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Arrival of Strangers - The Last 500 Years


Residential Schools

I Lost My Talk by Rita Joe

I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.

You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my world.

Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.

So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.

Many Aboriginal parents wanted their children to be educated for economic success. Aboriginal communities often requested day schools, which many children attended. But both Church and government saw residential schools as an opportunity to instruct children in non-Aboriginal culture.

The Department of Indian Affairs provided funds for schools, while the churches provided staff and programs. Children often entered school at age seven and stayed until age sixteen or eighteen, spending only a month each year with their families. The children were forbidden to speak their Aboriginal languages. Discipline was often harsh and at odds with Aboriginal practices. At the end of their schooling, children often returned to families, culturally dislocated. Some children never returned.

Some graduates of residential schools could recall good teachers and warm relationships. But for other graduates, the pain of sexual abuse and cultural loss has overshadowed good intentions and practices. Ironically, some of the strongest Aboriginal leaders and most forceful spokespeople for Aboriginal culture graduated from residential schools.

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