Indigenous Justice

Indian Residential Schools (Full Article)

The Diocese of New Westminster and

the Indian Residential Schools System

Updated by Melanie Delva, Archivist, Diocese of New Westminster, Ecclesiastical Province of BC and Yukon - June 25th, 2014. (For additional information please visit the Truth and Reconciliation section of the Anglican Church of Canada's website)

The Diocese of New Westminster has had a long relationship with First Nations people on whose land it settled. The relationship has been made very complicated by the damages done to First Nations peoples through the systemic evil of the residential schools.  In very complex ways, this systemic evil was able to corrupt even the best of Christian intentions and has left a legacy of injustice activated by complex and conflicting motivations. Even before the Diocese of New Westminster was founded and the lower mainland of British Columbia was still part of the wider Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, Bishop George Hills wrote often in his diary of the plight of the “Indians” he encountered on his travels.  He was very distressed to witness the negative effects that the white settlers were having on the First Nations population – including the introduction of alcohol and slavery of the women.  On his visit to one local First Nations village in 1860, he wrote; “Here was misery. This misery the Indian knew not til the white man came”.  Though he had great compassion for the suffering of the First Nations peoples of his Diocese, Bishop Hills was a man of his time who brought with him an abundance of assumptions about and condescension towards First Nations peoples. He believed the solution to be the “Christianization” of the First Nations people and the education of their children to be more like Europeans so that they could assimilate into a rapidly changing colonized world.  

However, it was not until after the Diocese of New Westminster was officially formed in 1879 and Acton Windeyer Sillitoe was consecrated as its first bishop that any further action was taken in that regard. While Bishop Sillitoe did enjoy potlatches, learned Chinook jargon and a few words in local languages in order to preach and communicate, he was very suspicious of the traditional ways of the First Nations peoples – particularly their spirituality – and took active steps to replace shamans and medicine men with missionary doctors, and to place missionaries and churches wherever possible to convert them to the faith.  Like his predecessor, Sillitoe, recognized that there was great suffering amongst the First Nations peoples within his young diocese, and struggled with what might alleviate it. His wife Violet wrote; "I used sometimes to think that the Indians were nearer to [the Bishop's] heart than any other members of his flock.".  In the 1880’s, Sillitoe even criticized the federal government's treatment of First Nations as a "policy of promises… as unsafe as it is unjust…as cruel as it is short-sighted." 

All Hallows, Yale

Like Bishop Hills, Sillitoe believed that the answer was the assimilation of First Nations people into European religion and culture. He dreamed of a school which would education First Nations children so that they could return to their communities as well-equipped teachers and leaders. He appealed to the Sisters of the Community of All Hallows, Ditchingham, and they answered the call by sending The Rev. Henry Edwardes and three of the Ditchingham Sisters by steamer across the Atlantic.  The reverend and sisters arrived in New York in October of 1884 and travelled across the continent to Yale, BC in order to set up a school for girls called All Hallows. The school housed both white European and First Nations girls, with anywhere from 50-90 girls in residence at a time over the years.  At one point, the school was so full that students had to be turned away.  The school was divided into the “Indian Mission School” and the “Canadian Boarding School”.  The latter was for white, European girls – predominantly daughters of prominent settlers and clergy.  The school was a source of great pride to the bishop and wider diocese.  It was looked upon locally and further afield as a shining example of the education and integration of First Nations children. 

Together but Separate

The European girls had a full course of study which prepared them for the McGill University Matriculation Exams, the Royal Academy of Music exams and the Royal Drawing School.  On the other hand, the First Nations girls received instruction in domestic work and were expected to assist with the “household duties”, including cooking and cleaning.  They were therefore required to get up an hour earlier than their European counterparts in order to complete their work before morning chapel.  While in the early days, the European and First Nations girls did mix, due to pressure and criticism from the white settler community, the girls were segregated in all things except chapel services, where they attended together but sat separately.  Former students of All Hallows Canadian School later recounted that the First Nations girls were treated as servants to the European girls.

Diocesan Support for All Hallows 

Although the school was run by the Sisters of All Hallows and received annual grants from the Dominion Government, the Anglican Church of the Diocese of New Westminster was heavily involved and listed the school amongst their institutions.  Bishop Sillitoe sought out and negotiated the acquisition of a property for the school, and the finances were raised by the Bishop, clergy and laity in the Diocese from patrons within the Diocese and overseas.  The Diocesan Bishop was named Visitor to the school, and all reports on the school were sent to the bishop who included them in Diocesan quarterly newsletters and Diocesan Synods.  The local Archdeacon was Chaplain to the school and visited often, sometimes filling in as a teacher when the Sisters were ill.  The Bishop also visited often - dedicating the buildings and performing confirmation services.

Ending and Beginning

Due to the financial constraints created by the First World War, the “Canadian School” at Yale closed in September of 1915.  The “Indian School” continued, with the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel in New England (the New England Company) offering to relocate it to Lytton with the St. George’s Indian Residential School.  This occurred in 1917, whereafter the Sisters of All Hallows returned to England.

St. George’s School, Lytton

Having achieved success with All Hallows School in Yale, Bishop Sillitoe turned his attention to the other “Indian Mission” in the Diocese of New Westminster: the Cariboo Indian Mission District which was based in Lytton.  His dream was to build an industrial school for First Nations boys there, but his death in 1894 – shortly after conducting his last service in Lytton – prevented him from seeing the school become a reality.

His successor Bishop John Dart carried on with his vision.  He saw that the First Nations people had suffered a great injustice with colonization, and he believed that educating First Nations children was a sort of reparation.  He wrote; "We ought never to forget what we owe to the Indian population.  We took their land, and in a way, ousted them out of their homes, and the least we can do is to educate their children, and bring them up in habits of religion and order and general usefulness".   

