

Gord Downie remembered for raising awareness of Indigenous issues

Canadian singer Gord Downie, 53, has passed away from terminal brain cancer.

Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, was diagnosed with cancer in December 2015.

“Last night Gord quietly passed away with his beloved children and family close by,” said a statement posted on thehip.com.

Downie united a diverse array of music lovers with his commanding stage presence and Canadiana-laced lyrics.

Downie was also an advocate for First Nations people.

On Wednesday, Indigenous leaders praised Downie’s contribution to reconciliation as they mourned the musician’s death.

According to CBC News Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler released a statement in the wake of the announcement of Downie’s death.

“Words cannot express our sorrow and our thoughts and prayers are with Gord’s brothers Mike and Patrick, and all of their family and friends,” Fiddler was quoted as saying in a written release. “My dear friend took the country by storm last year with his heartfelt call to action, and exposed dark truths about this country like no one before him.”

In December 2016, Downie was honoured at an Assembly of First Nations gathering for his work highlighting the impact of residential schools.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde presented Downie with an eagle feather and he was given a Lakota spirit name, Wicapi Omani, which can be roughly translated as “Man who walks among the stars.”

Gord Downie is presented with a blanket during an honouring ceremony at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. Dec 6, 2016.

Downie’s concept album, Secret Path, tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966, while trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.

The album, accompanied by a graphic novel and film, shone a spotlight on a topic that Downie believed had been ignored for too long.

First Nations leaders and artists alike expressed gratitude to Downie for the recognition of the legacy of residential schools and his call for all Canadians to learn the stories of the thousands of children who died there.

“I am honoured and humbled to support the Secret Path project,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said.

“When you have someone with that fortitude and passion to speak out on our behalf it’s this overwhelming feeling of gratefulness because he can touch different audiences that we can’t,” Tanya Tagaq told VICE

Isadore Day, the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief of Ontario, echoed this sentiment.

“I felt very grateful that someone of his stature would take to the cause and really lift up our people through his music and his stellar reputation.”

“I honour the life and work of Gord Downie, a dedicated and accomplished artist who used his profile to advance reconciliation and build support for First Nations peoples,” Bellegarde said Wednesday in a statement.

In June, for his work raising awareness of Indigenous issues, Downie received the Order of Canada (Canada’s highest honour for a civilian), he was appointed to the Order.

Downie’s death is an “incredible loss to Canada”, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said as she thanked him for the role he played in reconciliation.

Governor General David Johnston pins the order of Canada on Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released a statement about Downie’s passing.

“Gord did not rest from working for the issues he cared about, and his commitment and passion will continue to motivate Canadians for years to come.”

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to Gord’s family, friends, bandmates and crew members, and his many, many fans. He will be sorely missed.”

Gord Downie’s Secret Path in Concert will make its broadcast premiere on Sunday, October 22 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC TV and streaming at cbc.ca/arts/secretpath, commemorating the 51st anniversary of Chanie Wenjack’s death.

By: Black Powder, RPM Staff

Canada’s Prisons Are The ‘New Residential Schools’

The multinational catering company just hired by the Saskatchewan government to provide meals at eight provincial correctional centres has been the subject of serious complaints about food quality and other issues elsewhere. (Don Healy/Regina Leader-Post)

The multinational catering company just hired by the Saskatchewan government to provide meals at eight provincial correctional centres has been the subject of serious complaints about food quality and other issues elsewhere. (Don Healy/Regina Leader-Post)

Macleans, Feb 18, 2016

A months-long investigation by Maclean’s reveals that at every step, Canada’s justice system is set against Indigenous people

In an investigation that spanned months into how Canada’s justice system treats Indigenous peoples, Maclean’s travelled across the country, visiting prisons, jails, bail courts and First Nations courts, and speaking with lawyers, judges, inmates and hundreds of Indigenous people about their treatment by police, legal, judicial and penal authorities.

Despite Canada’s dropping crime rate, incarceration rates of Indigenous people have been on the rise.

Canada’s crime rate just hit a 45-year low. It’s been dropping for years—down by half since peaking in 1991. Bizarrely, the country recently cleared another benchmark, when the number of people incarcerated hit an all-time high. Dig a little further into the data, and an even more disquieting picture emerges.

It uncovered a system that appears to put as many Indigenous people in prison as legally possible and appears designed to keep them there.

While admissions of white adults to Canadian prisons declined through the last decade, Indigenous incarceration rates were surging: Up 112 per cent for women. Already, 36 per cent of the women and 25 per cent of men sentenced to provincial and territorial custody in Canada are Indigenous—a group that makes up just four per cent of the national population. Add in federal prisons, and Indigenous inmates account for 22.8 per cent of the total incarcerated population.

