A Residential School Legacy Essay
From the late 1800s to the 1980s, more than 100,000 First Nations children in Canada attended residential schools (Llewellyn, 2008, p. 258).2 To attend these schools, children were taken away from their families and communities. At the schools, the children suffered from emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse (Steckley & Cummins, 2001, p. 191). The worst abuses were often used as punishment for speaking their indigenous languages (Petten, 2007, p. 22). The imposition of residential schools on First Nations children has led to significant loss of indigenous languages, and this language loss has led to further cultural losses for traditional First Nations cultures in Canada.
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This loss of indigenous languages caused by residential schools affected traditional family and community relationships. First, children’s loss of their ability to speak their mother tongue affected their relationships within the family. As residential school survivor and researcher Isabelle Knockwood observed, it “drove a wedge between family members,” even between siblings at the same school (1992, p. 100). For example, a residential school survivor, Freda Simon, told of arriving at a residential school speaking only her mother tongue to find that her sister, who had been taken to the school two years earlier, could no longer speak their language (as cited in Knockwood, 1992, p. 100). This example shows that even at the schools, family members were separated due to language loss. When children went back to their communities, they were unable to communicate with parents and elders. They felt “suspended in limbo” (Knockwood, 1992, p. 158). As a result, the early survivors of residential schools were unable to develop bonds with older members of their communities and were unable to learn the traditional ways of their people through “songs, games, stories and ceremonies” (Blair,