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See Native American boarding schools for the residential school system in the United States.

Template:Indigenous Peoples of Canada Founded in the 19th century, the Canadian Indian residential school system was intended to force the assimilation of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada into European-Canadian society.[1] The purpose of the schools, which separated children from their families, has been described as "killing the Indian in the child."[2][3]

Although Education in Canada had been allocated to the provincial governments by the British North America BNA act, aboriginal peoples and their treaties were under the jurisdiction of the federal government.[4] Funded under the Indian Act by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a branch of the federal government, the schools were run by churches of various denominations — about sixty per cent by Roman Catholics, and thirty per cent by the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada, along with its pre-1925 predecessors, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Methodist churches. This system of using the established school facilities set up by missionaries was employed by the federal government for economical expedience. The federal government provided facilities and maintenance and the churches provided teachers and education.[4]

The foundations of the system were the pre-confederation Gradual Civilization Act (1857) and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act (1869). These assumed the inherent superiority of British ways, and the need for Indians to become English-speakers, Christians, and farmers. At the time, Aboriginal leaders wanted these acts overturned.[5]

The attempt to force assimilation involved punishing children for speaking their own languages or practicing their own faiths, leading to allegations in the 20th century of cultural genocide and ethnocide. There was an elevated rate of physical and sexual abuse. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and a lack of medical care led to high rates of tuberculosis, and death rates of up to 69 percent.[6] Details of the mistreatment of students had been published numerous times throughout the 20th century, but following the closure of the schools in the 1960s, the work of indigenous activists and historians led to a change in the public perception of the residential school system, as well as official government apologies, and a (controversial) legal settlement.[7]



Lebret, Qu'Appelle Valley, District of Assiniboia, NWT, Indian Industrial School, ca. 1885. Parents of Indian children had to camp outside the gates of the residential schools in order to visit their children.

The first residential schools were established in the 1840s with the last residential school closing in 1996.[8] Their primary roles were to convert Indigenous children to Christianity and to "civilize them".[9] In the early 19th century, Protestant missionaries opened residential schools in the current Ontario region. The Protestant churches not only spread Christianity, but also tried to encourage the Indigenous peoples to adopt agriculture as a way to ensure they would not return to the their original lifestyle after graduation.[10] For graduates to receive individual allotments of farmland, however, would require changes in the reserve system, something fiercely opposed by First Nations governments. In 1857, the Gradual Civilization Act was passed by the Legislature of the Province of Canada with the aim of assimilating First Nations people. This Act awarded Template:Convert/acre of land to any indigenous male deemed "sufficiently advanced in the elementary branches of education" and would automatically "enfranchise" him, removing any tribal affiliation or treaty rights.[10] With this legislation, and through the creation of residential schools, the government believed indigenous people could eventually become assimilated into the population. After confederation (1867), Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald commissioned Nicholas Flood Davin to write a "Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds" [11] (now known as the "Davin Report"), which was submitted to Ottawa in March 1879 and led to public funding for the residential school system in Canada.[12]

In 1850, attendance became compulsory by law for all children aged 6 to 15. Children were often forcibly removed from their families, or their families were threatened with prison if they failed to send their children willingly.[13] Students were required to live on school premises. Most had no contact with their families for up to 10 months at a time because of the distance between their home communities and schools, and sometimes had no contact for years. They were prohibited from speaking Aboriginal languages, even among themselves and outside the classroom, so that English or French would be learned and their own languages forgotten. They were subject to corporal punishment for speaking their own languages or for practicing non-Christian faiths, policies that have given rise to allegations of cultural genocide.[14][15][16]


St. Paul's Indian Industrial School, Middlechurch, Manitoba, 1901

After the Second World War, the Canadian Family Allowance Act began to grant "baby bonuses" to families with children, but ensured this money was cut off if parents refused to send their children to school. This act, then, added yet another coercive element pressuring indigenous parents to accept the residential school system.[17]

