One of the darkest parts of Canadian history is the use of residential schools for native children. Youngsters were removed from their families and homes, forced to wear European style clothing, had their braids cut off, punished for speaking their native language and required to become “civilized.” Children were seriously abused and mistreated. Shockingly, the last residential school didn’t close until the 1990s! The lasting effects of this 100 years of removing children from the cultural and traditional heritage have left the First Nations communities struggling to find, claim, and celebrate their identities, languages, and history.
My Identity Activity
Residential schools were typically horrible, abusive, and destructive places to live. Children had to give up all the things that made their identity and were expected to conform to a set of rules, beliefs, and systems that weren’t theirs. It is incredibly hard to keep a sense of self in a place that won’t let you be you.
The picture above is me. It shows all the things that make me be me. But something isn’t right with this picture…. Let’s talk about it.
Print out a copy of the person outline. Inside the body write down all the words that describe you. Think about what you are to your family and friends – a daughter/son, a brother/sister, etc. What do you believe in? What languages do you speak? What is your cultural history? What are you good at? What do you like to do? After you’ve filled up your person with words about you – colour the person to look like you.
Instruct your child to do the following:
Inside the body write down all the words that describe you. Think about what you are to your family and friends – a daughter/son, a brother/sister, etc. What do you believe in? What languages do you speak? What is your cultural history? What are you good at? What do you like to do? After you’ve filled up your person with words about you – colour the person to look like you.
Now, either take their paper (or have them do this themselves).
Imagine you’ve been taken from your family now and sent away to residential school. Everything about you is no longer allowed. All the things you are good at, all the things you are to other people is not true anymore because you aren’t allowed to be with your family and friends, all the things you believe are forbidden, and you can’t even speak your language anymore.
First, crumble the paper up into a tight ball, then open it up. Rip the page into pieces (but not too small because you will have to put it back together!) Hand it back to your child with a roll of tape. Can they put it back together?
Talk about how that person they are taping together can never be the same again. They are damaged and broken. All the things that made them special and unique and themselves are destroyed. Would it be hard to figure out who you were again if this happened? What if this had happened to you and all your friends? Would you be able to go back to being your old selves ever again?
Discuss ways that someone who didn’t have this happen could help. How can you support someone who is this damaged?
Want to read some books on reconciliation? Here is a list of 10 books about residential schools to read with your kids.