On September 30th I will be celebrating Orange Shirt Day in remembrance of the children that lost their lives in the residential schools and for my Naanii (this is the Skidegate dialect for grandmother). In this column, I am going to discuss the history of the schools and their impact on indigenous lives to this day. My Nanaay, Anne Williams was Haida and attended the Port Alberni Residential School. She never spoke of her experiences, from the research I have done on the schools in British Columbia, I am positive it was traumatizing. My cousins and I do not have much information on her experience in the schools. I know that my Nanaay attended Port Alberni Residential School until grade 11.
The purpose for the Residential Schools was to assimilate Indigenous children into Western society. They were not allowed to speak their languages or practice their traditions. Port Alberni Residential School opened in 1883 and was run by the Presbyterian church and subsequently by the United Church in 1925. The school burnt down three times and was then rebuilt after each fire. The West Coast Council of Chiefs petitioned for the school’s closure in the 1960s and the school was eventually closed in 1973. Furthermore, in 1995 a former supervisor of the school was convicted for 18 accounts of indecent assault towards Indigenous children and was sentenced to eleven years in prison.
The Port Alberni school was just one of the many Residential Schools in North America where children were physically, mentally, and sexually abused. Students attended in order to be educated but instead became assimilated and some children were even killed. I believe it is important for us to learn this part of Canada’s dark history. This happened not that long ago, the
last school to close in Canada was in 1996. There is a long road to reconciliation and the trauma from these institutions affects Indigenous communities and all Canadians to this day.
I’d encourage everyone to educate themselves on Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples. You can start by reading books by Indigenous authors and listening to their stories. There is much to learn still.
About Lizzie Skelton:
I’m a fourth-year University student at UBCO.
My goal is to one day go into journalism at UBC Vancouver.
I want to eventually write about controversial and political topics.