Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events

Khalid Elhassan - July 27, 2021

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
A contemporary cartoon’s depiction of the tragic carving up of Africa by European powers. Wikimedia

10. The Tragic Fate of the Congo Under King Leopold II

King Leopold II of Belgium is not one of the first names most people associate with massive atrocities. However, his name belongs in the same league as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao: from 1885 to 1908, Leopold ran a colonial empire so vile and cruel that it rivals or exceeds the worst of most twentieth century monsters. The Belgian king’s colonial victims numbered in the millions, with ten million dead the most commonly cited figure, although some scholarly estimates go as high as fifteen million.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Contemporary cartoon about the tragic lot of the Congolese under the rule of Leopold II. ThoughtCo

It began in 1885, when Leopold painted himself as a humanitarian philanthropist and convinced other European powers then gathered at the Berlin Conference to award him a large state in central Africa. So they gave him what is today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo. That was tragic for the locals. Leopold named the new colony the Congo Free State. It did not belong to Belgium, but was Leopold’s private property, and he squeezed the locals hard to enrich himself. He did not uplift the natives and develop the region as he had promised. Instead, he transformed his African possession into a living nightmare that claimed millions of lives in widespread atrocities that came to be known as the “Congo Horrors”.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
King Leopold II and the tragic dystopian plantation into which he transformed the Congo for his personal profit. Liberty Writer Africa

9. Leopold II Promised to End Slavery in the Congo, Then Allied Himself With its Biggest Slaver

King Leopold II consolidated his power in the Congo River basin through an expedient alliance with a powerful Arab slave trader named Tippu Tip. That was awkward, given that the Belgian monarch had convinced the Berlin Conference to award him the Congo with a promise that he would combat its endemic slave trade. Leopold made Tippu a provincial governor in the eastern Congo, and gave him a free hand in exchange for the slaver’s promise not compete with the king in the western Congo.

Unsurprisingly, Tippu ramped up his slaving activities in his province, until Leopold, under pressure from European public opinion, turned on his slaver ally. He double crossed Tippu, and raised a mercenary force that expelled him from the Congo. Leopold then reorganized his mercenaries into an occupation army named the Force Publique, and turned it loose to visit a reign of terror and horrors upon the natives. The result was the transformation of the Congo into a massive dystopian plantation, and the Congolese into Leopold’s de facto slaves.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
A 1906 Punch cartoon depicting a Congolese man in the coils of a snake with the head of King Leopold II. Pintrest

8. The Congo Horrors In Action

Under the rule of King Leopold II, Congolese natives were given quotas of rubber, ivory, diamonds, or other goods, to produce. Men who fell short of their quotas were mutilated by having their hands or feet amputated. If a man escaped, or it was deemed necessary that he keep his limbs in order that he continue to produce for the Belgian king, Leopold’s goons would mutilate his family instead, and amputate the hands of his wife and children. Millions ended up mutilated for failure to meet production quotas.

Millions more were murdered, starved, worked to death, or perished from various forms of mistreatment and misgovernment. Numerous villages were wiped out when they dared to protest the colonial tyranny, with all their inhabitants massacred. When the Belgian monarch was awarded the Congo in 1885, it contained an estimated twenty million people. When a census was conducted in 1924, that figure had fallen to ten million. The exact number of victims is unknown and likely unknowable, but with estimates going as high as fifteen million deaths, Leopold II qualifies as one of history’s worst monsters.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Spirit Warrior women, 1887. Wikimedia

7. The Residential School Scandal Was Not the Only Tragic Event That Involved Canadian Authorities and Children

The indigenous residential school scandal was not the only the tragic event visited upon Canadian children by the authorities. In the twentieth century, in a bid to curb an admittedly problematic religious sect, Canadian officials forcibly seized its members’ children, separated them from their families, and raised them in foster care or state institutions. Their targets were the Doukhobors, or “Spirit Warriors”, a pacifist and anti-materialist Russian Christian sect that formed in the seventeenth century. Their belief that a divine spirit resides in everybody raised eyebrows in Russia.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Leo Tolstoy became one of the Doukhobors’ key patrons. Imgur

What got them in serious trouble, however, was their penchant for nudity to emulate Adam and Eve, a tendency to swap wives, plus a notion that nobody has any right to worldly goods. The result was centuries of persecution. Officials especially detested the Doukhobors’ pacifism, which led them to refuse conscription into the Russian military. The persecution’s intensity waxed and waned over the years, and ranged from beatings to imprisonment to exile to death. In the nineteenth century, the Doukhobors won Leo Tolstoy over as a patron, but his patronage was not enough to shield them. So they headed to Canada.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
A 1902 publication introducing Canadian to the newly arrived – and welcome – Doukhobors, before things took a tragic turn for the worse. Prints and Ephemera

