A rare account of native schooling

Like an unwelcome memory of youthful stupidity, the residential-schools scandal keeps coming back to haunt us.

But what do we really know about how the residential schools came to be? Only that First Nations kids were stuffed into them for generations and once inside were sexually, physically and culturally abused.

Emma Crosby and Margaret Butcher shared an unquestioned assumption that white Christians had the right and duty to tear native families apart, to deprive children of their own cultures, and to impose Victorian sexual values on them.

‘Protecting’ the girls was implicitly to protect them from their own sexuality, if necessary by strapping them, overworking them, and malnourishing them. Margaret Butcher routinely kept track of the girls’ periods, and woe betide the girl suspected of being pregnant. In hindsight, we can see the foundations being laid for decades of sexual abuse.

This arrogation of control over their converts’ lives seems to have blinded the missionaries to the harm they were doing, so they could shrug off the natives’ death and suffering as just the price to be paid for progress.

Mothers of a Native Hell
Methodist Mission on the Canadian northwest coast from the 1870s to the turn of the century.