In the U.S., the go-to example for the asymmetric jailing of minority populations, black men are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white men. In Canada, the Indigenous incarceration rate is 10 times higher than the non-Indigenous population—higher even than South Africa at the height of apartheid. In Saskatchewan, if you’re Indigenous, you’re 33 times more likely to be incarcerated, according to a 1999 report, the most recent available.

This helps explain why prison guard is among the fastest-growing public sector occupations on the Prairies. And why criminologists have begun quietly referring to Canada’s prisons and jails as the country’s “new residential schools.”

In some Prairie courtrooms, Indigenous defendants now make up 85 per cent of criminal caseloads, defence lawyers say. At Manitoba’s Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley, as many as nine in 10 women were Indigenous, according to one recent count. At nearby Stony Mountain Institution, Indigenous men make up 65 per cent of the inmate population. Often, they’re there because they failed to comply with a curfew or condition of bail. Or they’re a low-level drug offender, caught up in Canada’s harsh new mandatory-minimum sentences.

That’s one reason for the upsurge. In the past decade, Stephen Harper’s government passed more than 30 new crime laws, hiking punishment for a wide range of crimes, limiting parole opportunities and also broadening the grounds used to send young offenders to jail.

But the problem isn’t just new laws. Although police “carding” in Toronto has put street checks, which disproportionately target minority populations, under the microscope, neither is racial profiling alone to blame. At every step, discriminatory practices and a biased system work against an Indigenous accused, from the moment a person is first identified by police, to their appearance before a judge, to their hearing before a parole board. The evidence is unambiguous: If you happen to be Indigenous, justice in Canada is not blind.

Read Full Story: Canada’s prisons are the ‘new residential schools’

To approach the issue of street checks from a different perspective, Maclean’s and Discourse Media (with the support of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression) surveyed more than 850 post-secondary students in Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, to see whether there was any difference in the likelihood of being stopped for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Survey results show the odds of an Indigenous student from the sampled population being stopped by police were 1.6 times higher than a non-Indigenous student, holding all other explanatory variables (like gender and age) fixed. Indigenous students will be stopped more frequently, the study indicates; whether or not they were engaged in or close to an illegal activity when stopped by police had little influence in explaining the results. This suggests staying out of trouble does not shield Indigenous student from unwanted police attention.

Related from Discourse Media: Survey indicates Indigenous people targeted by police in the Prairie provinces

The survey produced other unsettling data. Indigenous students were more likely to “disagree” or “strongly disagree” that their racial group is viewed positively by police. An Indigenous student had a 69 to 84 per cent chance of “disagreeing” or “strongly disagreeing,” depending on their age; a non-Indigenous student had a 10 to 21 per cent chance of responding the same way. Students were also asked to share three words that they feel describe police officers. The most common words non-Indigenous students associate with police—“helpful,” “authority”—differed dramatically from those chosen by Indigenous students: “racist,” “scary.”

The Discourse Media project aims to contribute to a fundamental shift in how Canadians think about and discuss difficult issues such as reconciliation, colonial history and land rights in order to move our country towards solutions. 

For more information about the survey analysis and methodology, read the Technical Brief




Canada Was Killing Indians, Not Cultures

Residential School survivor Lorna Standingready, left, is comforted during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada closing ceremony in Ottawa last week. | Photo: Reuters

Residential School survivor Lorna Standingready, left, is comforted during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada closing ceremony in Ottawa last week. | Photo: Reuters

By: Dr. Pamela D. Palmater | teleSUR, Published 8 June 2015

In Canada’s residential schools, many Indigenous children were beaten, tortured, raped, medically experimented on, and killed.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) just released its Executive Summary Report on their inquiry into Indian Residential Schools finding that in Canada’s dealings with Indigenous Nations, it had engaged in a form of genocide and made 94 recommendations for action. The TRC’s mandate came from the class action litigation (and subsequent settlement) by survivors of the residential schools who wanted Canadians to have a true understanding of what happened in those schools. The Summary Report represents over six years of historical research, investigation, and the documentation of the stories of over 6,750 survivors. The final report is expected to be at least six volumes.

