UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Attendance at Indian residential schools in British Columbia, 1890-1920 Redford, James W.


In the late nineteenth century, middle class Canadian reformers tried to use education to change the values and rhythms of working class, immigrant, and Indian children. They used boarding schools, however, only in the case of Indians. Educators expected boarding schools to give them complete control over the environment of their pupils, thus making it possible to rear a generation of culturally and occupationally assimilated Indians. They did not expect their efforts to be blunted or reshaped by existing Indian rhythms. Because Indians were outnumbered, and because their culture was under attack from many directions, historians too have generally assumed that native rhythms had a negligible impact on residential education. Most accounts of the schools portray them as either assisting or victimizing a decimated and essentially helpless minority. This thesis uses Government reports, school records, correspondence, and oral accounts to investigate the way educators and Indians made attendance decisions. It shows that Indians played a vital role in deciding whether children went to residential school; which children went; at what ages they enrolled; how long they stayed; and how much contact they retained with their families and culture while in attendance. It clarifies some of the emotional, economic, and cultural needs which conditioned Indians' attendance decisions. By examining how existing native patterns of life modified a very determined campaign to control and alter Indian society, the thesis hopefully sheds light as well on the gradual, adaptive, and fluid process of "directed" cultural change. Residential schools were not simply an "imposed" social experience, but a mutual and changing relationship shaped by Indians as well as whites.

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