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By Joan G. Fairweather

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Additional info for A Common Hunger: Land Rights in Canada And South Africa (Missing Voices Series)

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By insisting that only English be spoken, the Indian children were deprived of their self-esteem, their culture, their knowledge of who they were and where they came from. The impact of this loss of language on former students now has a direct bearing on the ability of aboriginal communities to reclaim their land and resources. ”²⁷ Canada’s residential schools for Indian children cannot be equated to the British educational system of the day, nor can the church authorities claim they were unaware of the conditions in the schools.

During the conflict, Indian nations had made military alliances with the European powers on the understanding that the Europeans would have use (not ownership) of the land in return for annual “presents” (mainly provisions and ammunition) and other conditions. However, once the French had capitulated, the British lost no time in withdrawing the “presents” which they viewed as no longer necessary. But the Indians regarded the agreements differently. To them, the gifts were not only symbols of their renewed allegiance with the English but also an agreed-upon price for occupation and use of their lands.

With the exception of Cree, Ojibwa and Inuktitut, most aboriginal languages have been lost or are on the brink of extinction. For societies steeped in oral traditions and the transfer of knowledge through legends and stories, language is as critical to their survival as their ancestral lands. In North American aboriginal tradition, language has a spiritual value; through their languages, the people are able to Introduction  Totem poles at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, British Columbia.

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