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A National Crime Makes Top 100 List

Prof. John MilloyDr. John Milloy's book A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986 has been named one of the 100 most important books in Canadian history.

The list, compiled by the Literary Review of Canada, aimed to pick influential books that have helped shape Canada's national identity. The magazine whittled down the list of 100 books from 300 titles submitted by the magazine's contributors and readers.

Prof. Milloy, a Trent University History professor, began compiling information on the residential school system in 1992 for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. He released a 90-page synopsis in 1996. That was followed by a 500-page report forming the first of five volumes released on the Commission's findings.

The Report evolved into A National Crime, which was published by the University of Manitoba Press in 1999.

Residential schools were located in every province and territory, except New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. According to the federal government, about 100,000 children attended these schools over the years in which they were in operation, beginning in 1879.

The Government operated nearly every school in partnership with various religious organizations - Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian - until April 1, 1969. At that time, the federal government assumed full responsibility for the school system.
Sitting in his office, his dog Lizzie faithfully curled up by his side, Prof. Milloy spoke candidly about the horrors he uncovered in the thousands of files he sifted through in church archives, at the National Archives and at the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

"It was a horrendous experience that people went through. The experiences were all there in the files – it was all there."

Detailed accounts of sexual and physical abuse and neglect in the residential schools were rampant.

"I didn't have to make any judgements. The material was rich, it was easy to write. All I had to do was open up my laptop and let it flow through. It was an amazing process," he said.

"What was shocking - in terms of the neglect, the various forms of abuse and the underperforming educational system - was that they had known about it since the early 1900s. It was the persistence of carelessness. The (cabinet) ministers, deputy ministers and church officials all knew and were having open conversations about it. In a sense they convicted themselves."

Often the children returned to their homes and communities worse off, said Prof. Milloy.

"The impact on the children was like a stone you throw in a pond. The fundamental idea of the residential schools system was violent. You take the children away from their parents and destroy their culture – it's like cutting an artery."

The push to have the Commission Report become a book came from the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations, said Prof. Milloy. Their goal was to get a government response to what had occurred in the residential schools.

"The book became a minor part of the political process because it ended any argument that the abuse in the residential schools didn't happen."

It was used in court cases, newspaper and magazine columnists picked up on the book and wrote about it, and church goers were able to use it to come to terms with what their church had done, he said.

Since writing the book Prof. Milloy has spoken on the issue at churches, church conferences and political conferences. He also campaigned for a compensation package for victims of the system, which was finally announced by the federal government last month.

"I was saddened by the fact it took so long. But at the end of the day, as Canadians, we get most of the answers right - it just takes a long time to get there," he said.

"What is important is that there is going to be an apology and there will be structured places where Aboriginals can go and tell their story - places of respect such as reconciliation panels."

Prof. Milloy is currently working on the follow-up to A National Crime, which will tell the story of Aboriginal children in foster care.

Posted December 15, 2005


































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