Indian residential schools were boarding schools created and designed by the federal government to eliminate the “Indian problem” in Canada – not unlike the Indian boarding schools created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the United States. The federal government, in partnership with churches of various denominations (primarily Catholic), apprehended Indigenous children from their communities and forced them to live in residential schools under the guise of civilizing them with education. Instead of receiving an education (most never received more than a grade 6 education), most were starved, beaten, tortured, raped, and medically experimented on. In some schools, upwards of 40 percent of Indigenous children never made it out alive. Nationally, the death rate for these children was 1:25 – higher than the 1:26 death rate for WWII enlistees – and that was war.

While some have characterized the Indian problem as the desire by Canada to erase cultural difference, the reality had far more to do with power and economics. The oft-quoted Duncan Campbell Scott, the deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs, appears to claim that the objective is one of assimilation: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem … Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic.” However, when presented with the alarming death rates in the residential schools by his chief medical officer, Dr. Peter H. Bryce, Scott decided that the deaths of Indian children was in line with departmental objectives which he characterized as “the final solution.”

“Indian children … die at a much higher rate [in residential schools] than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian problem,” said Scott.

So the central question seems to be what exactly was the Indian problem? Was it truly a desire to rid Indians of their cultures – or was it more about eliminating Indians? Canada’s record, considered on the whole, would seem to suggest that the Indian problem was more about Indians refusing to die off, than maintaining different languages and cultures. Colonial governments didn’t issue bounties on Mi’kmaw scalps because of their culture – they did so because Mi’kmaw people refused to give up their land. Canada didn’t forcibly sterilize Indigenous women and girls without their consent to stop them from speaking their languages – they did it to eliminate the population. By the United Nations definition – that is genocide. It doesn’t matter whether Canada ever agrees that its actions amounted to genocide – very few nation states ever admit to committing acts of genocide.

It doesn’t matter whether Canada ever agrees that its actions amounted to genocide – very few nation states ever admit to committing acts of genocide. What happened in residential schools were crimes back then, just as they are today. It was always against colonial and Canadian law to assault, rape, torture, starve, and murder children. Despite the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the federal government, and church officials all knowing what was happening in those schools, everyone with the power to stop it allowed it to continue. That is why residential schools had grave yards instead of playgrounds.

The Indian problem was always about power and economics – the sovereign Indigenous Nations who occupied and controlled the very territories coveted by early colonial governments refused to die off and therefore stood in the way of unfettered land acquisition, settlement, development, and resource extraction. Despite having suffered many deaths in the waves of disease that came from European contact, scalping bounties and various colonial aggressions, Indigenous peoples survived. Indigenous peoples never gave up their sovereignty or their rights and responsibilities over their territories. Aboriginal rights, treaty rights and the refusal to die off has impeded Canada’s attempts at unfettered settlement and development ever since.

Moving forward, the biggest mistake that could come from this report would be for Canadians to historicize what happened. Indian policy is not a sad chapter in our history – it is a lethal reality for Indigenous people today. Today, there are more Indigenous children in state care than during the residential school era. Nationally, there are 30-40,000 children in care and in some provinces, like Manitoba, Indigenous children represent 90 percent of all kids in care.

Canada’s current policy of purposefully underfunding essential human services on Indian reserves like food, water, sanitation, housing, health and education, leads to the premature deaths of Indigenous peoples by 7-20 years. Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in prisons by 10 times the national rate, and the problem is getting worse. In the last decade, the Indigenous inmate population has steadily increased by more than 56 percent. In the last 30 years, there have been over 1,200 cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and little action from Canada to protect them. None of this is because they practice different cultures, but because they are Indians – impediments to unfettered land access, development, and resource extraction.

RELATED: Canada’s Disappeared Indigenous Women

It’s long past the time that Canada live up to the spirit and intent of the treaties signed with Indigenous Nations (now constitutionally protected) and work towardsa new policy which reflects the promises of mutual respect, mutual benefit and mutual protection. The vision of the treaties was always to share these lands. Despite all the horrors of residential schools, Indigenous Nations kept their treaty promises. It’s time for Canada to stop trying to eliminate Indians and work together in peace. A good start would be to implement the recommendations in the TRC report.

Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is an Associate Professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.


Truth And Reconciliation: Aboriginal People Conflicted As Commission Wraps Up After 6 Years

Nikamuwin Mianscum, 3, stands with drummers as they lead the Walk for Reconciliation, part of the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sunday in Ottawa and Gatineau. The commission uncovered horror stories of homemade electric chairs, malnutrition experiments and the deaths of more 6,000 children in residential schools. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Nikamuwin Mianscum, 3, stands with drummers as they lead the Walk for Reconciliation, part of the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sunday in Ottawa and Gatineau. The commission uncovered horror stories of homemade electric chairs, malnutrition experiments and the deaths of more 6,000 children in residential schools. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

By Connie Walker | CBC News

#MyReconciliationIncludes hashtag shows skepticism many Aboriginal Peoples have

After six years of travelling the country to hear testimony from 7,000 witnesses about their experiences at residential schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wraps up this week in Ottawa.