6. The Start of the Tragic Chain of Events That Got the Spirit Warriors In Trouble in Canada

Early in the twentieth century, the Doukhobors emigrated to Canada in search of religious freedom. Things began well, but misunderstandings soon set in motion a tragic chain of events. The end result was that the Spirit Warriors morphed in Canada from an odd sect and into a dangerous one, famous for mass nudist protests, and infamous for arsons on a massive scale. The Doukhobors first arrived in Saskatchewan in 1902, their emigration facilitated by Leo Tolstoy and the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

At first, the Canadians saw the industrious Spirit Warriors as ideal settlers. At the time, the Canadian government granted 160 acres of land for a nominal fee of $10 to any male homesteader, provided he established a farm within three years. However, because of their religious beliefs, the new arrivals could not swear allegiance to the Crown. That disqualified them for the land grants, which they viewed as a breach of promises made by the authorities. Embittered, they trekked to British Columbia, where they established drab little communal villages.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Doukhobor women pulling a plow in Manitoba. Library and Archives of Canada

5. A Quaker-Like Al Qaeda on the Canadian Prairie

The Spirit Warriors’ leader, a charismatic figure named Peter Verigin, maintained a semblance of control over his nudist followers by flogging them with brambles. Then some Doukhobors blew him up with dynamite in 1924. With their leader’s demise, the Spirit Warriors fractured into rival factions, and things swiftly spun into a downward spiral of crazy. After Verigin’s assassination, a radical splinter broke off from the Doukhobors. This radical splinter of what was already a radical splinter of the Russian Orthodox Church eschewed the modern world.

More accurately, they eschewed what little there was of the modern world in the Canadian sticks, where they dwelt. They encouraged their brethren to avoid the trappings of modern society in everything, from the exploitation of animals to the use of electricity. In a tragic twist, their “encouragement” went beyond the adoption of a simple life for themselves. Like a deranged Quaker Al Qaeda in Canada’s back of beyond, they paraded nude to emulate the simple lives of Adam and Eve, and terrorized, burned the homes, and destroyed the material goods of other Doukhobors who dared partake of modernity.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Doukhobor children. Wikimedia.

4. In a Tragic Twist, Spirit Warriors Began to Persecute Other Spirit Warriors

The Canadian authorities had their hands full trying to deal with the radical Russian religious migrants. Mass nude parades would probably raise eyebrows today. Back in the early twentieth century, the Doukhobor splinter faction – who eventually named themselves The Freedomites – shocked sensibilities when they conducted mass protests in the buff. In one nudist epidemic, police sprinkled itching powder on the protesters. In 1932, the Canadian Parliament criminalized public nudity, and the courts began to penalize the Spirit Warriors’ naked protests with prison sentences of about three years per offense.

When yet another mass nude march scandalized British Columbia in 1932, over 600 Doukhobor men and women were banished to serve prison terms in Piers Island, BC. In a way, the naked protesters’ passive resistance exasperated Canadian authorities like Gandhi’s passive resistance exasperated the British in India at the time. More worrisome and tragic, however, was when the Freedomites went from passive protest and began to actively persecute other Doukhobors. Specifically, those whom they judged to have become too worldly, and to have abandoned the simple life appropriate for Spirit Warriors.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Tragic scene of a Spirit Warrior child and his burned out home in 1962. Matador Network

3. To Curb the Radical Spirit Warriors, Canadian Authorities Seized Their Children

Time after time, Freedomites raided the villages of other Doukhobors to burn their homes and dynamite their factories to punish them for straying from the simple life. For decades, the Freedomites waged a virtual guerrilla war in British Columbia against the modern world, and especially against other Spirit Warriors they viewed as backsliders. From 1923 to 1962, the Freedomites were responsible for over 1,100 bomb and arson attacks. The authorities fought back with harsh sentences of up to three years imprisonment for nude protesters, and seized the sect’s children, separated them from their families, and sent them to be raised in foster care or at state institutions.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
A Doukhobor watching a building set on fire. Pintrest

