Pelican Lake Indian Residential School
The Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, also known as known as Pelican Falls Indian Residential School, or Sioux Lookout Indian Residential School, was a Canadian Indian Residential School that operated from 1929 through 1969. While it was in operation the school served Ojibway and Cree students from both Treaty Three and Treaty Nine territories in northern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. Former students of the school have reported experiencing physical, psychological, and sexual abuse while attending the school.
Also known as Sioux Lookout Indian Residential School, Pelican Lake Indian Residential School was established in 1926 and officially opened in 1929. The school was one of the approximately three dozen schools operated by the Anglican Church of Canada. It “serviced” Ojibway and Cree students from both Treaty Three and Treaty Nine territories in northern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. When it initially opened it housed a total of 125 both boys and girls, but this number increased to 150 by the late 1940s. As like most residential schools, the school was designed in a way that the male and female students had limited interaction with each other. Usually students were removed from their families and brought to the school when they were six years old and stayed until they were twelve.
When it first opened, the school was a half-day in the classroom, and half-day doing general labor. This labor was gendered with young boys doing physical labour such as carpentry and the girls doing more domestic tasks such as laundry and cooking. In 1947 the school transitioned to a full day school system. As documented by the Church itself, the conditions of the school were poor. In 1946 the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada set up an Indian Work Investigation Commission to review and raise the standards in its schools. After a three-year investigation it was recommended that Pelican Lake be closed as it was deemed substandard. The Anglican Bishop at the time successfully lobbied to keep the school in operation.
Pelican Lake Residential School closed in 1969.
Abuse and lawsuit
Many former students of Pelican Lake describe experiencing physical, psychological and sexual abuse while at the school. Physical abuse came in many different forms including: poor living conditions, and corporal punishments for speaking your traditional language. Rather than attending class, some students were required to spend the day doing labour. Psychological abuse began with the act of taking the students who were small children away from their families. This abuse continued within the school and included actions such as public humiliation for bed wetting. Many residential school survivors also were the victims of sexual abuse in various forms. Over a dozen students from Pelican Lake have come forward stating they were sexually assaulted while attending the school.
The lasting impacts of residential schools also includes the heightened rate of disability amongst Indigenous peoples compared to non-Indigenous peoples. Abuse suffered in residential schools continue to impact the mental health of Indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples also experience a heightened rate of disability due to heightened “rates of injury, accident, violence, self-destructive or suicidal behaviour and illness.” These heightened statistics are a result of the negative health impacts of residential schools for the survivors and the subsequent generations in the family.
In 1996 Leonard Hands, an Anglican priest who worked at the school during the 1960s was charged with 19 counts of indecent assault. He entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to four years in prison. The case was initiated by Garnet Angeconeb who was one of the first individuals to begin publicly discussing the abuse they had suffered at the school. Hands remains the only individual who has been held criminally responsible for their role in the Pelican Lake Residential School.
Until World War II many residential schools employed very regimented exercise with limited team sports. In the 50’s there was an increase in the role of sports teams at many residential schools, as government policy surrounding the goals of residential schools themselves changed. Rather than trying to eliminate Indigenous peoples, the schools goal was to push Indigenous individuals to integrate into society. Hockey was also seen as a way to assert more control over the pupils. Named the Sioux Black Hawks, the team of all boys started with no experience skating. After a couple years the team began to play against neighboring Indigenous and non-Indigenous teams and winning. In the spring of 1951 the Department of Indian Affairs paid for the team to go on a tour of southern Ontario. Although the Department of Indian Affairs stated there were not enough funds to adequately improve the conditions of the school, the team travelled to Ottawa and Toronto. The team and the trip were publicized and was used by the school administrators as a way to promote the school.
Pelican Lake since school's closure
In 1978, the Pelican Lake Residential School was torn down. Today in its place sits the Pelican Falls First Nations High School and Centre (PFFNHS).
PFFNHS services students from 24 First Nation Communities and is controlled by local First Nations.
In 2004, the "Pelican Residential School Monument and Memorial Garden" was opened. The monument was funded by both the Aboriginal Healing Fund, and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. The opening took place at the Pelican Residential School Monument and Memorial Garden Opening and Healing Conference. The conference was a three day event that included many events such as: keynotes addresses, workshops, and a pow wow.
Artist's such as Lara Kramer have used her family's experience at Pelican Lake Residential School as inspiration for public works of art. Kramer's exhibit, "Phantom, Stills and Vibrations" was shown at Artspace in Peterborough in March 2018. The exhibit used still images from Pelican Lake Residential School, audio of her family's experiences, and included a dance performance.
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- “Chapter Two: Residential School.” Garnet's Journey, Garnet Angeconeb & Ashley Wright, 26 Aug. 2012, garnetsjourney.com/chapters/residential-school/.
- “Pelican Falls First Nations High School.” Northern Nishnawbe Education Council, Northern Nishnawbe Education Council, 2017, www.nnec.on.ca/index.php/pelican-falls-first-nations-high-school/.
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- "Lara Kramer; 2017-2018 Ashley Fellow". Trent University. February 2018. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
- Anderson, Lance (February 23, 2018). "Lara Kramer to perform Phantom, stills & vibrations during her Trent artist residency". myKawartha. Retrieved April 5, 2018.