Staff perspectives of the Aboriginal residential school experience : a study of four Presbyterian schools, 1888-1923

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Hildebrand, Denise
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Despite the growing body of literature regarding residential schools, few studies have focused on the men and women who staffed the schools. This study is a detailed examination of the staff members of four Presbyterian-run boarding schools and their experiences from 1888 to the early 1920's. By using Presbyterian Church and Department of Indian Affairs documents, this study has reconstructed the staff perspective of the early decades of residential schooling. The findings reveal that residential school employment, regardless of position, was very stressful. All positions, and particularly that of the principal, entailed a diversity of duties and responsibilities. Too often staff members were unprepared for at least some of the tasks expected of them. The findings also reveal the inhospitable working conditions that existed, which were due largely to the lack of financial support. In some cases, parental opposition contributed to the pressure, as did strained staff relations. Not surprisingly, the majority cited illness as the reason for resigning. It is suggested that more congenial working conditions would have resulted in better management and possibly, less physical abuse of students. It is also argued that staff experiences varied greatly depending on the school at which one was employed.