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Residential Schools

by Fikayo Kayode

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.  

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, 2015


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:

  1. Providing sufficient funding to close identified educational achievement gaps within one generation.
  2. Improving education attainment levels and success rates.
  3. Developing culturally appropriate curricula.
  4. Protecting the right to Aboriginal languages, including the teaching of Aboriginal languages as credit courses.
  5. Enabling parental and community responsibility, control, and accountability, similar to what parents enjoy in public school systems.
  6. Enabling parents to fully participate in the education of their children.
  7. Respecting and honouring Treaty relationships.


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:

  1. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.
  2. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.
  3. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.
  4. Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.


B. 63. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:

  1. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.
  2. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
  3. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.
  4. Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above.


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/.

NCTR, nctr.ca/.

“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.


  • For counseling services at Acadia, contact counselling@acadiau.ca. Tel: 902.585.1246
  • For Indigenous student support at Acadia, contact the Coordinator of Indigenous Affairs at indigenous@acadiau.ca.
  • Hope for Wellness Help Line offers counseling and crisis intervention services to all Indigenous peoples across Canada 24/7. Call the toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or connect to the online chat at hopeforwellness.ca.
  • If you are having a mental health emergency, please call 911 or NS Mental Health crisis line at 1.888.429.8167

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Equity Officer Polly Leonard

Polly Leonard - Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer

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