A student planning to draft a paper on the effects of the use of residential schools by governments on the health of indigenous peoples could think in terms of the long-term mental health implications for populations that were subjected to such treatment.
When discussing residential schools today, the context is usually one of a positive setting in which certain categories of individuals, for example, the deaf or blind, can be educated in an environment better suited to their unique needs and social development than regular school systems. For many years, however, residential schools were used by governments in North America and Australia for the purpose of cultural genocide – a term not lightly employed. In Canada as well as in the United States and Australia there existed a firmly and widely held belief that indigenous peoples were racially and culturally inferior, and that it was in the best interests of such peoples that they be culturally transformed. In effect, they were placed in residential schools for the express purpose of forcing them to discontinue their traditional practices and to learn English rather than continue to converse in their native languages. These schools were invariably poorly constructed and maintained and the “students” were subjected to considerable hardships on top of the humiliation of being deprived of their cultures. Canada established and maintained a large system of residential schools for the purpose of, in the words of one Canadian official, “killing the Indian in the child.” [See www.cbsnews.com/2100-500164_162-505725.html]
That many Native children were subjected to sexual abuse, physical beatings, material deprivations, and psychological abuse has been established. The long-term mental health consequences, and the role that residential schools played in setting the stage for the drug and alcohol problems endemic to many Indian reserves today, would provide the basis for an interesting paper.