Learning about Residential Schools

Note: This page may contain distressing content. For support, the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419. The Hope for Wellness helpline can be reached 24/7 at 1-855-242-3310 or https://www.hopeforwellness.ca/

Indigenous Initiatives recognizes the importance of educating the McGill community and the wider public about the residential school system, and the severe and widespread harms that it inflicted on Indigenous children, families, and communities. Indigenous Initiatives also wishes to support survivors of residential schools and their families in addressing the ongoing and intergenerational effects of this injustice.

The Canadian government and the Anglican, Presbyterian, United, and Roman Catholic churches created and ran residential schools with the goal of the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. The Indigenous children who were forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools faced extreme abuse and cultural erasure. The Canadian government and the churches operated residential schools for over a century, from the 1880s until 1996. Furthermore, the residential school system's legacy of violence and assimilation has caused long-lasting, intergenerational harms that continue in the present day. The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission documents the experiences of many survivors and their families. 

The imperatives to improve public education and knowledge, and to support those who have been affected, are particularly urgent in the context of the recent discovery of mass burial sites and unmarked graves at former residential schools in Kamloops, BC and Cowessess First Nation, Saskatchewan. Indigenous Initiatives has compiled a non-exhaustive list of resources below, with the goals of encouraging the public to learn more about residential schools and the TRC, and providing resources for those who may be struggling right now. 


The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was created in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which recognized and addressed the severe harm caused by residential schools.  The TRC has "a mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools." As part of this mandate, the TRC released a final report documenting the experiences of residential school survivors, and the effects on Indigenous communities. 

The Survivors Speak

"The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada" explains the history of residential schools in Canada. It provides a record of the injustices and traumatic experiences inflicted upon Indigenous children, families, and communities through the residential school system, including survivor testimonies. 

Read "The Survivors Speak" here

Canada's Residential Schools: The Inuit and Northern Experience

"Canada’s Residential Schools: The Inuit and Northern Experience" is the second volume of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This volume details how the residential school system affected Inuit communities, and explains the history of residential schools in Northern regions.

Read "Canada's Residential Schools: The Inuit and Northern Experience" here.

Canada's Residential Schools: The Métis Experience

"Canada’s Residential Schools: The Métis Experience" is the third volume of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Volume 3 discusses the effects that the residential school system had on Métis communities, and draws attention to the experiences of Métis survivors.

Read "Canada's Residential Schools: The Métis Experience" here

Read the Report here.

Learn More about Residential Schools

Learning about the residential school system is an important step in understanding and acknowledging the harm that residential schools have caused to Indigenous peoples. The websites and articles below provide an introduction to the history of residential schools, as well as ongoing effects and advocacy efforts.  

CBC - Murray Sinclair Statement on Residential Schools

"We need to ensure that we put in place healing programs and foundations that will help survivors to gather and share their memories and stories."

-Murray Sinclair

Murray Sinclair, former Senator and former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has released a statement following the discovery of a mass burial site at a residential school in Kamloops, BC. In a video for CBC News, he addresses Indigenous communities, survivors of residential schools, and the Canadian public.

Read the statement here.

Radio Canada - [Lettre ouverte] Un Mois national de l'histoire autochtone consacré aux enfants

The month of June is National Indigenous History Month. The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), Ghislain Picard, has written an open letter calling for the month of June to be dedicated to Indigenous children. His letter highlights the importance of remembering and reflecting on the harm that the residential school system has inflicted on children, families, and communities. 

Read the open letter here.

History of Residential Schools in Quebec

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador created this video to provide public education about the history of residential schools in Quebec. 

UBC Indigenous Foundations: The Residential School System

Indigenous Foundations is a public resource hub developed by the First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program at the University of British Columbia. The initiative seeks to provide information on Indigenous history, identity, and culture for students, educators, and the general public. 

The UBC Foundations article on residential schools, written by Erin Hanson, Daniel P. Gamez, and Alexa Manuel, provides an overview of the residential school system in Canada. The article discuss the historical context and rise of residential schools, the living conditions that Indigenous children were subject to, and the ongoing impacts and survivors' calls for justice.   

Read "The Residential School System" here

Inuuqatigiit - Inuit and the Residential School System

The Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families provides a wide range of services to the Inuit community in Ottawa. The Centre has a webpage providing information about the effect of residential schools on Inuit communities. The Inuuqatigiit website also includes access to the Legacy of Hope book about the residential school system. 

Visit the Inuuqatigiit website here

Read the Legacy of Hope book here

Pauktuutit - Violence and Abuse Prevention

Pauktuutit is the national body which represents the voices of Inuit women. Their mission includes violence and abuse prevention, health awareness and advocacy, and social and economic development. Pauktuutit's violence and abuse prevention projects include increasing awareness and education about residential schools. 

"The rich tradition of oral storytelling, music, dance and craft and a respect for the environment that were an integral part of Inuit knowledge and way of life was eroded as a result of the Residential School experience. Today, through healing and reconciliation, Inuit families and communities are working towards reclaiming traditional values and traditions."

(Pauktuutit website)

Read Pauktuutit's webpage on residential schools here

The Caring Society - Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams

"The Caring Society works to ensure the safety and well-being of First Nations youth and their families through education initiatives, public policy campaigns and providing quality resources to support communities. Using a reconciliation framework that addresses contemporary hardships for Indigenous families in ways that uplift all Canadians, the Caring Society champions culturally based equity for First Nations children and their families so that they can grow up safely at home, be healthy, achieve their dreams, celebrate their languages and culture and be proud of who they are."

The Caring Society's "Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams" campaign recognizes and honours the children, families, and communities harmed by residential schools. The campaign is celebrated in May and June, and involves planting heart-shaped gardens in commemoration of the victims and survivors of the residential school system. The heart-shaped gardens also represent a commitment to reconciliation.

Learn more about "Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams" here

Support for Residential School Survivors

There are programs and services are available to support anyone who has been affected by the residential school system. This section provides a non-exhaustive list of crisis lines, organizations, and programs that survivors can reach out to for support and help. 

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line

There is a 24-hour crisis line available for survivors of residential schools:

"The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of his or her Residential school experience."

The crisis line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419. To learn more, visit the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and First Nations Health Authority websites

Reconciliation Canada

Reconciliation Canada is a national organization which advocates for reconciliation, through initiatives including community partnerships, workshops, and outreach programs. The organization has compiled a list of crisis lines. View the list, with descriptions and contact information, here.  

"If you are in an emergency, or feel that you or someone else is at risk of harm, please contact someone immediately:
Call 911 for help right away."

(Reconciliation Canada website)

Summary of resources from Reconciliation Canada:

Indian Residential Schools Health Support Program

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program supports survivors of the residential school system and their families throughout each phase of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. Available services include cultural support, emotional support, counselling, and transportation. 

To learn more about the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program, visit the program's website

Indian Horse

The Indian Horse website has a page dedicated to resources for survivors of residential schools. The website includes crisis lines, and the phone numbers to contact the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program in each province. 

View the Resources for Survivors page here

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