From Vision to Reality

Although a site for the proposed Indian Boys’ School was selected by the Diocesan Synod Committee as early as 1897, funds were slow in coming, and repeated applications for grants from the Indian Affairs Department were denied or conditional.  A memorial seeking support was even sent by the Diocesan Committee to the Governor-General.  Finally in 1900, the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel in New England (the New England Company) offered to pay for the construction of the school, and in July of 1901, Mr. Harry Moody – one of the Council of the New England Company – arrived from England with the authority and task to deal with all matters connected to the building of St. George’s.  It was agreed that the New England Company would assume “the sole management of the institution, as one attached to the Church of England, with the Bishop as Visitor”.   Shortly thereafter, the federal Indian Department of the Dominion Government agreed to a $130/pupil grant for the education of First Nations boys at the school.  The school was built in 1902 and called the Lytton Indian Boys’ Industrial School and later St. George’s Indian Boy’s School.  Its first principal was the Rev. George Ditcham – an Anglican priest and licensed to the post by Bishop Dart.  Part of the 696 acres of land was kept as a farm and the boys laboured in the wheat and corn fields and tended to the cattle.  The crops and dairy products were sold locally to provide extra income for the school. 

Early Growth

Attendance at St. George’s grew rapidly as the century progressed – in part due to the transfer of girls from the newly-closed school of All Hallows, Yale, and in part due to the 1920 Residential School Policy on the part of the federal government which demanded compulsory attendance of First Nations children aged 7-15.  The late 1910’s and early 1920’s saw a difference of opinion and growing tension between the then-principal and the New England Company.  Unlike other Anglican Residential Schools, St. George’s largest source of funding was based entirely overseas, and without being able to see the conditions and fully understand the needs, repeated requests to the New England Company for more funds and supplies were denied.  Outbreaks of both measles and influenza wreaked havoc on the school. Many students fell ill and some died – resulting in the quarantining of the school for a time.  As the school began to run at a deficit, in 1922 the New England Company arranged with the Department of Indian Affairs that the Department would assume responsibility for the school, though the New England Company would continue to issue an annual grant.  The agreement stipulated that Anglican clergymen were to be appointed principals and Christian teaching maintained.  In 1928 the New England Company sold the lands to the federal government and a new school building was built – opening in 1928 and reflecting the modern, institutional style of the time. 

The school continued to grow through the 1930’s and 1940’s and by the 1950’s the population of the school had exceeded its capacity.  By 1969 the Government of Canada took over all other church-run residential schools and the Anglican Church was no longer officially involved in the school system.  That said, in practice, Anglican clergy continued to be appointed as principals of the school until it closed in 1979.

School Oversight

Of note is that in 1913 the Diocese of New Westminster was divided and St. George’s Lytton became part of the new Diocese of Cariboo.  However, the basis of division acted upon in the creation of the Diocese of Cariboo meant that a bishop could not be elected until sufficient funds were in place.  Thus, until 1924 when the first episcopal election was held in the Diocese of Cariboo, the Bishop of New Westminster maintained jurisdiction over Cariboo – including St. George’s Residential School.  Even after the Diocese of Cariboo was fully operational and had jurisdiction over the school, the Diocese of New Westminster maintained a relationship with the school through the Anglican principals ,financial grants and parcels from the Women’s Auxiliary, and local parishes who “sponsored” individual students.

Legacy

In the last few decades, the truth of the impact of the Indian Residential Schools System has begun to be unveiled through the brave testimony of survivors and former students.  While some students had a very positive experience and felt loved and cared for in the schools, many experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and all experienced a profound loss of culture and identity.  Some went missing from the schools and have not been found. Some lost their very lives.  The system itself was based inherently on racism and the desire to assimilate First Nations children into the dominant European settler culture and “kill the Indian in the child”. The trauma has been both experienced by and passed down through generations of survivors and former students.   Though the Anglican Church involvement may have begun with good intentions, involvement in the schools is involvement in a legacy of systemic racism and damage to First Nations peoples.

The Journey Continues

In May of 2006, the Diocese of New Westminster signed the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, together with other church entities who ran residential schools and the Government of Canada.  The settlement was in response to class action lawsuits filed by former students and survivors of residential schools in Canada for loss of culture and language and abuses suffered in the schools and its goal was to “to develop a holistic, fair and lasting resolution of the legacy of Indian Residential Schools”.  Part of the Agreement stipulated the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation commission, which is mandated to tell the story of the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system through both survivor statement-gathering, national and regional events, and collection of documents from archives of signatory bodies.

The Diocese of New Westminster, in response to the financial requirements of the Agreement, launched a campaign called “Honouring our Commitment” which challenged each parish in the Diocese to raise a portion of the total funds required to fulfill the Diocesan obligation. The parishes of the Diocese rose mightily to the challenge, and some of the smallest parishes even surpassed their target amount!

Both the Diocese of New Westminster and the Provincial Synod of BC & Yukon have been extremely active in the Truth and Reconciliation process.  In addition to the Honouring our Commitment campaign, clergy and the bishop have attended hearings where survivors tell their stories and Anglican representatives witness the stories and offer an individual apology to the survivor.  The Archives also took part in a pilot project with the TRC to collect records pertaining to the schools, and to help locate students who went missing from the schools.  Finally many hundreds of Anglicans attended and volunteered for the TRC National Event held in Vancouver in the fall of 2013.  Anglicans knitted prayer shawls to be given to survivors and also baked hundreds of cupcakes as part of the celebration in honour of all the birthdays that were overlooked during the residential schools era.

All of this is important and a good start, but the journey of healing and reconciliation between the church and First Nations peoples is ongoing and requires a continual commitment to wrestle with issues of truth, justice, and how both individuals’ and culture’s best intentions can go so profoundly awry.