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Western Prisoner: The Experiences in Canadian Residential Schools

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Western Prisoner: The Experiences in Canadian Residential Schools

And Concentration Camps

Jaiden Tahjeah Whyte

History CHC2D1-03

Mrs. Botticella

January 11, 2017

There are no acts more deplorable in modern human history than the brazen attempts to forcibly acculturate and purge a minority population. Both the Canadian government and the fascist Nazi German government of the twentieth century are guilty of mass cultural genocide, and in Germany’s case, ethnic cleansing. The Canadian government targeted the Native American community to assimilate a group of people they thought were savage, while Hitler used Gypsies, Poles, Slavs, the physically and mentally ill, the Jews, etc. as scapegoats for Germany’s economic crisis, which eventually led to the massacre known as the Holocaust. The human experiences in Canadian Residential Schools from approximately the early 1900’s to the late 1990’s, as well as in Concentration Camps during the Holocaust are alike, as they both involved abuse, inhumane conditions, and degradation.

One of the experiences that the victims and survivors of both the Canadian residential schools and the Concentration camps during the Holocaust have in common is the abuse they experienced. Firstly, Aboriginal students faced mistreatment, meant to punish children who refused to forget their language. One detail that supports this idea is an article called, “Giving a voice to residential school ghosts” by the Toronto Star. In the article it says, “Types of punishment for speaking a native language at Mohawk Residential School; the strap, a needle through the tongue, a kerosene-soaked rag in the mouth.”. This quote is significant because it displays the severe abuse used to discourage children from speaking their native tongue. Additionally, the victims in the concentration camps suffered psychological abuse at the hands of their tormentors. Prisoners from the concentration camps were often forced to participate in the slaughter of their own people. In the graphic novel, “Maus” by Art Spiegelman it reads, “Prisoners what worked there poured gasoline over the live ones and dead ones. And the fat from the burning bodies they scooped and poured again so everyone would burn better”. This quote was specifically chosen because it demonstrates how Germans forced the prisoners to commit such atrocities only to harm their mental well-being. Henceforth, both the Aboriginals and the prisoners shared in the experience of abuse. Unfortunately, abuse was not the last of their problems, both the prisoners and the residential school students were subject to appalling conditions.

Another familiar experience that the residential school students and the prisoners in the concentration camps would share is the inhumane environment. For instance, Aboriginal students received food of poor quality at their boarding schools. An article titled, “Residential Schools” by the Canadian Encyclopedia states that, “ At least 3,200 Indigenous children died in the overcrowded residential schools. Underfed and malnourished, the students were particularly vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis and influenza”. This quote is crucial because it reveals the terrible conditions the Aboriginal residential students were forced to endure. Furthermore, starvation was also a problem in the concentration camps. Prisoners were not fed substantial amounts of food and often did not have enough nutrients or energy to perform the hard physical labour forced upon them by the Nazis. Auschwitz.org states that, “The combination of insufficient nutrition with hard labor contributed to the destruction of the organism... the cause of a significant number of deaths in the camp.”. This excerpt is crucial because it reveals Hitler had an ulterior motive, by starving and working prisoners to death, Hitler intended to eradicate populations he deemed unworthy of life. As a result, the residential school students, and the prisoners in the concentration camps were both subjected to a grim environment. Meanwhile, both the teachers at the residential schools and the SS guards took advantage of the weakened state of their prisoners and demeaned them.

A final experience that the Indigenous residential school students may share along with the prisoners of concentration camps is that of degradation. For example, the residential schools employed degrading punishments which were often embarrassing. In the movie “We Were Children”, a little girl named Lyna has her hair forcefully cut by a pair of nuns who constantly comment on how dirty she is. This scene is important because the comments made by the nuns were demeaning, and Lyna’s hair is a religious symbol of her Native American culture, the cutting of Lyna’s hair represents

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