When an Indigenous boy ran away from the Regina Indian Industrial School in the 1890s, a teacher caught up to him, tied a rope around him, and forced him to run behind a horse-drawn wagon the eleven miles back to school. This is one of the horrific incidents Douglas Stewart relates in his book, The Regina Indian Industrial School (1891-1910): Historical Overview and Chronological Narrative.
In the first section of his book, Stewart analyzes his findings in a historical overview of the school. In the second, he provides a chronological narrative of its operation from 1891 to 1910 and its destruction by fire in 1948. By presenting both positive and negative aspects, he tries to paint a balanced portrait of the school.
Commissioned by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, Nicholas Flood Davin penned a report recommending that industrial schools be established in the Prairies. Operated by the Presbyterian Church, the Regina Indian Industrial School opened in 1891 with Rev. A.J. McLeod as principal.
In spite of Indian Commissioner David Laird’s glowing report that students have “every comfort, the best medical care, and no particular hardship of any kind,” lack of ventilation, especially in the dormitory, opened the way for disease to spread. Stewart also cites reports of girls being sexually abused by older boys, but says death and illnesses were the main reasons parents were reluctant to send their children to the school.
The students had an astounding twenty-one per cent mortality rate, mostly from tuberculosis. There was even one case of smallpox. But death didn’t discriminate, taking the lives of the first two principals. And McLeod’s infant children lie in the same cemetery as at least thirty-five Indigenous children. Three of the pupils who died at the school were only three years old when they were enrolled.
The school newspaper, The Progress, tried to keep track of former students, including their weddings and deaths. At least two weddings of senior students took place at the school. McLeod reported that former pupils “are doing well for themselves” while many “other ex-pupils are reflecting credit on their alma mater.”
Some of the graduates did exceedingly well. Miss Cornelius joined the staff after graduating and was an “encouraging presence,” according to Rev. J.A. Sinclair, the school’s second principal. Several boys who honed their skills on the printing press went on to earn well-paying wages at Saskatchewan newspapers such as the Regina Leader and Moosomin World-Spectator.
The Regina Indian Industrial School includes a map and eighteen black and white photos illustrating the school and its students. In addition to extensive footnotes identifying sources, Stewart includes five appendices listing names of students attending the school, including those who died there.
In this in-depth study, Stewart sheds much-needed light on an issue of great current interest and importance. Despite its depth of detail, however, the larger story is incomplete due to lost or destroyed files. But Stewart is hopeful oral accounts from former pupils may some day be publicly shared.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM