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We Were Children (Nous N’ Etions Que Des Enfants…) cover image

We Were Children (Nous N’ Etions Que Des Enfants…) 2012

Highly Recommended

Distributed by National Film Board of Canada, 1123 Broadway, Suite 307, New York, NY 10010; 800-542-2164
Produced by Kyle Irving and David Christensten
Directed by Tom Wolochatiuk
DVD, color, 82 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Education, Native Americans, Psychology, Sociology

Date Entered: 03/14/2014

Reviewed by LaRoi Lawton, Library & Learning Resources Department, Bronx Community College of the City University of New York

We Were Children introduces the viewer to residential schools, which were an extensive school system set up by the Canadian government and administered by churches that had the nominal objective of educating Aboriginal children but also the more damaging and equally explicit objectives of indoctrinating them into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living and assimilating them into mainstream Canadian society. The residential school system operated from the 1880s into the closing decades of the 20th century. We Were Children looks at this system where children were forcibly separated from their families and introduced into a school system that forbade these children to recognize their Aboriginal heritage and culture, much less speak in their own languages. Many, like Lana Hart and Glen Anaquad, two Aborigine children, were severely punished if these, harsh rules were broken. These two former students, now adults, speak about the horrendous abuse they experienced and witnessed at the hands of residential school staff: physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological. This was not about educating but about erasing a culture by “killing the Indian in the child,” and justifying it under the color of religion and indoctrination. It becomes apparent that these residential schools provided little or no education for Aborigine children.

What is even more shocking was the Canadian government’s systematic intent on undermining Aboriginal culture. And while Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada offers an ‘apology’ to the House of Commons, (2008) it does little for those disrupted families, the loss of their language and culture. Because these children were removed from their families, many of them grew up without experiencing a nurturing family life and without the knowledge and skills to raise their own families. The serious effects of these residential schools are far-reaching and continue to have a large impact on Aboriginal communities in Canada today. I found this film extremely disturbing and found it very difficult not be angry at both government and church officials who allowed such a national plan to exist to validate cultural genocide.