By 1880 the buffalo had disappeared. Ranchers were beginning to fence the land and settlers were starting to build towns. The Niitsitapi way of life was changed forever.
As their food resources disappeared, Niitsitapi moved onto Reserves in anticipation of support they believed the government had promised. But the rapidity of the changes had surprised the government as well, and there was no mechanism to help Niitsitapi. The food rations that were supplied to the Reserves often included tainted meat and moldy flour. The seeds for the crops included many weeds and the harnesses were made of poorly tanned leather. Increasingly, the government saw the First Nations as a financial burden.
One solution to this “problem” was to send the children to school. The First Nations hoped that these schools would teach them the skills needed to live in a new world. Instead, the schools tried to destroy their sense of belonging, their identity, and their family structure.
The schools became an important tool for assimilation. Traditional practices, such as smudging, were prohibited and use of the Blackfoot language was forbidden. Boys and girls were physically separated and did not learn how to interact with and respect one another. Children were taken from their families, depriving them of the opportunity to learn parenting skills, love, and respect.
Sexual and physical abuse by staff and students was widespread. The children were helpless. They learned institutional behaviour – how to bully the young and weak. They learned to treat each other with contempt and violence. Residential schools created many dysfunctional people with low self-esteem, and these people in turn created a dysfunctional society. This process has been going on for five or six generations. It will take a long time to heal.