Residential Schools

The Residential School System and Policies

The first Residential School recognized by the Residential School Settlement Agreement was the Mohawk Indian Residential School, founded in 1831, in Brantford, Ontario. However, missionary schools date as far back as 1620. The goal of these schools was to assimilate Indigenous Peoples and “kill the Indian in the Child”. The first piece of legislation pertaining to the rights of Indigenous peoples was the Proclamation of 1763 which created the first land reserve which disqualified settlers from purchasing the land with the exception of the British monarch. The Indian Act was established in 1876 which gave the government the exclusive right to create legislation regarding indigenous peoples.

The Indian Act determined who was considered a legal Indian, and the rights pertaining to that person. In 1884, the Indian Act was amended to prohibit the practice of traditional ceremonies and dances. By the year 19000, 73 schools were in operation across Canada. The first day school to open in the Okanagan was in 1916. In 1920, attendance at Residential Schools for Indigenous peoples was mandatory. By 1958, the Government deemed Residential Schools a failure, as they did not result in the success of Indigenous peoples in their vocations and the children attending the school were not successfully assimilated into mainstream culture.

Still, residential schools continue, being taken over from most churches by the federal government in 1969. Not to mention, the sixties scoop was an era in both American and Canadian history in which Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and put into foster homes by primarily white middle-class families. In 1996, the last Residential School closes its doors in Saskatchewan. However, day schools remained open until 2000 where the last one closed in Oka Country, Quebec.

Residential School Experiences

The Residential School experience varied from school to school and person to person. Still, it was nothing short of genocide officiated by the Canadian government and the Christian Church. To date, people are unaware of the exact numbers of deaths that occurred at the schools, but it is estimated to be 6000. It is approximated that 150000 children went through the Residential School system and this does not include the number of children who attended day schools. The schools were often poorly funded and managed. As well, children who attended the schools were frequently physically, mentally, and sexually abused. They were not allowed to speak their language, or practice any of their customs and traditions, for if they did, they were greatly punished for it. Impacts of the Residential School experience included broken families, cultural deterioration, the silencing of many Indigenous languages, and poor physical, mental and spiritual health. As well, many Indigenous peoples experience intergenerational trauma which effects generations after those who initially attended the schools.

Sometimes, it is difficult to find positive encounters and experiences in residential schools. However, the resiliency of Indigenous peoples remains strong. After years of trauma, Indigenous peoples continue to rise up, share their stories and pass on their language, culture and traditions. Healing comes from children and youth’s desire to learn about their history, it comes from learning the language, culture and traditions. Healing comes from children and young people’s desire to learn about their history. It comes from learning the language, spending time on the land and engaging in creative practices. It also comes from a renewed understanding and desire to learn and take action on the side of settlers, for only when both sides come together, can everyone truly begin to heal.

Besides, the Father Pandosy Mission on the east side of Kelowna, there were no Residential Schools in Kelowna and West Kelowna. However, syilx Okanagan children were still required to attend Residential Schools, often being forcibly removed from their families to attend schools hours away. Specifically, the syilx Okanagan children often attended one of four schools. These schools include Kamloops Indian Residential School, St. Eugene’s, St. Mary’s Mission and Father Pandosy Mission.

Kamloops Residential School

Kamloops Residential School is the largest Residential School in Canada and operated from 1890 to 1969. It continued to run as a residence for Children attending local day schools until its closure in 1978. The School is located on the traditional territory of the Secwepemc peoples, but included First Nations from the Okanagan and other regions as well. Kamloops Residential School was the first Industrial school to open in the West and was run primarily by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, although the federal government took over in 1969. As registration numbers increased throughout the 1900s, the performance and funding of the school deteriorated to the point that there was not enough food for the children living there. Forced registration peaked in the 1950s where approximately 500 children attended the school at one time.

St. Eugene’s Residential School

St. Eugene’s is one of two Residential Schools in which many syilx children attended. It is located on the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation which covers approximately 70000 square kilometres within the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia and historically included parts of Alberta, Montana, Washington and Idaho. St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School operated from 1898 to 1970 in Cranbrook, BC. In 2000, Ktunaxa Nation began the process of converting the Red Brick Schoolhouse in St. Eugene’s Golf Resort and Casino. The property is now fully owned by the Ktunaxa Nation and contains an RV park and an Interpretive Centre. Language, history, and stories are shared, stretching over 10000 years of Ktunaxa history, and guests can walk through the old Residential School and listen to the spirits of the past. A grave of white crosses marks the deaths of many children who died while the school was still in operation. Over 5000 children passed through its doors. To date, St. Eugene’s is Canada’s only Residential School which has been transformed into a resort.

St. Mary’s Mission in Omak, Washington

The Colville Confederate Tribes is one of the eight communities in the trans-boundary tribe of the Okanagan Nation. Located in Omak, Washington, the St. Mary’s Mission operated from 1886 until it was destroyed by fire in 1937. It was established by Father De Rouge and operated under his control until his death in 1916, where he was succeeded by Father Celestine Caldi. Today, it has been rebuilt and runs as an active Catholic mission. There is not much known about the mission and the atrocities that went on there, but in 2010 multiple sexual abuse lawsuits were filed in the state of Washington and Montana against Rev. John Morse. In 2011 there was a $166 million settlement between the Northwest Jesuits and 100s of abuse victims. It is estimated that more then 100 children were sexually abused at the school between the years of 1950s to 1970s.

Father Pandosy Mission

In 1859, Father Charles Pandosy, Father Pierre Richard and Brother Surel of Oblates Mary Immaculate were tasked with establishing a mission in the Okanagan valley. During 1860 a two storey Chapel was built. The first floor was used for religious purposes and the second was used as living quarters. The Mission comprised of over 2000 acres and had upwards of 1700 people living on the land. It was used as the regional headquarters for the Immaculate Conception Mission but by 1906 the Mission ceased operations. By the early 1950s the remaining original Mission buildings were ready for demolition. In 1983 the Father Pandosy Mission site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site and now functions as a museum and historical site in Kelowna, BC.