Aboriginal children herded like cattle onto ‘train of tears’

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
During the Second World War Nazi Germany would herd Jewish people like cattle and load them into train cars heading to concentration camps with just the clothes on their backs.

They didn’t know where the train was going and they didn’t have a choice.

When they arrived they had identification numbers tattooed on them.

At the same time, the Canadian government was doing something similar across the country with Aboriginal children.

Large trucks would pull up on reserves and haul kids to residential schools.

“The cattle trucks come on the reserve, and scoop up the kids to go, and seeing my cousins cry, and then, and they were put on these trucks, and hauled off, and we didn’t know where,” recalled Shirley Leon who attended a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. during the 1940s.

Leon’s story is one of dozens chronicled in “The Survivors Speak” book released Tuesday by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Sam Ross fought like hell to stay off the cattle trucks when it arrived to take him and his brothers from their home in northern Manitoba to Prince Albert, Sask.

“They took us out to the truck; all four of us. My other two brothers walked to the truck. But me and my late, younger brother, we fought all the way, right up, right to the station, train station,” said Ross.

Benjamin Joseph Lafford remembers having no food and no clothes when the Indian agent or RCMP took him away.

“So when the train came, they put us on … every station we stopped at, there was children, Native children,” said Lafford who was taken the Shubenacadie school in Nova Scotia.

Larry Beardy described his first train trip that took him Churchill, Man. to the Anglican school in Dauphin, Man 1,200 km away.

“There was a lot of crying on that train. At every stop … children will get on the train, and then there’d be more crying, and everybody started crying, all the way to Dauphin, and that’s how it was,” said Beardy. “That train I want to call that train of tears, and a lot anger and frustration.”

For many, their trip to a residential school started with a letter delivered by a priest.

One recalled being taken away without their parent’s knowing – ripped from a playground by the RCMP.

If parents fought the RCMP or Indian agents the father was threatened with jail.

Others said their parents enrolled them in the schools because the local priest convinced them the children would be better off with an education, clothes and food.

On the first day of school for Lynda Pahpasay she was given an identification number.

“We were taken upstairs, said Pahpasay of her Catholic school in Kenora, Ont. “They gave us some clothing and they put number on our clothes. I remember there’s little tags in the back, they put numbers, and they told us that was your number. Well, I can’t remember my number.”

She was then washed and her hair was cut short. Her brother’s hair was cut completely off.

Verna Kirkness said she stripped and had something poured on her head upon arrival at the Dauphin school.

“It was coal oil, or some, some kind of oil, and they poured it on my head,” said Kirkness.

School life became regimented for the children who say they were programmed.

“We had to line up to go to the toilet, line up to go wash, line up to go take a shower, line up to go play, line up to go school, eat,” said John B. Custer.

They also weren’t allowed to speak their own language.

Survivor’s describe wanting to kill themselves and running away from the abuse they suffered – physical and sexual.

Larry Beardy said the students, between eight and 10-years-old, at the Dauphin school finally rebelled.

“We started to notice a lot of my colleagues running way, and, and every time somebody ran away, the whole dorm would get physically strapped by the principal of that school … we ransacked the whole dorm. We went violent,” said Beardy.

The stories of sexual abuse are documented in the survivor’s book. One recalled being abused by staff and students at the Alberni school.

“I was taken out night after night after night. And that went on until I was about twelve years old. And it was several of the male supervisors plus a female,” she said. “It was in the dorm; it was in their room; in was in the carport; it was in his car; it was in the gym; the back of the crummy that took us on road trips; the public school; the change room.”

There’s been 45 successful prosecutions of physical and sexual abuse at the schools.

– Five things to know about the TRC:

1. The commission was established as part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which also included money to pay for the commission’s work.

2. The commission is led by Justice Murray Sinclair, Manitoba’s first Aboriginal justice. The other commissioners are Marie Wilson, a journalist, university lecturer and former senior manager at several Crown corporations; and Chief Wilton Littlechild, a lawyer and former Progressive Conservative MP.

3. The group is charged with collecting testimony from residential school survivors and compiling their stories into a comprehensive historical record of the schools aimed at educating all Canadians about the residential schools and their legacy.

4. The records of the commission, including recollections from 6,200 former students, many of whom spoke on video, with be kept and managed by the National Research Centre on Indian Residential Schools at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, where they will be publicly accessible.

5. Residential schools operated for about 150 years, with an estimated 150,000 Aboriginal children spending time in them. At the height of the residential-school era, the federal government supported 130 such schools. There are an estimated 80,000 survivors of the schools who are still alive.

– A look at the numbers:

The 1840s – Church-run schools are established for aboriginal children.

1883 – The year the federal government establishes three large residential schools in Western Canada to “kill the Indian in the child.”

1920 – The year the Indian Act is amended to make it compulsory for status Indian children between seven and 15 to attend residential school.

70 – The number of residential schools operating by the 1930s.

130 – The total number of residential schools that received support from the federal government at the program’s peak.

60 per cent – The proportion of residential schools run by the Catholic church.

1996 – The year the last residential school closes outside Regina.

At least 6,000 – The number of children who died in Canada’s residential schools. Provinces are still handing over death certificates for aboriginal children from the residential school era.

60 per cent – The mortality rate reached at some residential schools, according to Truth and Reconciliation chairman Justice Murray Sinclair.

$1.9 billion – The federal government’s compensation package offered to former residential school students.

[email protected]

– with files from The Canadian Press



2 thoughts on “Aboriginal children herded like cattle onto ‘train of tears’

  1. Today I am so saddened, my very Spirit is yet again pierced, to see my mother and all she endured, to now it impacted upon the kids and grand kids and now great grandchildren. Currently my mother is more closer to Heaven than earth, in terms of her life. I see what her very own bloodline does to her in her old age, the neglect, abuse, I just hate it and I never use that word to often. The dysfunction, the twisted love, the alcoholism and it’s fall out, the drug abuse and it’s fall out, the residue effects on the Mind, Body and Spirits. We did not and do not stand a chance, my mother shall also die in abuse and neglect amongst the one’s who say they love her and do, but nothing else is real or addictive to any generation healing or becoming well only worst. My family as is seems to be past the point of even knowing the way they think and live is so unhealthy, no longer is the struggel with matters and person outside the family, we now do it to each other in what seems a normal manor. I am out numbered in trying to break any possible chains that bind, my whole family and extended family are so practicing sickly persons, that it empeeds on me offering my grandchildren a better life. With out transistorizing self, family and children (we are alone). We are only family in name sake, under all of the insanity, there is a confused love. A tainted love. When and how shall the pain stop? We are landless, in poverty, lost peopels in our own lands were we are so suppressed we can not find a way in the reality and world at large around us, as it is the world who has forgotten us. Except to hate us for the projection of a false reality. I shall live to see my mother die and her great grandchildren still suffer from that in which she too suffered. I tire from just sirviving, when is it we can truely live to be free, in a world and reality that has denied our very exsistance as they abused and stole the very exsistance they live from the possibilities that we could and should have grown into as well. The all wonder why it is we get to the point of taking our own lives, I feel this all the time but I still live from day to day in a world of pain and suffering on all levels of my own humanness. Many young caught in the trows of what I say do not make it. I pray Creator you have but mercy for yet one more day for me to endure.

Comments are closed.