What We Learned From A Virtual Tour of The Woodland Cultural Centre
Last week I attended a webinar hosted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation regarding the monstrosities that occurred in Canadian Residential Schools. We had the opportunity to take part in a virtual tour of the Woodland Cultural Centre. I had been prepared for it to be bad. But it was even worse than one could imagine.
Hearing the specific dehumanizing acts that were done to children, left me feeling faint. As a human, the name you are given holds significance to your identity. One of the first dehumanizing acts within these “schools” were the confiscation of their names, replaced with a number. Similar to other camps within history, these children were identified by numbers. Since the purpose of these camps was to assimilate and isolate the children, these numbers ensured that families were separated. This denied them the ability to comfort each other in an already terrifying environment. These children were also routinely punished for speaking their native language. One method they tortured the children was to push needles through their tongue if they spoke their native language.
The day-to-day treatments are human rights violations in and of itself. They were fed porridge every day, which they referred to as mush. The children were extremely malnourished. The storage of the food was not the best and worms made their way into food packaging. The children were fed meals even if they had worms going through them. The girls were only allowed to bathe and change their clothes once a week. Even the bathing that did take place, was 35-40 girls sharing one tub that was only filled once, forcing them all to bathe in each other’s filth. Their bedrooms were controlled to ensure limited access to the washrooms. If accidents happened, the girls would be scalded in the shower, and the boys would be put in the boiler room. It was within these boiler rooms that the children would be sexually assaulted so that no one would hear them call for help. The girls, along with undergoing hardship as a resident in those schools, did labour, working in the laundry room. They stitched for other staff and students. Sexual abuse also took place in laundry room because it was loud and no one would hear the children begging for help.
The level of dehumanization intensified when they used the children to test pharmaceutical medicines. Consequently many children got sick. They would also test food for the army, measuring food rations and what would be needed for survival. These realities prove that the schools were worse than assimilation. They treated the children like perishable goods. The children would get sick which would easily spread to the rest of the children. All the severely ill would share 2-3 beds. The most heart-breaking thing would be that the parents would only be informed if their child was about to pass away. There is one story in particular that stood out: A father came to pick up his 5-year old who contracted tuberculosis. She passed away as he came to pick her up. He took her body away in his wagon.
As Canadians we need to acknowledge our role in the settler colonialism and genocide of the Indigenous Peoples. We need to learn these stories and amplify the voices of the Indigenous who have been silenced for more than 500 years.