The final event kicked off yesterday with thousands of people participating in a reconciliation walk through the nation’s capital. The summary of the commission’s report will be released Tuesday.

“I never, ever envisioned that this would happen, that thousands of people would gather to give expression to the idea that we are … all one,” said Chief Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and a member of the National Assembly of First Nations elders council.

“And that includes me, somebody who was so terribly beat up in these residential schools that I felt absolutely worthless, no purpose in my life. And now here I am and I see all this humanity, and I’m inspired to my soul that people care enough to come out and walk with us today. And we walk together.”

When the commission began in June 2010, there were high hopes it would help repair the relationship between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada. However, as the TRC winds down, many seem conflicted about the state of reconciliation in Canada.

About 150,000 children attended residential school over more than 100 years, starting in 1880s until the last school was closed in 1996. Many students as young children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to the schools to live. The commission heard thousands of statements about their experiences, which often included emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Truth Reconciliation Walk 20150531 Ottawa Gatineau

Debbie Stephens holds an eagle feather as she pauses before the start of the walk for reconciliation in Gatineau. About 150,000 children attended residential school over more than 100 years, starting in 1880s until the last school was closed in 1996. (The Canadian Press)

Viv Ketchum, a survivor who travelled to Ottawa to attend the final TRC event, was hopeful after hearing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology in 2008, but has since been disappointed by the process.

Vivian Ketchum

Vivian Ketchum, 51, attended Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in northern Ontario starting when she was 5. She came to Ottawa for the final TRC events this week. (CBC)

“I don’t expect much to happen after, I don’t think,” she said. “This is just going to be one final hurrah for us and we’re just going to be placed aside. I think that’s the reality for us [survivors].”

Some of the truths about residential schools uncovered in the last six years include horror stories of homemade electric chairs, malnutrition experiments and the deaths of more 6,000 children.

Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the commission, said that number is likely higher.

“Undoubtedly, the most shocking piece of information that we uncovered was the number of children who died in the schools,” Sinclair said. “The number of children who died was a significant number, and we think that we have not uncovered anywhere near what the total would be because the record keeping around that question was very poor.”

Final report

Sinclair will release a 300-page executive summary of the final report on Tuesday.

“The report itself — just by its size alone — is going to document as full a story of residential schools as has ever been documented in the past. ” Sinclair told CBC News last week.


Thousands Attend Walk For Reconciliation In Ottawa

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde (in headdress) and Justice Murray Sinclair (in black suit), TRC commissioner, march during the Walk for Reconciliation, part of the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sunday, May 31, 2015 in Gatineau, Que. Beginning in the 1870s, over 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were required to attend government-funded, church-run residential schools in an attempt to assimilate them into Canadian society; the last school closed in 1996. Students were prohibited from speaking their own languages, practicing their culture and often experienced physical and sexual abuse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde (wearing a traditional headdress) and Justice Murray Sinclair (in front of him wearing sunglasses in a black suit) took part in the walk on Sunday. (The Canadian Press)

By Black Powder | Red Power Media

Thousands including; residential school survivors, along with their friends, family and supporters, marched through Ottawa on Sunday in the name of reconciliation and healing.

The march was part of the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

“It’s a dark chapter in Canada’s history, no question. It was cultural genocide,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde, head of the Assembly of First Nations, who took part in the walk.

Led by drummers, the marchers carried banners and flags. Some held photos of loved ones who had experienced the schools, and other clasped the hands of children or grandchildren.

VIDEO: A dance and song in honour of all Residential School Survivors.

The crowd – marching in solidarity with the survivors walked crossed the Ottawa River along the Portage Bridge, passed Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial, and ended at Ottawa City Hall on Elgin Street.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who addressed the crowd at City Hall, said about 7,000 people made the walk. Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the TRC, estimated that about 10,000 people showed up.

Closing ceremonies end Wednesday

Sunday’s walk was one of many events taking place from Sunday to Wednesday as part of a closing ceremony for the TRC.

The TRC prepares to release its final report on June 2.

Final report will be massive:

A 300-page summary of the final TRC report will be released as part of the final event. The full final report will include 6 volumes and more than 2 million words, as well as a volume with excerpts from survivors’ testimony.