Government records show that the ministry received several reports at that time – including one that was addressed directly to Minister Chrétien – describing the mistreatment of Native children who were then forced to attend these residential schools.
Sunday, on the set of Everybody talks about it, the former Liberal Prime Minister was, however, categorical.
This problem was never mentioned when I was minister. Never, he responded to a question from host Guy A. Lepage, which dealt specifically with the physical and sexual abuse, mistreatment and disappearances that have taken place for decades in residential schools.
However, a quick search of government records reveals that, during Mr. Chrétien’s tenure, the Department of Indian Affairs received several reports of abuses across the country.
Sexual assault, broken limbs, weapons in the classroom …
At least four of those reporting allegations of abuse and physical violence against children at Sainte-Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany, northern Ontario. In a handwritten letter dated December 28, 1968, addressed directly to Minister Jean Chrétien, a teacher notably evokes concerns about the way in which the boarding school is managed by the Catholic Church.
The complaints we have received are mainly centered on the attitude of the people of the mission towards the natives, which in my opinion is prejudicial., writes the teacher. No response from the ministry to this letter appears in the archives.
Another report concerning the same boarding school in 1971 reports a teacher who kept weapons and ammunition in his class to scare the students. The same teacher was also targeted by allegations that he beat one student and hit another.
Two other reports targeted the Anglican boarding school at La Tuque, a Quebec establishment located about 130 kilometers north of Shawinigan, Mr. Chrétien’s hometown. In 1970, an employee was suspended there after four former students went to the police to denounce the sexual assaults they claimed to have suffered. The archives do not mention what happened to the police complaint.
A year later, in 1971, the federal government even launched an investigation there into allegations that a former employee
allegedly mistreated children, including cutting students’ hair as punishment for disobedience, according to the account posted on the website of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.
Another report, this time targeting Lebret Catholic Residential School in Saskatchewan, shows that in 1973 a complaint was made by one of the grandparents of two students. The complaint indicates that a supervisor
broke a little girl’s arm and laughed at it and
two or three supervisors were cruel to the students.
That Christian did not know is
Even before Jean Chrétien was appointed minister, the failure of the residential school system was widely admitted and discussed publicly, especially in the media.
Under Jean Chrétien’s mandate, the federal government had even begun to take direct charge of the operations of these institutions, the majority of which had until then been run by the church.
That Chrétien did not know of the existence of these abuses is unimaginable.
If the situation was known throughout the ministry, it was certainly known in his office too, argues historian John Milloy, professor emeritus at Trent University, and author of the book A National Crime, bearing on the subject.
In 1967, even before Mr. Chrétien’s term in office, the Canadian Council of Welfare issued a report documenting the failure of the residential school and boarding school system, a conclusion with which the federal government stood firm. was at the time said to be in agreement, according to Mr. Milloy’s book.
It is really terrible to reach such a venerable age and still be consumed by all these lies, to feel no shame for the wrongs done across the land., reacted Mike Cachagee, a survivor of residential schools in Northern Ontario and member of the Cree First Nation of Chapleau, disappointed by the attitude of Mr. Chrétien.
It’s sad. It shows us how deeply rooted colonialism is.
Jean Chrétien did not respond to the interview request made by CBC.