CMIC file photo
Setting up the first day schools on the native reserves was a difficult transition—demanding for the parents, and for the children alike.
The Department of Indian Affairs in the Canadian Government was in charge of the needs of the Treaty Aboriginals. This included the education of their children.
Since the native peoples were migratory in their hunting way of life, it was deemed necessary to group the children in a residence for the school year. Hence, residential facilities and schools were built. Oftentimes, the parents were far off in the bush year-round, so some children remained in the school residence even in July and August.
It was only about the year 1948 that the Government authorities began to think otherwise.
They set up day schools on the native reserves. This radically changed the way of life of the native people. They were then, expected to keep their children home, and to send them to school daily from 9:00 a.m. on the weekdays. Hence, someone was to stay home with the children of school age.
This was a difficult transition—demanding for the parents, and for the children alike. They were tied to a schedule—unnatural to these nomadic people. They were no longer FREE!
This affected the whole family. No one could “sleep-in” till 10:00 a.m. or any later hour of his or her choice. Some learned to use a machine called an “alarm clock.”
This was a new “toy” in the home: so intriguing, so fascinating in its newness, that it was wound and made to ring, and rewound so often, that it soon broke down! We were, once again back to square one. Repeatedly, children were late for class, once again. The suggestion was given to obtain another good alarm clock (It did ... or it didn’t happen...and how soon....)
At a certain point, the Government promised to give the parents a monthly monetary allowance for each child at school. There was a “catch” in this—the parents received nothing if their child missed more than five days in the month—the only exception was illness.
I was the first teacher of the
Sister Margaret Suntjens, D.W., who served as a missionary sister in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, lives in retirement at
Catholic Missions in Canada Magazine, Winter 2011