Parental Resistance at Qu’Appelle School

The parents were at first suspicious of all that the school stood for. They did not wish their children to be brought up as white people, nor to accept their religion, lest they be separated from them in the world to come. The white mans medicine , they said, was bad for the Indians. They objected to the use of see-saws and swings, fearing that their children would break their necks. They were displeased at seeing them move in files, and charged that they were being made into soldiers. “Blowing into tubes”, by which they meant musical instruments, was also regarded with suspicion. (History of the Qu’Appelle Indian School by Sister G. Marcoux,1955, p. 11)

In 1887, Joseph Hugonard the principal of the Qu’Appelle school noted he had not been able to recruit a single student from some reserves: “The Indians are afraid that their children after leaving the school will not go back to the reserves, and that they will stray away from them; they also do not wish their children to acquire the habits of the white people.”

As a result, recruitment was a persistent problem for residential schools. In his annual report for 1884, Indian Commissioner Dewdney acknowledged that no little difficulty is met with in prevailing upon Indians to part with their children; and even after the latter have been cared for in the kindest manner, some parents, prompted by unaccountable freaks of the most childish nature, demand a return of their children to their own shanties to suffer from cold and hunger.9

Parental resistance to industrial schools was so strong that it actually contributed to the failure and eventual closure of most of the industrial schools on the Prairies. From 1884 onwards, the government put in place an increasingly restrictive set of laws and regulations regarding enrolment and discharge. Many school and government officials were either not well versed in the laws and regulations governing enrolment, or disregarded them. It is clear that, on occasion, officials exceeded the authority granted them by the Indian Act and related regulations. Parents often were compelled to send their children to residential school because federal policy decisions had robbed them of alternatives. For example, federal decisions not to build day schools, or decisions to close the existing day schools, meant that parents who were committed to seeing that their children would get an education were forced to send them to residential school. The federal government’s unwillingness to invest in First Nations economic development, particularly on the Prairies, meant that many families existed in a state of dire poverty and were sometimes dependent on government-supplied relief rations. In such conditions, parents might send their children to school in hopes they would be properly fed and cared for there. In some cases, federal officials denied relief rations to parents in need who refused to send their children to school. ”The enrolment problems in the schools would have been worse if the schools were not also serving as child-welfare facilities, taking in orphans, the sick, and children whose families were judged to be unable to care for them….

In 1891, officials in Ottawa were concerned that students at industrial schools, particularly at Qu’Appelle, were being withdrawn long before they could have learned a trade. Reed was instructed to ensure that “no pupils shall be admitted to or taken from or allowed to leave any of the institutions without your express authority having been obtained.”22 Reed felt that Hugonard was giving in too easily to parental requests to remove their children from the school. He visited the school at the same time that a group of parents were seeking to remove six children from the school. “By the exercise firmness I convinced each of the applicants that they must leave their children unmolested and the Principal’s eyes were opened to the fact that resistance would accomplish all I claimed.” Reed told Hugonard that if he felt himself unequal to the task of refusing parents, in the future, he should simply send for him.23 (Vol.1-1, pp. 248-250)