Charlottetown’s Samantha Silliphant shudders at the thought of what life must have been like for aboriginal students in the days of residential schools in Canada.
The 12-year-old Stonepark Intermediate School student researched the harsh realities faced by the many unfortunate students that were on the receiving end of the Canadian government’s policy called “aggressive assimilation,’’ that saw aboriginal children taught at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later called residential schools.
Samantha learned how students were discouraged from speaking their first language or practicing native traditions. If they were caught, they would experience severe punishment.
Throughout the years, students lived in substandard conditions and endured physical, emotional and even sexual abuse.
“Their clothes were all ragged...and their food was bread and drippings,’’ said Samantha.
Life, she understands, must have been so hard. School today clearly is “pretty different’’ for Samantha and her peers.
“I think that my life is better than their life because I go to a school where I will not get beaten if I speak my own language,’’ she said.
“I can choose on my own if I want to attend a class where I will speak a different language. For children my age, education is more important than work. I will also be able to go home after school and see my family and friends instead of needing to stay at school and work.’’
Samantha hopes the video she has made will help other students, as well as Canadians in general, realize just what life was like for aboriginal students that were forced to attend one of the 130 residential schools located across the country with the last of these schools closing in 1996.
Her video is among 30 short films that Canadians can vote on as part of this year’s Young Citizens program. Organized by Canada’s History, the interactive program encourages students from Grades 4 to 11 to research and film videos on Canadian heroes, legends and key events relating to Canada’s north.
“The Young Citizens program fosters real connections between students and aspects of our past,’’ said Deborah Morrison, CEO and publisher of Canada’s History Magazine.
“They become the tellers of the story which in turn gives them a greater sense of ownership of our history, and a greater commitment to ensuring it is remembered by others.’’
Canadians have until June 3 to view, comment on and vote for their favourite student video online at www.YoungCitizens.ca. Once ballots are tallied, a panel of judges will review all submissions and select four students who will travel to Ottawa in November.
There, they will screen their film at the Canada’s History Forum, held annually in conjunction with the Governor General’s History Awards.