The Shubenacadie Residential School and the Dream of Modern Statehood
The scholarly literature has not yet appreciated the importance of the relationship between the pan-territorial residential school system ideal and Canada’s quest for recognition as a modern state. This paper focuses on the establishment of the Shubenacadie Residential School, which opened in 1930. It was the final regional frontier in the system. Drawing upon Walter Benjamin’s “principle of montage,” the analysis juxtaposes three moments that tell the story of the imagination, realization, and securitization of the pan-territorial ideal made manifest in the only school of its kind set up in the Maritimes. Across time and space, the pan-territorial vision hinged upon an idealized image of Canada as civil, enlightened, and progressive. At the same time, etched into the pan-territorial dream was an express understanding that state officials could use residential schools as vectors of military force to control Indigenous peoples and their lands, of which the use of children as human shields was one dimension. While the residential school system’s internalized violence is now widely recognized, through the Shubenacadie Residential School we see how state violence against Indigenous Peoples, including children, was a characteristic feature of the system and modernity itself. The early 1930s was particularly illustrative. To the highest levels of political office, officials defended the dream of modernity even when it entailed acts of complicity in egregious acts of violence against children.