A look at the residential school system

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indianhorse.jpgThe purpose was to "kill the Indian in the child." In the 19th century, the Canadian government and Catholic Church began operating residential schools for aboriginal children. Separated from their families, the students weren't allowed to speak their native language or practice their culture. There have also been allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Residential school was an agonizing experience and many survivors went on to live in poverty and with addictions.

Richard Wagamese's Indian Horse depicts the reality of residential schools and the detrimental effects they had on survivors of the system. The book follows an Ojibway man named Saul Indian Horse on a journey of healing. After checking into a treatment centre for alcoholism, Saul confronts his painful past of being forcibly put in residential school as a child and the racism he later faced as a hockey player.

Last year, CBC's 8th Fire documentary series looked at Sacred Heart Residential School near Fort Providence, N.W.T. CBC Yellowknife reporter Paul Andrew (who is also a former chief) talked to the victims of one of Canada's oldest and most notorious residential schools. Like Saul in Indian Horse, they are also embarking on the road to recovery by returning to their roots. You can hear their stories in the videos above.

Carol Huynh is defending Indian Horse during the Canada Reads debates February 11-14.
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