Residential Schools: The Legacy Continues

Residential Schools: The Legacy Continues

Residential Schools 

'' I want to get rid of the Indian problem....Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department...'' Head of Department of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott (1920) 

Treaty Right to Education

The First Nation Treaty Forefathers wanted formal education for their people that would benefit them and future generations to come. The First Nations understood that a school house would be provided to every reserve and that this education would complement their traditional system of education. It was stressed in the Treaties by the Crown that they would not interfere with First Nations culture, language, and traditional practices.

Soon after Treaty 6 was signed – the Government of Canada introduced the residential schools

Prime Minister John A. MacDonald commissioned Nicholas Flood Davin to write a report called the, “Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds” (Davin Report, 1879). Davin visited the United States to see how they dealt with the “Indian Problem” and came back in his report that it would be cost effective for the government and the most helpful way to assimilate Indians through these industrial schools. Which became named as residential schools; the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches assisted in the assimilation of First Nations children. Over 150,000 First Nations children were taken from the safety of their families and communities and forced to attend residential school. The schools were designed to exterminate all aspects of the First Nations culture to assimilate First Nations children into white society. The idea was that the schools would offer a European education and First Nations children would learn the skills necessary to survive in society away from the reserves. In doing this, the churches spent considerable time enforcing a religion alien to them by restricting First Nations beliefs and language. Many children were beaten, humiliated, degraded, suffered sexual abuse, neglected, and in some cases faced death. Children died at the hands of these schools, many of them not making it home to their families, leaving their families to wonder what happened to their children. This practice has been described as genocide by many people.    

The negative impacts of the residential schools have been detrimental to the First Nations communities. Still many years later, these intergenerational effects surface in society as social and economic dysfunctions like alcoholism, lack of education, lack of employment, high representation in the justice system, poverty, suicide, and displacement. These schools denied First Nations children the pride and dignity of their culture and as human beings.

For many years, First Nations people across Canada have been advocating for the recognition and truth of these schools to be known to the rest of society. In 1995, a First Nations Mik’maq activist, Nora Bernard started an organization to represent Shubenacadie residential school survivors. Being a survivor herself, Nora convinced a lawyer to represent them in a class action lawsuit against Canada for the abuses they suffered at the residential school. In 2005, this lawsuit spread across Canada and eventually became the largest class action lawsuit in Canada representing approximately 80,0000 survivors. These residential school claims are now being settled with Canada.

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly apologized on behalf of Canada “to kill the Indian in the child” to former residential school students for the abuses and treatment they received while attending residential schools. For many survivors, it was a bittersweet moment to hear the apology as no amount of compensation could ever compensate for the abuses suffered at the residential schools.    


Did you know:      

The First Residential schools in Saskatchewan were opened in 1883, the Battleford’s Industrial School and Gordon’s Indian Residential School (in Treaty 4 territory). The St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan was the last school to close in 1996.  


For more information on Residential Schools:

Hidden From History: Canada’s Holocaust

Canada’s Residential School Settlement

Residential Schools: A Chronology

Our Legacy: Residential Schools

Brief History of Residential Schools

Aboriginal Residential Schools – Canada in the Making