Not everyone was forced’

Published November 1, 2009

Eric Bays, former bishop of the diocese of Qu’Appelle, has written a book that some wish he hadn’t.

Indian Residential Schools: Another Picture maintains that while abuses occurred in the federally-funded, church-run native boarding schools, good things also happened to students who attended them.

The schools were “a relief and comfort to poor orphans,” writes Bays, adding that many parents wanted their children to attend residential schools and learn English. “Not everyone was forced,” he says.

In an interview, Bishop Bays acknowledged that some may label him an apologist. But, he insisted, “I’m not trying to deliberately defend the…schools. I’m trying to say that…there is another side we have not yet considered as fairly as I think we should.” Bishop Bays hopes the book will be seen as a contribution to the church’s reconciliation process with the aboriginal people.

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald says that while he has great respect and affection for Bishop Bays, he also believes the book falls short on measuring just how bad the school system was.

“I believe the residential schools system was an example of systemic evil,” says Bishop MacDonald. “…part of a broader scheme by colonizing civil society to incorporate indigenous people against their will. It has to be seen from that broader perspective and not from individual [residential schools staff] interactions, which I will acknowledge, could be perfectly good.”

In response to feedback from Bishop MacDonald, Bishop Bays revised the book’s conclusion. But he stands firm on his thesis. “There were some good things about it and there were some bad things about it,” he said. Does his book conclude that the schools did more good than harm? “I’ve tried to avoid that… I just wanted to say that there is a good side here.”

The book is based on archival research, interviews with former students, and written responses and interviews from nearly 50 former staff. Bishop Bays, who retired in 1997, acknowledges the huge influence of some former staff, who felt unjustly accused as complicit in a system that separated more than 150,000 aboriginal children from their families and communities.


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