Cherokee Morning Song

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Canadian Indian Residential School System


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
See Native American boarding schools for the residential school system in the United States.

Founded in the 19th century, the Canadian Indian residential school system was intended to force the assimilation of Canadian Aboriginaland First Nations people into European-Canadian society. "When Amerindians had asked for schools during treaty negotiations, they had envisioned them as a means of preparing their children for the new way of life that lay ahead." The purpose of the schools, which separated children from their families, has been described by many commentators as "killing the Indian in the child."

Although Education in Canada had been allocated to the provincial governments by the British North America BNA act, aboriginal peoples and their treaties were under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Funded under the Indian Act by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a branch of the federal government, the schools were run by churches of various denominations — about sixty per cent by Roman Catholics, and thirty per cent by the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada, along with its pre-1925 predecessors, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Methodist churches. This system of using the established school facilities set up by missionaries was employed by the federal government for economical expedience. The federal government provided facilities and maintenance and the churches provided teachers and education.

The foundations of the system were the pre-confederation Gradual Civilization Act (1857) and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act (1869). These assumed the inherent superiority of British ways, and the need for Indians to become English-speakers, Christians, and farmers. At the time, Aboriginal leaders wanted these acts overturned

The attempt to force assimilation involved punishing children for speaking their own languages or practicing their own faiths, leading to allegations in the 20th century of cultural genocide and ethnocide. There was widespread physical and sexual abuse. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and a lack of medical care led to high rates of tuberculosis, and death rates of up to 69 percent. Details of the mistreatment of students had been published numerous times throughout the 20th century, but following the closure of the schools in the 1960s, the work of indigenous activists and historians led to a change in the public perception of the residential school system, as well as official government apologies, and a (controversial) legal settlement

The first residential schools were set up in the 1840s with the last residential school closing in 1996. Their primary roles were to convert Indigenous children to Christianity and to "civilize them". 

Lebret, Qu'Appelle Valley, District of Assiniboia, NWT, Indian Industrial School, ca. 1885. Parents of Indian children had to camp outside the gates of the residential schools in order to visit their children.

In the early 1800s, Protestant missionaries opened residential schools in the current Ontario region. The Protestant churches not only spread Christianity, but also tried to encourage the Indigenous peoples to adopt agriculture as a way to ensure they would not return to the their original lifestyle after graduation.. 

For graduates to receive individual allotments of farmland, however, would require changes in the reserve system, something fiercely opposed by First Nations governments. In 1857, the Gradual Civilization Act was passed by the Legislature of the Province of Canada with the aim of assimilating First Nations people. This Act awarded 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land to any indigenous male deemed "sufficiently advanced in the elementary branches of education" and would automatically "enfranchise" him, removing any tribal affiliation or treaty rights  With this legislation, and through the creation of residential schools, the government believed indigenous people could eventually become assimilated into the population. After confederation (1867), Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald commissioned Nicholas Flood Davin to write a "Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds" (now known as the "Davin Report"), which was submitted to Ottawa in March 1879 and led to public funding for the residential school system in Canada.

In 1850, attendance became compulsory by law for all children aged 6 to 15. Children were often forcibly removed from their families, or their families were threatened with prison if they failed to send their children willingly.

Students were required to live on school premises. Most had no contact with their families for up to 10 months at a time because of the distance between their home communities and schools, and sometimes had no contact for years. They were prohibited from speaking Aboriginal languages, even among themselves and outside the classroom, so that English or French would be learned and their own languages forgotten. They were subject to corporal punishment for speaking their own languages or for practicing non-Christian faiths, policies that have given rise to allegations of cultural genocide.

After the Second World War, the Canadian Family Allowance Act began to grant "baby bonuses" to families with children, but ensured this money was cut off if parents refused to send their children to school. This act, then, added yet another coercive element pressuring indigenous parents to accept the residential school system.

