Inuit Residential Schools silenced by the Canadian government

10 min readOct 8, 2020
A groups of children, nuns and Inuit men in front of Port Harrison (Inukjuak) Federal Hostel

I’m sure many of you haven’t heard of Inuit residential schools, as it hasn’t been one of Canada’s highlights in their History. I only learned of this couple of days ago, and after hearing what happened in these schools, I felt very disgusted 🤢. It’s because Canada keeps ignoring the victims, who have suffered from mental trauma. The missionaries arrived in the northern territories of Canada around in the 1860s and were known to be very cruel, didn’t actually represent Christian values. But, it was only as early as the 1950s when children were forced to attend Res. schools.

After World War II , the Canadian government began to assert sovereignty over the Arctic. Since Inuits tribes lived in that area, Catholic missionaries believed they were “excommunicated” or primitive, meaning they didn’t share the same Christian values, which were considered the norm. In my opinion, this is very contrary to Canada’s belief in secularism and religious freedom, as over 3000 Inuit children were assimilated into western culture. Apart from that, the kids were stripped of their native tongue, sexually abused, endured hard labour, beatings and forced to adopt Christianity and learn English. I felt grossed out when reading about these incidents, and sometimes my stomach would churn. This is because, as a minority, I can relate to how assimilation and racial abuse feels like.

What are Inuit Residential Schools ?

An artwork describing residential schools. It shows the nun taking away Indigenous children to a dark place

The residential schools were “special” boarding schools only made for indigenous people. There were approximately 35 Inuit residential schools made across the three territories of Canada, but some of them were hostels, where only students would reside and eat. And yes, some Inuit students had to travel from their schools to a hostel(inlets), where small children would spend their night with nuns. Even though northern residential schools were last to come, its impact was the most damaging 🤕. The numbers make my skin crawl, but over 50% of Inuit peoples aged 45 years confessed to attending these schools in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, according to stats Canada.

Something that infuriates me even more 😡, almost all Inuit children that attended residential schools are separated from their parents and communities. Amongst all Indigenous groups, Inuit kids had to travel the most, as each child travelled thousands of kilometres for up to 10 days just to attend school. I can’t believe the traumatic experience the children and parents might have gone through when missionaries took your child to boarding schools at such a young age. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if I was in their situation 😣. This forced many Inuit communities to move near these residential schools, which was detrimental to their way of life and economy.

Inuit children being forced to say religious prayers before going to bed

The parents were essentially told their children would go to the res. schools to “learn” and become “educated” to thrive in the real world. Contrary to belief, there wasn’t much learning being done. Religion would often come before learning(science, math, drama) in these schools. Kids were forced to sing prayers before going to bed. Some people described Inuit residential schools more like correctional centres rather than schools. I wouldn’t be able to live without any freedom, as kids were patrolled by the nuns. Boys and girls were separated, meals were mundane, children couldn’t leave their beds at night, not allowed to speak the native tongue and many more. If the children would misbehave, boys would shine the floors with mitts on their feet and would pretend if they were skating on ice. Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott would describe residential schools to be a humanitarian crisis 😳 and a cultural genocide.

Life at Inuit Residential Schools

Inuit Residential school pupils forced into harsh labour, chopping wood to build housing

I would describe the experience attending Inuit Residential school to be a dark, scary and horrible place, which the people live for future generations. These were one of the only groups of residential schools to force children to do hard labour, alongside other harsh activities in school. I would think child labour would happen in a 3rd world country, but never would I’ve thought Canada engaged in these activities. Instead of learning, boys would do most of the manual labour such as chop wood, blacksmithing and carpentry. Girls were seen sewing, weaving, knitting and housekeeping. If the kids didn’t meet the expectations of the nuns, they were often tied to a jail cell and beaten until they bled.

Apart from those schools, they were often made with low budgets with no sanitation. This led to the spread of many diseases like typhoid and TB amongst children, as they were malnourished, suffered from type 2 diabetes and obesity. A study done by NUNATSIAQ NEWS showed that Inuit children were much healthier before attending res. schools. According to Elder Piita Irniq- Chesterfield Inlet residential school survivor says they ate caribou, seal growing up, but when he attended school, they mostly gave them porridge. They also fed them frozen pieces of beef, which I don’t even know why they were served solid 🤨?

“It tasted horrible, just horrible,” Irniq said. “I think their idea was that since we ate frozen char at home we would be used to frozen meat. But would you eat frozen cow beef from the South?”

Children at Inuit residential school are forced to spell “Hello”

Emotionally children were scared in these schools, as they often felt lonely as they didn’t know anyone. English was a second language and learning it was mandatory, so communicating amongst students was difficult. Many of the nuns in the Northern schools didn’t speak the Inuit language, therefore, they didn’t understand what the children were speaking. Due to this, kids were punished harshly, beaten with scissors and ears were pulled. Other punishments included stripping naked and taking a bath in extremely cold or hot water, which would leave burn marks.

Since child neglect was institutionalized, lack of supervision made children susceptible to sexual and physical abusers. 52% of Inuit women survivors reported they were sexually raped in Residential schools by priests and nuns. There were overall 10,500 sexual act cases that are claimed by many survivors. The beating was extremely harsh, as Inuit school priest would ask students to take off their gloves and would hit their hands. This would play a major part in the child development of the brain and would leave them with PTSD. Whenever I ever read about these incidents I feel like vomiting,🤮and a deep sorrow fills my mind.

