The180

A response to the question of First Nations boarding schools

On our previous show, First Nations education expert Waubageshig argued that boarding schools could help better educational outcomes for Aboriginal children, despite the dark history of Canada's residential schools. On this episode we hear a response from Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux.
Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux is the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Affairs at Lakehead University. (Jody Porter/CBC)

On our last show, we heard a case for boarding schools for First Nations students. Long time First Nations educator Waubageshig (Harvey McCue) argued that some aboriginal children live in "toxic environments" with overcrowding, poor nutrition, and abuse. He says those children would get the love and care they need if they were removed from home and sent to aboriginal-run boarding schools. 

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux disagrees. She has also worked for decades in First Nations education, and says children are better off at home with their families-- even if those families are troubled. 

She says her parents both went to residential school, and they were binge drinkers who at times neglected her-- but she still feels better for having grown up at home: "I think that kids, you know, even when parents aren't the best parents, maybe there's some violence in the household or whatever, they still love their parents and they need them. I'm not saying kids should be put into dangerous circumstances, but I'm saying that there needs to be a full assessment of whether or not that child is actually in danger."

Wesley-Esquimaux says conditions are improving with each generation, but communities still need to look out for each other. When a child isn't safe living with his or her parents, they should live with other family-- or someone should be brought into the home to improve the situation. Whatever the case, she argues, a child is better off with family than in a boarding school. 

"Of course I don't think that children should be made to be in dangerous situations. But you're assuming that if they're put into boarding homes, or they're put into residential schools, that they're going to be safer there. And we've learned from history that in fact they were not safer there. They were safer in their own homes." 

I have never seen a kid yet say to me, 'Oh, I'm so glad they took me out of that household...' All of them have said, 'I wish I had been able to know my parents better.'- Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux

She also points out the problems that now cause aboriginal children to be removed from home, were caused by residential schools. She says we have to help those families overcome those problems and live together whenever possible. 

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