THE REGINA INDIAN INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL (1891-1910): HISTORICAL OVERVIEW AND CHRONOLOGICAL NARRATIVE
In this book the author, Douglas Stewart, draws on a wide expanse of archival material to present a history of a relatively large, but little-known, residential school that was operated by the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) just outside Regina from the end of the 19th and into the early 20th Century.
The Regina Indian Industrial School operated for nearly two decades, with First Nations’ children from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba being brought to the school to learn trades, with the misguided goal of “Christianizing and civilizing” Indigenous children. “In other words, to strip them or divorce them from their cultural homes, their backgrounds, their beliefs and practices,” said Stewart.
In the 1990s, Stewart - a now-retired Professor of Education at the University of Regina - introduced residential schooling in Canada to his curriculum. “I felt that the Faculty of Education wasn’t really dealing with that subject in the 1990s,” said Stewart. While preparing to teach the unit, Stewart learned there had been a residential school just outside Regina that operated from 1891 to 1910, but it wasn’t until only a few years ago Stewart really began delving into the school’s history.
When Stewart was approached by the RIIS Commemorative Association - an organization of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the school’s cemetery - Stewart knew he wanted to help and contribute his knowledge. “[I thought] it would help if the people involved knew something about the history of the school and its workings, and where the children came from, how they were treated in the school, and so on.” This sparked Stewart’s research into the school’s history, and led to the writing of his book.
The book took 2-1/2 years of intense research. Stewart combed through records from the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, the archives of the United Church of Canada, the PCC Archives in Toronto, and the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan in Regina to learn as much as he could about the Regina Indian Industrial School.
Through his research, Stewart was able to uncover valuable photos and admissions registers for the school, giving names and faces to the students who were brought to the school throughout its operation. But, unfortunately Stewart was unable to give them their voices. “During all the archival research I did, I was always on the lookout for a letter, a comment or an impression written by some of the students, but I didn’t find a single thing,” said Stewart. Approximately 500 students in total attended the school during its operation, 150 at any given time.
Stewart’s book has already started being used as a textbook in several classes at the University of Regina, and several copies are being used in both public and separate schools in Regina. Stewart and the RIIS Commemorative Association also gifted one copy to each of the roughly 40 First Nation communities from which children had been recruited; a gift that was very important to Stewart, and that he said he felt needed to be done.
Stewart is continuing his research on the school. He hopes to create an expanded version if the book goes to print for a second time.
The Regina Indian Industrial School (1891-1910): Historical Overview and Chronological Narrative is available at http://www.benchmarkpress.ca and select retailers.