Impact on children and second generation

Fort George residential school student cemetery

Life at these residential schools was hard, and often children would attempt suicide, die sickness or while attempting to escape. Inuit schools had the highest number of deaths, with 426 children died, and 110 went missing according to school records. The immense pain and suffering lead to children wanting to escape, but they didn’t know where home was, and most of the time, they would freeze to death. What pains me the most😡 is that parents never received the bodies of their dead children, as they were buried on school premises and never told. Suicide inside the schools was common as depression, anxiety and fear were instilled in the kids.

Violet Beaulieu was a survivor in N.W.T, who almost died in Residential school due to disease and sickness. She suffered from influenza, as she went to the hospital 5 times. The quality of healthcare in residential schools was poor, which is why there were many deaths. She never received any medication when she was in the “hospital.”

“I was one of them that almost died,” said Violet Beaulieu, 83, a former residential school student who lives in Fort Resolution, N.W.T. “There were five of us in the hospital,” she said. “Three of them passed. I pulled through. There were a lot of others that we didn’t know.” “I never had any examinations,” she said. “I never got any medication, just bed rest.”(CBC NEWS)

Andy Thomas Evaloakjuk visits local cemetery and dances to mend the pain of the deaths of many Inuit youth due to the rise in a suicide epidemic

Those who did survive residential school would often suffer from PTSD and substance uses. Many of them were also alienated from their communities, as they’ve lost their language skills and traditional identity. Only 30,000 people are recognized to be able to fluently speak the Inuit language- Inuktitut and are considered a dying language. Drug abuse and alcohol consumption has also significantly increased in Inuit territories.

Currently, in Nunavut and North-West Territories, there is a youth suicide epidemic. This is due to intergenerational trauma, which has affected many of the second generation Inuit community. The death related to suicide is highest in the Northern territories than in any other place in Canada. According to the Globe and Mail, there’s currently a suicide epidemic occurring in Inuit communities. Inuit youth(age 15–24) is 11 times more likely to die of suicide and self-injury than other Canadian youth, and this happened when suicide rates were declining in Canada. There’s a high use of cannabis and alcohol in these regions. It was used to mend past sexual abuse and depression.

Indigenous leader Jack hicks says “It’s huge. It’s absolutely huge. There’s no way to downplay the impact that suicide has on life here. And it’s a big priority of many people — including the [Nunavut] government and the Inuit organization NTI — to make a difference,” Jack Hicks said in an interview from Iqaluit. “Imagine if Prince Edward Island or Saskatchewan over the course of a generation … suddenly had their youth suicide rate rise to 30 times the national average. What would that do to the society?”

I can’t believe that an entire community of people are taking their lives each day due to residential schools. I couldn’t, how someone would feel if their community was going through such an epidemic. The Canadian government should have programs in Nunavut & NWT to help children suffering from depression.British Colonialism in India & Hindu Bangladeshi Genocide

Referring to how British colonist looted Indian settlements and traditions, as in Hindi the word ‘loot’ means to steal

Inuits weren’t the only ones affected by colonialism, it happened in South Africa, Australia and India, where my parents are from. The British first landed in modern-day Surat, Gujarat in, 1612. The first set up the East India Company in Calcutta(formerly known as Kolkata), where they would trade spices, cotton, tea, opium and silk. Just like the Inuit people, Indians were friendly to the British and would often look forward to trade with them. However, they took advantage of use when they learned our country was separated into different kingdoms. Most Inuit communities were separated into distinct tribes. In India, there were several kingdoms with distinct kings, languages, values & morals.

Indian mutiny with British in 1857

In 1857, India revolted against the East India Company. The members of the company would set up offices and took over the entire economy of India. With this power, they began to attack annex land from various kings across India. They sexually abused the women, stole gold, ebony and quartz from the various places and religious sites. I’ve realized a pattern that wherever the British goes, they steal from culture and rule over the people. They did bring the English language with them, and the Christian religion, but most Indians weren’t forced to take part in these cultures, Apart from missionaries converting a few groups of Indians into Christians during the British rule.

After India revolted, the British Empire took a large step by establishing the British Raj. Their rule would last until the independence of Indian in 1947. During their rule, Indians would essentially become second-class citizens, and they would govern over 300 million Indians. They divided the population, as wealthy Indians would be able to join the British government and learn in “English Medium Schools”. My great grandfather worked for the British Royal Mint in Kolkata. Assimilation in the communities was limited, but still did exist. Many children would speak English at school and Hindi, Bengali or Punjabi at home. They did influence the caste system in the Hindu religion, creating almost a bureaucratic system.

Rise of India flag on Independence day on July 18, 1947

In 1947, India would finally become a self-governing nation, with the help of Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, who were all very patriotic. This, however, did create a division amongst Bengali’s and Punjabi’s due to the partition act.

This picture shows the atrocities committed by the Pakistan Liberation Front in 1971, during the Hindu Bangladeshi Genocide

My dad’s family is originally from East Bengal(during British Rule) or current day Bangladesh. When the partition occurred, Pakistan claimed East Bangladesh due to many Muslims living there and a small population of Hindus. In 1971, when Bangladesh became Independence, a Bangladeshi genocide occurred against the Hindu minorities in Bangladesh, where the Pakistan Liberation army killed 2.4 million Hindus and destroyed their homes and business. This created the migration of 600,000 Bangladeshi refugees to come into West Bengal in India. My grandfather was one of them who survived the genocide and left everything and ran away to Kolkata, India. This part of Bangladeshi and Indian history rarely speaks about. Due to this, I feel the pain and connect with Inuit people and Indigenous people who also went through the genocidal issue. Currently, in Bangladesh, there are very few Hindu populations.