Canadian Indian residential school system
The Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. The network was funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches. About 30 percent of Indigenous children were placed in residential schools nationally. The number of school-related deaths remains unknown due to an incomplete historical record, though estimates range from 3,200 to upwards of 6,000.
About Canadian Indian residential school system in brief
In Canada, the Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. The network was funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches. About 30 percent of Indigenous children were placed in residential schools nationally. The number of school-related deaths remains unknown due to an incomplete historical record, though estimates range from 3,200 to upwards of 6,000. The last federally operated residential school, Gordon’s Indian Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan, was closed in 1996. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a public apology on behalf of the Government of Canada and the leaders of the other federal parties in the House of Commons. In 2015, the TRC concluded with the establishment of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and the publication of a multi-volume report detailing the testimonies of survivors and historical documents from the time. The TRC report concluded that the school system amounted to cultural genocide. Attempts to assimilate Indigenous peoples were rooted in imperial colonialism, which centred around a European worldview of cultural practice and an understanding of land ownership based on the doctrine of Discovery. The legacy of the system has been linked to an increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide, which persist within Indigenous communities today. The school system harmed Indigenous children significantly by removing them from their families, depriving them of their ancestral languages, exposing many of them to physical and sexual abuse. Students were also subjected to forced enfranchisement as ‘assimilated’ citizens that removed their legal identity as Indians.
The schools were intentionally located at substantial distances from Indigenous communities to minimize contact between families and their children. The system ultimately proved successful in disrupting the transmission of Indigenous practices and beliefs across generations. They were resisted by Indigenous communities who were unwilling to leave their children for extended periods and who came to associate missionaries with the diseases devastating Indigenous populations. The establishment of day and boarding schools by groups including the Récollets, Jesulines and Ursulines was largely abandoned by the 1690s. The colonial realities of colonial life also played a role in the decision to halt the education programs. An increase in orphaned colonial children benefited from the limited resources, and colonists from favourable relations with Indigenous peoples in both the fur trade and military pursuits. In the 17th century, Protestant missionaries also opened residential schools in the current Ontario region, working to encourage Indigenous peoples to adopt subsistence agriculture as a way to ensure they would not return to their original way of life. Included among them was a school established by John West, an Anglican missionary at the Red River Colony in what is today Manitoba. In 1820s, prior to the introduction of state-sanctioned state education programs, Indigenous peoples attempted to return to the original subsistence agriculture, working with farmers to ensure their return to subsistence agriculture. The mission was not widely widely again by religious officials until the early 20th century.