The residential school system was created by the Canadian government and administered by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. These institutions had the objective of "educating" Indigenous children while forcing and indoctrinating them into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of life. Residential schools operated on a system that forbade children from knowing their Indigenous heritage, cultures, and languages and if they did, punished Indigenous children by assaulting them physically, emotionally, sexually, and psychologically. Residential schools in Canada existed from the 1880s and very recently in 1997, the last residential school was closed. This is not distant history.
The Roman Catholic, Anglican Churches and European settlers upheld the assumption that their own civilization was the pinnacle of human achievement. They interpreted the socio-cultural differences between themselves and Indigenous Peoples as “proof” that Canada’s first inhabitants needed "guidance and civilization". Education—a federal responsibility—became the primary means to this end.
Residential schools were created under the governance of former Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald who is upheld as one of the founding fathers of Canada (and the man on your $10 bill). He commissioned research on the industrial schools for Indigenous children in the United States and accepted the recommendation to follow the U.S. example of “aggressive civilization” which led to public funding for the residential school system in Canada. Residential schools systematically and violently demolished Indigenous, First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures across Canada and aimed for a complete destruction of Indigenous cultures and languages, which led to genocide. In 1920, under the Indian Act, it became mandatory for every Indigenous child to attend a residential school and illegal for them to attend any other educational institution.
The Canadian settler society has known about these atrocities for a very long time, Indigenous communities have been speaking their truth for decades. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission published their reports six years ago. We know what to do, the communities have told us what to do, the Commission makes 94 calls to action. Seven of those 94 calls to action focus on Education, and another five pertain to Education for Reconciliation.
As educators and students at a Canadian post-secondary we have a duty to bear witness to the stories of trauma, acknowledge the truth and share the mourning. As we walk on the path to reconciliation, let’s keep the voices of the children in our hearts and minds, and do better.
A. 6. We call upon the Government of Canada to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
B. 7. We call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
C. 8. We call upon the federal government to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nations children being educated on reserves and those First Nations children being educated off reserves.
D. 9. We call upon the federal government to prepare and publish annual reports comparing funding for the education of First Nations children on and off reserves, as well as educational and income attainments of Aboriginal peoples in Canada compared with non-Aboriginal people.
E. 10. We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples. The new legislation would include a commitment to sufficient funding and would incorporate the following principles:
F. 11. We call upon the federal government to provide adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education.
G. 12. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to develop culturally appropriate early childhood education programs for Aboriginal families.
Education for Reconciliation
A. 62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
B. 63. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:
C. 64. We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.
D. 65. We call upon the federal government, through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, post-secondary institutions and educators, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and its partner institutions, to establish a national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation.
“Kivalliq Hall Recognized as a Residential School.” Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., 15 Apr. 2019, www.tunngavik.com/2019/04/15/kivalliq-hall-recognized-as-a-residential-school/.
“The Residential School System.” Indigenousfoundations, https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_residential_school_system/
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf.
Polly Leonard - Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer
Polly Leonard, MSW RSW (she/her/hers)
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer
Bancroft House, Room 103
Wolfville, NS, B4P 2R6