Library Dissertation Showcase

‘Where are the children?’: The forced assimilation of Dakelh and Tsek’ehne First Nations children at the Lejac Indian Residential School and the making of identity

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2020

Canada’s First Nations have suffered a form of cultural genocide over the last 150 years. A key part was the establishment of Residential Schools in 1883, whose rationale was the forced assimilation of the First Nation children into Western culture. This dissertation focuses on the Dakehl and the Tsek’ehne people in British Columbia, and the Lejac Residential School built on their territory. It explores the extent of the abuse perpetrated there and how this impacted on the cultural identity and gender roles of these people. A chronological approach is used to encompass both the immediate and long-term effects on the children as well as its impact upon their return into the communities. At the centre of this study are the testimonies of six Lejac school survivors. These have been used to place their indigenous voice at the forefront of this story as well as honouring their cultural tradition of oral history. Findings are broadly similar to those of other schools, namely that children were subjected to harsh discipline, attacks on all aspects of their culture, as well as suffering physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect. This had long lasting consequences, particularly on mental health and social functioning that lasted well into adulthood, as well as being passed across the generations. However, this dissertation suggests that not only did the Residential Schools fail in their attempt to eradicate Dakehl and Tsek’ehne culture and gender roles but may paradoxically have encouraged its revival.

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