The violence continued however, and culminated in a series of 259 bombings in 1962 in just one region of British Columbia. Targets included ferries, railways, power lines and stations, hotels, courthouses, and the destruction of entire villages. The authorities finally decapitated the sect in March, 1962, with the arrest of sixty of its leaders, whom they charged with conspiracy to intimidate the Canadian Parliament and the Legislature of British Columbia. With their leaders locked up, the rest of the Spirit Warriors rapidly assimilated into Canadian society. Relative peace has reigned since, and Canadian Doukhobor numbers dwindled from a peak of 40,000 in the twentieth century to about 2,200 in 2011.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Maurice Duplessis and Quebec Catholic Church clergy. La Nouvelliste

2. The Tragic Fate of Quebecois Orphans in the Care of the Catholic Church

Tragic as the Canadian authorities’ handling of Indigenous and Doukhobor children was, for sheer venality, those episodes are eclipsed by the authorities’ handling of what came to be known as the Duplessis Orphans. Until the mid-twentieth century, the Catholic Church held significant, and sometimes pernicious, sway over Quebec. The 1940s and 1950s in particular were an era of widespread poverty, few social services, and Church predominance. In those dark days, Maurice Duplessis, a strict Catholic, became premier of Quebec. He immediately proceeded to place the province’s schools, orphanages, and hospitals, in the hands of various Catholic religious orders.

He then hatched a scheme with Church authorities to game the Canadian federal government’s subsidy assistance program to the provinces. The idea was to divert as many taxpayer dollars as possible into the coffers of Quebec’s Catholic Church. Canada’s federal subsidy program incentivized healthcare and the construction of hospitals, more so than other social programs and infrastructures. Provinces received a federal contribution of about $1.25 a day for every orphan, but more than twice that, $2.75, for every psychiatric patient. So Duplessis and Quebec’s Catholic Church decided to transform $1.25-a-day orphans into more profitable $2.75-a-day psychiatric patients.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Duplessis orphans. Spine Online

1. When the Church and a Dirty Politician Conspired to Ruin the Lives of Orphans for Money

In order to exploit the Canadian federal government’s subsidy program, Duplessis and Quebec’s Catholic Church conspired to turn orphans into psychiatric patients. To implement their idea and siphon more federal subsidy dollars into the Church’s coffers, they set up a system to falsely diagnose orphans as mentally deficient. As a first step, Duplessis signed an order that instantly transformed Quebec’s orphanages into hospitals. That entitled their religious order administrators – and ultimately the Catholic Church of Quebec – to receive the higher subsidy rates for hospitals.

Tragic Discoveries from the Canadian Indigenous Schools and other Events
Duplessis orphans. Flickr

It took decades before the tragic and scandalous state of affairs was finally uncovered. By then, over 20,000 otherwise mentally sound Quebecoise orphans had been misdiagnosed with psychiatric ailments. Once they were misdiagnosed, the orphans were declared “mentally deficient”. It was not just a paperwork technicality. Once misdiagnosed as “mentally deficient”, the orphans’ schooling stopped, and they became inmates in poorly supervised mental institutions. There, the children were often subjected by nuns and lay monitors to physical, mental, and sexual abuse.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – Why Isn’t Belgium’s King Leopold II As Reviled As Hitler or Stalin?

Australian War Memorial – Rain and Mud: The Ypres-Passchendaele Offensive

Canadian Encyclopedia – Doukhobors

Clement, Dominique – Canada’s Rights Revolution: Social Movement and Social Change, 1937-82 (2008)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Hitler Youth

History – How the Hitler Youth Turned a Generation of Kids Into Nazis

History Collection – The Dark Side of Great Historical Figures

History Learning Site – The Edelweiss Pirates

Holocaust Research Project – The Hitler Youth

Horne, Alistair – A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (1978)

Indian Country Today, June 30th, 2021 – 182 Unmarked Graves Found at Third Former Residential School

Indigenous Foundations – The Residential School System

Irish Times, May 8th, 2015 – Post War Massacre Sparked Algerian Independence

Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30, Issue 1, 1995 – ‘The Enemy of Our Enemy’: A View of the Edelweiss Piraten From the British and American Archives

Live Science – Remains of More Than 1000 Indigenous Children Found at Former Residential Schools in Canada

New York Times, May 21st, 1993 – Orphans of the 1950s, Telling of Abuse, Sue Quebec

Owlcation – World War 1 History: The Dutch-Belgian Wire of Death

Porter, Monica – Children Against Hitler: The Young Resistance Leaders of the Second World War (2020)

Russian Review, Vol. 21, No. 3 (July, 1962) – The Sons of Freedom and the Promised Land

Wikipedia – Atrocities in the Congo Free State

Wikipedia – Canadian Indian Residential School System

Wikipedia – Edelweiss Pirates

Wikipedia – Wire of Death

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