Compulsory attendance at the residential schools had ended by 1948, following the 1947 report of a Special Joint Committee and subsequent amendment of the Indian Act; although this did little to improve conditions for those attending.  Until the late 1950s, residential schools were severely underfunded, and relied on the forced labour of their students to maintain their facilities. The work was arduous, and severely compromised the academic and social development of the students. Literary education, or any serious efforts to inspire literacy in English or French, were almost non-existent. School books and textbooks, if they were present at all, were drawn mainly from the curricula of the provincially funded public schools for non-Aboriginal students, and teachers at the residential schools were notoriously under-trained. In 1969, after years of sharing power with churches, the Department of Indian Affairs took sole control of the residential school system.

In Northern Alberta, parents protested the DIA decision to close the Blue Quills Indian School. In the summer of 1970, they occupied the building and demanded the right to run it themselves. Their protests were successful and Blue Quills became the first Native-administered school in the country. It continues to operate today as the Blue Quills First Nations College.

In the 1990s, it was revealed that many students at residential schools were subjected to severe physical, psychological, and sexual abuse by teachers and school officials. Several prominent court cases led to large monetary payments from the federal government and churches to former students of residential schools.

The last residential school, White Calf Collegiate, was closed in 1996. A settlement offered to former students came into effect on September 19, 2007. 

Mortality rates

Residential school group photograph, Regina,Saskatchewan circa 1921

In 1909, Dr. Peter Bryce, general medical superintendent for the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), reported to the department that between 1894 and 1908 mortality rates at residential schools in Western Canada ranged from 35% to 60% over five years (that is, five years after entry, 35% to 60% of students had died). These statistics did not become public until 1922, when Bryce, who was no longer working for the government, published The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921. In particular, he alleged that the high mortality rates were frequently deliberate, with healthy children being exposed to children with tuberculosis.

In 1920 and 1922, Dr. F. A. Corbett was commissioned to visit the schools in the west of the country, and found similar results to Bryce. At the Ermineskin school in Hobbema, Alberta, he found 50% of the children had tuberculosis. At Sarcee Boarding School near Calgary, all 33 students were "much below even a passable standard of health" and "[a]ll but four were infected with tuberculosis." When he entered a classroom there, he found sixteen of the children, many of them near death, were still being made to sit through lessons.

Reconciliation attempts

Former St. Micheal's Residential School in Alert Bay. Now the property of 'Namgis First Nation

In March 1998, the government made a Statement of Reconciliation – including an apology to those people who were sexually or physically abused while attending residential schools – and established the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The Foundation was provided $350 million to fund community-based healing projects focusing on addressing the legacy of physical and sexual abuse at Indian residential schools. In its 2005 budget, the Canadian government committed an additional $40 million to continue to support the work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

In the fall of 2003, after some pilot projects launched since 1999, the Alternative Dispute Resolution process or "ADR" was launched. The ADR was a process outside of court providing compensation and psychological support for former students of residential schools who were physically or sexually abused or were in situations of wrongful confinement.

On November 23, 2005, the Canadian government announced a $1.9 billion compensation package to benefit tens of thousands of survivors of abuse at native residential schools. National Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations said the package covers, "decades in time, innumerable events and countless injuries to First Nations individuals and communities." Justice Minister Irwin Cotler called the decision to house young Canadians in church-run residential schools "the single most harmful, disgraceful and racist act in our history." At a news conference in Ottawa, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said: "We have made good on our shared resolve to deliver what I firmly believe will be a fair and lasting resolution of the Indian school legacy."

'Settlement Agreement in May 2006. It proposes, among other things, some funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, for commemoration and for a "Truth and Reconciliation" program in aboriginal communities, as well as an individual Common Experience Payment (CEP). Any person that can be verified as attending a federally run Indian residential school in Canada is entitled to this Common Experience Payment. The amount of compensation is based on the number of years attended by a particular former student of residential schools: $10,000 for the first year attended plus $3,000 for every year attended thereafter.

The Settlement Agreement also proposed an advance payment for former students alive and who are 65 years old and over as of May 30, 2005. The eligible former students had to fill out the advance payment form available for download on the IRSRC website to receive $8,000 that was deducted from the Common Experience Payment. The deadline for reception of the advance payment form by IRSRC was December 31, 2006.

Following a legal process including an examination of the Settlement Agreement by the courts of the provinces and territories of Canada, an "opt-out" period occurred. During this time, the former students of residential schools could reject the agreement if they did not agree with its dispositions. This opt-out period ended on August 20, 2007.

