Residential schools is the topic of our blog post today!

Canada prides itself on being a nation built on diversity and inclusion, but there’s a dark chapter in our history that we must face with humility and resolve. As a Canadian citizen and an educational researcher, I feel a profound sense of shame for the period of history when Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to residential schools. This policy, enacted to erase Indigenous cultures and languages, left a lasting scar on our country’s psyche and continues to impact Indigenous communities to this day.

In my ongoing efforts to shed light on this significant part of our history, I’ve explored various facets of residential schools in Canada. From the personal accounts of survivors to the complex network of institutions, I’ve endeavored to present an honest and thorough examination of a subject that we must never forget.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you find this topic as essential and compelling as I do, I invite you to read my other posts, including my reviews of residential school books specifically designed for children, and recommendations for books suitable for teachers and parents. These resources not only enrich our understanding but empower us to engage in meaningful conversations with the next generation.

As we venture into this post, we’ll delve into some of the most pressing questions about residential schools, drawing insights from literature and historical records. Let’s take this journey together, reflecting on our past, and inspiring change for a more compassionate and just future.

Residential School Facts

Here are 10 key residential school facts to keep in mind. Check the references list for more details and information.

1. What are residential schools?

Residential schools were a system of mandatory boarding schools for Indigenous children in Canada. They were part of an assimilation policy to integrate Indigenous Peoples into Canadian society. The schools were often run by churches and funded by the federal government, with the aim of eradicating Indigenous culture and language.[1]

2. How many years did the residential schools last?

The residential school system began in the 1870s and lasted well into the late 20th century, with the last federally funded residential school closing in 1996.[2]

3. What are the horrors of residential schools?

The horrors of residential schools included physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Children were forcibly taken from their families, forbidden to speak their native languages, and often subjected to harsh disciplinary actions. The conditions were often inhumane, leading to neglect, disease, and a significant number of deaths.[3.4,5]

4. When did residential schools stop being mandatory?

Though attendance began to decrease after changes in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the system began to transform, leading towards the closure of the schools.[see 1]

5. What was the largest killer of children in residential schools?

The largest killer of children in residential schools was often disease, including tuberculosis. Overcrowding, malnutrition, and inadequate medical care contributed to the spread of fatal illnesses.[7]

6. What was the worst punishment in residential schools?

Punishments in residential schools were often severe and brutal. Physical beatings, confinement in small, dark spaces, and public humiliation were some of the most extreme forms of punishment.

7. Who was prime minister during residential schools?

Several prime ministers served during the era of residential schools, from Sir John A. Macdonald, who commissioned the first report leading to the creation of the schools, to Jean Chrétien, who was in office when the last school closed.[8]

8. Why do survivors always remember their hair being cut?

Hair cutting was a symbolic act to erase Indigenous identity. Many Indigenous cultures regard hair as a source of strength and connection to heritage, so cutting it was a deeply traumatic experience.[9]

9. Who was responsible for residential schools?

The Canadian government, in collaboration with various Christian churches, was responsible for the establishment and operation of residential schools.[see 2]

10. Were bodies found in residential schools?

Yes, unmarked graves have been found at former residential school sites, revealing the extent of the tragedy and the loss of life within these institutions.[10]

Final thoughts

The story of residential schools is not just a dark chapter in Canadian history; it’s a complex narrative that continues to resonate in the lives of Indigenous communities and the nation as a whole. While we’ve explored various facets of residential schools in this post, it’s important to recognize that the work of understanding, healing, and reconciliation is ongoing.

Through my research, writing, and interactions with educators and readers, I’m reminded of our collective responsibility to acknowledge the painful truth and work towards a future where empathy, respect, and justice prevail. Whether you’re an educator, a parent, or simply a concerned citizen, I encourage you to keep learning, engage in dialogues, and support the initiatives that foster reconciliation and healing.

For those interested in continuing this exploration, do visit my posts on residential school books for kids, and residential school books for teachers and parents. Together, we can be a part of the change that honors the memories, experiences, and resilience of Indigenous peoples in Canada.


The Residential School System, Indigenous Foundations

Residential Schools in Canada, The Canadian Encyclopedia

Canada’s Residential Schools Were a Horror, Scientific American

The horrors of St. Anne’s, CBC News

‘This school is a jail house’: Documents reveal the horrors of Indian Residential Schools, National Post

In their words: What residential school survivors told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Global News

Indigenous Children Are Still Dying in Boarding Schools, Scientific American

Canadian Indian residential school system, Wikipedia

How Thousands of Indigenous Children Vanished in Canada, The New York Times

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