Truth and Reconciliation and the Residential School System

A formal residential school system for Indigenous children operated in Canada from 1863 until 1996, with evidence of schools having existed from the seventeenth century. In total, more than 130 federally supported schools were established in nearly every province and territory.

For over 130 years, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were removed, often forcibly, from their homes and communities with the aim of isolating them from their families, traditions, and cultures. Thousands of children died at the schools as a direct result of abuse and neglect. Many who survived the trauma of the experience, deprived of their languages and identities, were never reunited with their families.

The devastating legacy of the residential schools endures across generations of Indigenous families and belongs to a larger history of systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have endured and continue to face in Canada.

Between 2008 and 2014, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) heard and documented the testimonies of approximately 7,000 residential school survivors. Acknowledging that the number of deaths in the residential schools is likely significantly higher than what is officially known, the TRC’s Calls to Action include an appeal to the federal government to accurately detail the number of children who died and to locate their bodies so that they can be properly memorialized.

The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) reminds us that “reconciliation is not possible without knowing the truth”. These words have particular resonance for an institution and a community dedicated to the pursuit of learning and knowledge. McGill University recognizes the shared responsibility to ensure that the experiences of the victims and survivors of the residential schools are known and never forgotten. We likewise have the responsibility to address historical and contemporary systems of oppression, to acknowledge the errors of our own past and of our founders, and to forge a better, more inclusive future. The imperatives expressed in the Calls to Action of the TRC and in McGill’s own 52 Calls to Action continue to guide our progress in these respects.

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