Charlie Bigknife recalled being told, after his hair had been sheared off at the File Hills school in Saskatchewan, “Now you are no longer an Indian.”
Students were given a new wardrobe—often used and ill-ﬁtting.
Even though her grandmother had made her warm winter clothing, Lillian Elias was not allowed to wear it at the Roman Catholic school at Aklavik. Instead, all the students had to wear the same type of parka. “Maybe,” she later won-dered, “they wanted us to dress like them!”
A new Christian identity required the imposi-tion of new names. The ﬁrst boy Anglican missionary John West recruited to his school at Red River in 1820, Pemutewithinew, became James Hope.
At the Aklavik Anglican school in the Northwest Territories, Masak became Alice—she would not hear her old name until she returned home.
Charles Nowell got his name “because a Sunday school teacher in England wanted Mr. Hall to give me his name, and they say that he was my godfather when I was baptized.”
Jane Willis had been raised to answer to Janie Matthews, but on the residential school register at Fort George (now Chisasibi), Quebec, she was Janie Esquinimau, a nickname that belonged to her great-grandfather.
At the Qu’Appelle school in Saskatchewan, Ochankugahe (Path Maker) became Daniel Kennedy, named for the biblical Daniel, while Adélard Standing Buffalo was named for Adélard Langevin, the Archbishop of St. Boniface.
Not only were children renamed, they were assigned numbers that corresponded to their clothes, their bed, and their locker. In some schools, they were expected to line up according to their numbers. “We were called by number all the time. The nuns used to call, ‘39, 3 where echoed when we spoke. The whole place looked cold and sterile; even the walls were covered with pictures of stern-looking people in suits and stiff collars.”
On her ﬁrst sight of the Shingwauk school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Jane Willis thought, “Nothing could ever go wrong in such beautiful surroundings.”
Originally impressed by the chapel at Shubenacadie, Isabelle Knockwood later con-cluded it was “a place where a lot of children’s prayers did not get answered.”
When six-year-old Anthony Thrasher was deposited at the Roman Catholic school in Aklavik in the Northwest Territories, he saw the grey-habited nuns, heard their voices carried on the wind, and turned and ran. With no place to go, he was caught, grabbed by his hood, and dragged into the school, where he was scrubbed and checked for vermin, and put to bed.
The assault on Aboriginal identity began the moment the child took the ﬁrst step across the school’s threshold. In 1893, at the age of six, Mike Mountain Horse was sent to the St. Paul’s school on the Blood Reserve. “My Indian clothes, consisting of blanket, breech cloth, leggings, shirt and moccasins, were removed.”
The embroidered parka and mukluks that Alice Blondin-Perrin’s mother had made for her were taken on her arrival at school. She never saw them again.
Once stripped of their clothes, students were roughly bathed.
Braided hair, which often had spiritual signiﬁcance, was cut. At the Île-à-la-Crosse school in Saskatchewan, Alphonse Janvier was put on an old barber’s chair. “I remember my head being shaved and all my long hair falling on the ﬂoor, and the way they dealt with my crying and the hurtful feeling was with a bowl of ice cream.”
Reverend Thompson Ferrier taking boys to school in Brandon, Manitoba, in 1904. The year before, the Methodist missionary James MacLachlan and six students he was taking from Berens River to the Brandon industrial school drowned in a canoe accident.
Manitoba Museum EP 347.