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The main challenge faced by Aboriginal peoples (referring in this case to the indigenous peoples of North America and Australia, as the question did not specify to which it was referring) in the early 20th Century was one of cultural survival in the face of official governmental policies intended to integrate them into the Caucasian world without regard to ancient tribal traditions, cultures, or practices. While the threat of physical annihilation receded with the dawn of a new century, the threat of forced assimilation remained very much alive.
While the use of so-called “residential schools” had its origins in the 19th Century, they reached their greatest application in the early-1900s and represented the ultimate manifestation of efforts by Whites to, in the words of one Canadian official, retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, “beat the Indian out of the child.” [See “Retired Canadian Justice Describes ‘Dickensian’ Indian Schools,” www2.suffolk.edu/51058.html] In North America and Australia alike, residential schools were used to educate indigenous children in the ways of the colonial power and resistance was usually met with violent retribution on top of the abysmal conditions in which these children were housed and fed. In both continents, indigenous peoples were assumed to be intellectually and culturally inferior and were the target of sustained efforts at eliminating all traces of native cultures and languages. The legacy of these policies can be seen today in the social and economic devastation in which many native or Aboriginal peoples exist, with drug and alcohol addiction, combined with high rates of diabetes and heart disease, prevalent across the nations.
This was the challenge Aboriginal peoples faced in the early 1900s. Cultural genocide was government policy.
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