Theodore Fontaine
“Why can’t Aboriginal people just get over Indian residential schools? Why
can’t they just get on with their lives?” These are two of the most common
questions asked by Canada’s non- Aboriginal peoples when confronted with
the consequences of Indian residential schools as experienced through seven
generations of Indigenous Nations in Canada and the United States.
These questions arise from societal denial of five centuries of coloniza-
tion. History books and governments consistently portray the intent of col-
onization as the “discovery” of new lands, the establishment of agricultural
economies, and the harvesting of natural resources to sustain westward im-
migration in the building of this “New World.” Canadians therefore think
of the Indian residential school policy as merely an isolated era of necessity
to assist Indian people to adjust to a “better” (European) way of life and not
as part of ongoing colonization efforts to rid the “New World” of Indian
Nations, persistent barriers to lands and resources.
However, the consequences experienced by Indian residential school
vivors and their descendants are a complex tangle of political, social, cultural,
economic, mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual harms. The compound-
ing burdens take an ever-increasing toll on the health, well-being, and very
survival of Indigenous people.
I had just turned seven when I was taken to the Fort Alexander Indian
Residential School, and later to the Assiniboia Indian Residential School. My
life was not my own for the next twelve years. Although the Fort Alexander
school was situated less than two miles from my home, I lost my family, my
mishoom (grandfather) and kookum (grandmother), and my community, and
I was lost to them.
Children taken to Indian residential schools were removed from their
families either by force or by threat. We were locked up in these institutions
behind barbed-wire fences, some of us close enough to see our own homes or
our family members walking by on the road. Others were removed hundreds
of miles from their community, not knowing if they would ever see their
family again. We didn’t know why we were locked up in these institutions or
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