The Government Abuse of Aboriginal Children 2 – “Killing the Indian” in Residential School

Posted on March 27, 2011


The Catholic Church hates Philip Pullman.  They placed a ban on his series “The Golden Compass” and called for a boycott of the movie.

They say it’s because Pullman is an atheist, which means that they admit to hating him because of their own religious intolerance.  That’s bad enough, but I think the real reason they hate him is because of what he said in his books about the church treatment of children.

Attacked by the Catholic Church for telling the truth about the church's systematic abuse of children.

In The Golden Compass, low class and ethnic children are kidnapped by religious authorities and removed to a remote location where they have their souls removed.  Some die.  Some become mere shells of their former selves.

In reality, orphans and ethnic children were rounded up and kidnapped by the Catholic and other churches in association with government (in Pullman’s book the religious authorities were the government) and housed in orphanages and residential schools.  Many died.  Most of the survivors became broken people, drunks, petty criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless people and suicides.

The scene of soul removal in The Golden Compass is both terrifying and metaphorically true.  That process is essentially what happened in the residential schools, and it was intentional.  “Kill the Indian and save the child,” was the motto in the Canadian schools, but only the “kill the Indian” part had any reality.

You cannot attack and attack a child for being what that child is, you cannot steal a child from their parents and then attack everything the parents stand for, without wounding the child.

The churches—along with mush, tuberculosis and discipline—fed their wards on religion, racial bigotry and self-hatred.  It was, if the matter is looked at honestly, the foundation of their curriculum.  Certainly literacy was not a high priority.  Many of schools only taught for half a day, with the rest of the students’ time assigned to prayer, chores and child labour.

The mother of my second daughter remembers nuns hiding behind trees, trying to catch their students speaking their prohibited Aboriginal languages in the schoolyard.  A former student of mine remembers nuns favouring light-skinned children systematically over darker skinned ones.

The real and true and terrible story of what the Catholic and other churches did to Aboriginal children could never be filmed.  Such a film would be beyond what a healthy human heart could bear to watch.  Philip Pullman’s metaphor in The Golden Compass is about as close as we can get in popular culture to understanding the abuses in the residential schools.

But it’s important to remember.  The Golden Compass is a story for children.  Philip Pullman, for all the Catholic Church’s hatred of him, was pulling his punches.

The reality of the Catholic run, church run, Indian residential schools was far worse.