Compulsory attendance at the residential schools had ended by 1948, following the 1947 report of a Special Joint Committee and subsequent amendment of the Indian Act; although this did little to improve conditions for those attending.[18] Until the late 1950s, residential schools were severely underfunded, and relied on the forced labour of their students to maintain their facilities. The work was arduous, and severely compromised the academic and social development of the students. Literary education, or any serious efforts to inspire literacy in English or French, were almost non-existent. School books and textbooks, if they were present at all, were drawn mainly from the curricula of the provincially funded public schools for non-Aboriginal students, and teachers at the residential schools were notoriously under-trained. In 1969, after years of sharing power with churches, the Department of Indian Affairs took sole control of the residential school system.[10]

In Northern Alberta, parents protested the DIA decision to close the Blue Quills Indian School. In the summer of 1970, they occupied the building and demanded the right to run it themselves. Their protests were successful and Blue Quills became the first Native-administered school in the country.[19] It continues to operate today as the Blue Quills First Nations College.

In the 1990s, it was revealed that many students at residential schools were subjected to severe physical, psychological, and sexual abuse by teachers and school officials. Several prominent court cases led to large monetary payments from the federal government and churches to former students of residential schools.

The last residential school, White Calf Collegiate, was closed in 1996. A settlement offered to former students came into effect on September 19, 2007.[20]

Mortality rates

File:Indian school.jpg

Residential school group photograph, Regina, Saskatchewan circa 1921

In 1909, Dr. Peter Bryce, general medical superintendent for the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), reported to the department that between 1894 and 1908 mortality rates at residential schools in Western Canada ranged from 30% to 60% over five years (that is, five years after entry, 30% to 60% of students had died, or 6-12% per annum). These statistics did not become public until 1922, when Bryce, who was no longer working for the government, published The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921. In particular, he alleged that the high mortality rates were frequently deliberate, with healthy children being exposed to children with tuberculosis.

In 1920 and 1922, Dr. F. A. Corbett was commissioned to visit the schools in the west of the country, and found similar results to Bryce. At the Ermineskin school in Hobbema, Alberta, he found 50% of the children had tuberculosis.[10] At Sarcee Boarding School near Calgary, all 33 students were "much below even a passable standard of health" and "[a]ll but four were infected with tuberculosis." When he entered a classroom there, he found sixteen of the children, many of them near death, were still being made to sit through lessons.[10]

Reconciliation attempts


Former St. Michael's Residential School in Alert Bay. Now the property of 'Namgis First Nation

In March 1998, the government made a Statement of Reconciliation – including an apology to those people who were sexually or physically abused while attending residential schools – and established the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The Foundation was provided $350 million to fund community-based healing projects focusing on addressing the legacy of physical and sexual abuse at Indian residential schools. In its 2005 budget, the Canadian government committed an additional $40 million to continue to support the work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

In the fall of 2003, after some pilot projects launched since 1999, the Alternative Dispute Resolution process or "ADR" was launched. The ADR was a process outside of court providing compensation and psychological support for former students of residential schools who were physically or sexually abused or were in situations of wrongful confinement.

On November 23, 2005, the Canadian government announced a $1.9 billion compensation package to benefit tens of thousands of survivors of abuse at native residential schools. National Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations said the package covers, "decades in time, innumerable events and countless injuries to First Nations individuals and communities." Justice Minister Irwin Cotler called the decision to house young Canadians in church-run residential schools "the single most harmful, disgraceful and racist act in our history." At a news conference in Ottawa, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said: "We have made good on our shared resolve to deliver what I firmly believe will be a fair and lasting resolution of the Indian school legacy."[21]

'Settlement Agreement in May 2006. It proposes, among other things, some funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, for commemoration and for a "Truth and Reconciliation" program in aboriginal communities, as well as an individual Common Experience Payment (CEP). Any person that can be verified as residing at a federally run Indian residential school in Canada, as well as other criteria, is entitled to this Common Experience Payment. The amount of compensation is based on the number of years a particular former student resided at the residential schools: $10,000 for the first year attended (one night residing there to a full school year) plus $3,000 for every year resided thereafter.

The Settlement Agreement also proposed an advance payment for former students alive and who are 65 years old and over as of May 30, 2005. The eligible former students had to fill out the advance payment form available for download on the IRSRC website to receive $8,000 that was deducted from the Common Experience Payment. The deadline for reception of the advance payment form by IRSRC was December 31, 2006.

