It's an ominous history that dates back well over a century ago. It's a legacy that shames present-day residents of Canada, and its wounds have lingered over several generations. The country's Indigenous populations, much of which were of Indian descent, were forced from their homes at an early age, taken to a series of residential schools, and assimilated into "civilized" society through strict discipline and oftentimes abusive practices. Canada's Dark Secret lifts the veil on this horrendous system of indoctrination, and chronicles several of its tormented victims.
These policies were put into place by the Canadian government as an extension of the Indian Act of 1876, a piece of legislation which allowed institutions great leeway in their attempts to rid Indigenous people of their cultural identity. Residential schools were established to facilitate the process. If parents refused to relinquish custody of their children to these government-sanctioned institutions, they faced harsh penalties and prison sentences. Meanwhile, the punishment inflicted upon the children was even more grotesque once they arrived at their new homes.
The film imparts its harrowing tale through intensely personal testimonies. As she steps through the now barren and corroded classrooms of the Mohawk Residential School, survivor Roberta Hill recalls the horrors she experienced when she first arrived there at the age of six. Another survivor speaks of her best friend and classmate, who she suspects was beaten to death and buried among six thousand other children who are thought to have perished on school grounds. Bud Whiteye shares the story of how he was kidnapped from his reservation as a youngster, and he revisits the campus boiler room where he was sodomized by a member of the school staff. For these victims and others just like them, each barren school building is truly a haunted house.
The last of these schools closed in the late 90's, but their hideous imprint remains. A survivor's grief never ends, nor does the guilt of those who found themselves unwitting accomplices to these horrors. Canada's Dark Secret is a horror film in the truest sense. But by shining light on a history long-shrouded by time, it achieves a measure of catharsis for all involved.
Directed by: Rania El Rafael