ARCHIVES DE LA SOCIÉTÉ HISTORIQUE DE SAINT-BONIFACE, FONDS OBLATS DE MARIE-IMMACULÉE DE LA PROVINCE DU MANITOBA/DÉLÉGATION SHSB 23105
A class of girls learn to sew, knit, weave and keep house at the Qu'Appelle Industrial School in 1892.
The Qu'Appelle Industrial School in Lebret, Sask., was likely as close as any of the residential schools to being a success.
The founder of the school, Oblate Father Joseph Hugonnard, encouraged the use of aboriginal languages, allowed substantial contact between the students and their extended families, started brass bands and team sports, set up an apprentice program in which older students worked with nearby settlers, and even helped establish an agricultural colony for graduates.
Hugonnard, founder and principal of the school from 1884 to his death in 1917, saw the preservation of the mother tongue of students as a crucial element in helping students learn and stay with the Catholic faith.
Catechism lessons at the school were taught in Cree and Sioux, and an annual retreat for students was conducted in Saulteaux, the languages of the four nearby reserves from which the school drew its students.
Cree was also often the main language of classroom instruction, at least when the teachers had learned it. Lessons were taught first in Cree, then in English. Hugonnard also published a Cree-English primer for use at the school.
Aware of the importance of the extended family for First Nations people, he broke the government rules that said only parents could visit students and also allowed visits from other relatives. He built a porch and then a special room in order to receive the relatives.
The school's hospitality was also extended to providing the occasional meal for visitors. A federal government official who visited the school in 1891 complained about the number of aboriginal people encouraged "to hang around the school."
The school was situated on an extensive 509-acre site which enabled it to provide outdoor activities and a large garden to feed the students and staff.
Despite its many benefits, historian Raymond Huel said the term "success" could only be used in a very relative way for the Qu'Appelle School.
Parents were very reluctant to send their children. They believed the Oblates and the Grey Nuns who worked at the school would work their children too hard and inflict corporal punishment.
ARCHIVES DE LA SOCIÉTÉ HISTORIQUE DE SAINT-BONIFACE, FONDS OBLATS DE MARIE-IMMACULÉE DE LA PROVINCE DU MANITOBA/DÉLÉGATION SHSB 23103
Boys at the Qu'Appelle Industrial School in 1890 had their own cricket team.
They didn't want their children blowing into long tubes (musical instruments) or to be given European medicines. The parents also believed that because their sons would wear pants at the school, they would become soldiers. They thought Baptism would kill their children and that if their children adopted white ways, they would be separated from their parents in the after-life.
Parents feared that it would be degrading to their children to learn the habits and religion of the white settlers and would be counter to "the desires of the Great Spirit who had provided Indians with an origin, religion and destiny different from that of whites."
Some parents only sent their children to the school on the conditions that they didn't become Christians or soldiers, have their hair cut or be sent to other countries.
However, the vast majority of the children were baptized after receiving considerable catechism teaching.
As well, in the first eight years of the school's operation, 50 students died and an estimated one-half of the students did not live long enough to benefit from their education. Unfamiliar food and confinement in stuffy buildings was seen as a major cause of students' poor health.
However, tuberculosis, influenza and whooping cough were already causing many deaths on nearby reserves prior to the Oblates' arrival in the region in 1874. With the near-extinction of the buffalo, aboriginal people were starving by 1884.
The industrial school, according to Huel's book, Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indian and Metis, was "an artificial, cultural creation unwanted by the local majority but maintained by the power and influence of the alien minority."
Recruitment was slow in the early days of the Qu'Appelle school. At its opening, it had only one student from among the roughly 300 children on the four reserves. Hugonnard cast a wider net and, by March, got the number up to 25.
The school continued to grow and, by 1914, had 280 students. By 1961, when the school closed its doors, 3,380 native children had studied there. There was great resistance to attending the Oblate-run school. In 1915, the police had to be called in 15 times to force children to attend the school.
Huel recounts one incident in 1909 while Hugonnard was on a recruiting trip for students, when a woman lunged at him with a knife. Meanwhile, her two children, who were in the house, broke a window and escaped into the woods.
Jacqueline Gresko, an historian who researched daily life at the school, called the Qu'Appelle School "a model Catholic educational facility."
Gresko maintained that the school helped preserve aboriginal culture, helped its students develop a sense of a pan-Indian culture and also to resist efforts at assimilation.
Conclusions about the effects of residential schools are overly generalized, she said, due to a lack of studies focused on specific schools.
Huel was less sanguine about the effect of even the best of the schools. "There is no doubt that attendance at industrial schools produced a frightening experience for native students as well as a sharp contrast with the world which they had known."