This well-written book, based on extensive archival research in Canadian libraries and archives, will help the reader understand Indian Industrial Schools in Canada. While many readers will benefit from reading about the Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS), operated by The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), I recommend this book for senior high school and university students.
From archival documents, reports and entries from the school’s newspaper, the Progress, we read about the opening of the school in 1891, hiring of the first staff, securing the first students and other events until the school’s closure in 1910. We catch a glimpse of student life as the students learned various trades including farming, printing, harness and shoe making for boys and homemaking and nursing for girls. Stewart’s research also highlights what The PCC hoped to accomplish in operating industrial schools. One example is in a letter from Principal McLeod (1891-1900) to the Deputy Superintendent General of the Department of Indian Affairs. McLeod writes: “all influences should be used to break up the reservation and tribal systems” and that “we teach our pupils that they are to continue to love their parents, but perhaps they can show love in a more tangible way by becoming useful industrious citizens by the side with the white man…it [being] their duty to God and the Government to become such persons” (pp. 56-57). Great emphasis was placed on religious training resulting in 72 boys and girls (pp. 64) being admitted to The PCC by profession of faith from 1891-1898.
The Proper Name Index will assist individuals looking for specific names of students and Appendix IV indicates the First Nations from which RIIS students came. Appendix II lists the names of students who died while at school and are likely buried in the School Cemetery, which was given a municipal heritage designation in 2016 followed by provincial heritage status in July 2017.
It is estimated that 20% of RIIS students who were enrolled between 1891-1910 died (pp. 30), many from tubercular diseases, while at school or shortly after being discharged. Principal Sinclair (1901-04) believed that student death and illness was the main reason for parental reluctance to send students to RIIS. In 1903, the Reverend W. S. Moore, a missionary at Mistawasis condemned the RIIS citing reports of students being abused. Further, Moore noted that when he served at Muscowpetung near Fort Qu’Appelle he sent 20 children to the RIIS, 17 of which “died at the school or left it in a dieing condition” (pp. 79).
According to Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “all children buried in this or in any other residential school cemetery in Canada – regardless of their race or ethnicity – are deemed to be casualties of the government’s residential school system” (pp.32-33).
Prior to reading this book I was unaware of the extent of illness and death in residential and industrial schools. I believe that we in the churches should erect memorials on the school grounds or cemeteries with as many names of children available so that the children are never forgotten. We might also consider similar ways to honour the First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities that sent children to the schools never to see them again.
*Douglas Stewart, the author of “The Regina Indian Industrial School (1891-1910)” is a member of The PCC’s Healing and Reconciliation Advisory Committee. This book is available to order through Benchmark Press.
Review by Mary Jane Hanson, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon