Canada’s Darkest Secret
Al Jazeera (2017)
Film ReviewThis documentary concerns Canada’s infamous “boarding schools,” a program for indigenous Canadian children started in 1876 by Canada’s first prime minister John McDonald. Under this system, native children were forcibly removed (and in some cases kidnapped) from their families to attend religious boarding schools. The goal was to forcibly totally separate the children’s from their families’ native language and culture.
The government wanted access to mineral deposits on treaty lands. Rather than going to war with their indigenous population, they stole their children to extinguish them as communities and nations.
The last boarding school closed in 1996.
Most of the film consists of interviews with boarding school survivors. They talk of being forbidden to speak their native language, harsh beatings for minor infractions, a continuous diet of mushy oatmeal, lack of heating in winter and frequent sexual abuse. The death rate for children who attended these boarding schools was 24-40%.
In 1980, a group of boarding school survivors began a long court action that in 2008 resulted in the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The goal of the TRC hearings, which went on for seven years, was for boarding school survivors to document their years of abuse and trauma for posterity.