Following a legal process including an examination of the Settlement Agreement by the courts of the provinces and territories of Canada, an "opt-out" period occurred. During this time, the former students of residential schools could reject the agreement if they did not agree with its dispositions. This opt-out period ended on August 20, 2007.

The Common Experience Payment became available to all the former students of residential schools on September 19, 2007. All former students (who meet certain criteria which can be found on the website) have to fill out the Common Experience Payment application form to receive their full compensation. The deadline to apply for the CEP is September 19, 2011. This gives former Indian Residential School students four years from the implementation date of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to apply for the Common Experience Payment (CEP).

Similar forced residential boarding schools for indigenous communities were operated in the United States (under the name Indian boarding schools), as well as in Australia (referred to as the Stolen Generation).

Federal government apology

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized, on behalf of the sitting Cabinet, in front of an audience of Aboriginal delegates, and in an address that was broadcast nationally on the CBC, for the past governments' policies of assimilation.[22] The Prime Minister apologized not only for the known excesses of the residential school system, but for the creation of the system itself.

Vatican Expression of Sorrow

In 2009, chief Fontaine had a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI to try to obtain an apology for abuses that occurred in the residential school system.[23] The audience was funded by Ministry of First Nation's Affairs. Following the meeting, the Vatican released an official statement on the church's role in residential schools:

His Holiness recalled that since the earliest days of her presence in Canada, the Church, particularly through her missionary personnel, has closely accompanied the indigenous peoples. Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian Residential School system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity. His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations Peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope.[24]

Fontaine later stated at a news conference that at the meeting, he sensed the Pope's "pain and anguish" and that the acknowledgment was "important to me and that was what I was looking for."[25]

See also

Further reading

  1. "Alberni School Victim Speaks Out". First Nations Drum. Retrieved 2009-12-02.[dead link]
  2. Residential Schools — A Chronology, Assembly of First Nations, accessed January 19, 2009.
  3. Canada apologizes for 'killing the Indian in the child', M&C, June 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dickason, Olive Patricia (1997). Canada's First Nations A history of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (second ed.). Toronto: Oxford University Press. pp. 309. ISBN 0-19-541356-X.
  5. Concordia University "Thursday Report Online" 23 March 2003. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  6. Natives died in droves as Ottawa ignored warnings, Globe and Mail, April 24, 2007. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  7. Robert CARNEY, Aboriginal Residential Schools Before Confederation: The Early Experience. CCHA, Historical Studies 61 (1995),13-40. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  8. Residential Schools Assembly of First Nations. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  9. J. R. Miller (1996). Shingwauk's vision: A history of Canadian residential schools. University of Toronto Press
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Milloy, John S. (1999). A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System 1879–1986. University of Manitoba Press. ISBN 0887556469.
  11. [1]
  12. Nicholas Flood Davin, Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  13. [Susan Zimmerman. "The Revolving Door of Despair." UBC Law Review, 1992 Special Edition. p. 369].
  14. Chrisjohn, Roland and Young, Sherri. The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada (1997)]
  15. "Cultural genocide" allegations, CBC News, March 19, 1999. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  16. "Alberta Natives claim to be victims of 'Cultural genocide'," The Calgary Herald, March 2, 1999.
  17. 2.3 K'uch'an Adäw: Churches and Schools, Tagé Cho Hudän Interpretive Centre, Virtual Museum of Canada. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  18. Haig-Brown, Celia. (1988) "Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School" p.32. Arsenal Pulp Press Ltd. Retrieved 2009-12-02. ISBN 0-88978-189-3
  19. McFarlane, Peter. "From Brotherhood to Nationhood: George Manuel and the Making of the Modern Indian Movement." Toronto: Between the Lines, 1993.
  20. "A timeline of residential schools". CBC. 2008-05-16. Archived from the original on 2008-05-19. Retrieved 2008-06-11.
  21. "School abuse victims getting $1.9B". CBC News. 2005-11-23. Archived from the original on 2006-10-14. Retrieved 2007-04-27.
  22. PM cites 'sad chapter' in apology for residential schools -, June 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  23. Canadian natives to meet Pope in pursuit of healing Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  24. Communique of the Holy See Press Office. 29.4.2009. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  25. Pope expresses sorrow for residential-school abuse Bill Curry, Globe and Mail. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-02.


External links


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