The Common Experience Payment became available to all the former students of residential schools on September 19, 2007. All former students (including those 65 years of age and over as of May 30, 2005) have to fill out the Common Experience Payment application form to receive their full compensation. The deadline to apply for the CEP is September 19, 2011. This gives former Indian Residential School students four years from the implementation date of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to apply for the Common Experience Payment (CEP).

Similar forced residential boarding schools for indigenous communities were operated in the United States (under the name Indian boarding schools), as well as in Australia (referred to as the Stolen Generation).

The Indian Residential School Museum of Canada is scheduled to open on the Indian Reserve of the Long Plain First Nation, near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, on June 21, 2008.

Canadian federal government apology

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized, on behalf of the sitting Cabinet, in front of an audience of Aboriginal delegates, and in an address that was broadcast nationally on the CBC, for the past governments' policies of assimilation. The Prime Minister apologized not only for the known excesses of the residential school system, but for the creation of the system itself.

Vatican Expression of Sorrow

In 2009, chief Fontaine had a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI to try to obtain an apology for abuses that occurred in the residential school system.  The audience was funded by Ministry of First Nation's Affairs. Following the meeting, the Vatican released an official statement on the church's role in residential schools:
His Holiness recalled that since the earliest days of her presence in Canada, the Church, particularly through her missionary personnel, has closely accompanied the indigenous peoples. Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian Residential School system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity. His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations Peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope.
Fontaine later stated at a news conference that at the meeting, he sensed the Pope's "pain and anguish" and that the acknowledgment was "important to me and that was what I was looking for.

Suppression of Religion

With officials believing in the virtue of Christianity, the United States Government worked to convert American Indians to Christianity and suppress the practice of the Native religions (spiritual leaders had been associated with leading uprisings.) The goal of the United States Government was to get Native Americans to assimilate to their culture. Some called this "making apples", as the Indians would still appear 'red' on the outside, but would be made 'white' on the inside.
Even in the 20th century, "spiritual leaders ran the risk of jail sentences of up to 30 years for simply practicing their rituals". It was not until 1973 that the law changed, when the Freedom of Religion Act was passed, although the government had stopped prosecuting Native American spiritual leaders.

Different traditions continued to cause problems. For instance, the government included peyote among strong drugs that were illegal on the open market because of its hallucinogenic properties and general problems with drug abuse. But, the Peyote Indians traditionally had used peyote cactus as central to their religious rituals and practices, where use took place within orderly structures. It was not until the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act of 1993 was passed that the Peyote Indians could lawfully again use the peyote cactus in their religious celebrations.

Native American education and boarding schools

Non-reservation boarding schools

Male Carlisle School Students 1879.
The Carlisle Indian Industrial School founded by Richard Henry Pratt in 1879 was the first Indian boarding schoolestablished. Pratt was encouraged by the progress of Native Americans whom he had supervised as prisoners in Florida, where they had gotten basic education. When released, several were sponsored by American church groups to attend institutions such as Hampton Institute. He believed education was the means to bring American Indians into society.

Pratt professed "assimilation through total immersion." Because he had seen men educated at schools like Hampton Institute become educated and assimilated, he believed the principles could be extended to Indian children. Immersing them in the larger culture would help them adapt. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, the Carlisle curriculum was modeled on the many industrial schools: it constituted vocational training for boys and domestic science for girls, in expectation of their opportunities on the reservations, including chores around the school and producing goods for market. In the summer, students were assigned to local farms and townspeople for boarding and to continue their immersion. They also provided labor at low cost, at a time when many children earned pay for their families.

Carlisle and its curriculum became the model for schools sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. By 1902 there were twenty-five federally funded non-reservation schools across fifteen states and territories with a total enrollment of over 6,000. Although federal legislation made education compulsory for Native Americans, removing students from reservations required parent authorization. Officials coerced parents into releasing a quota of students from any given reservation.

Pupils at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania (c. 1900)

Once the new students arrived at the boarding schools, their lives altered drastically. They were usually given new haircuts, uniforms of European-American style clothes, and even new English names, sometimes based on their own, other times assigned at random. They could no longer speak their own languages, even with each other. They were expected to attend Christian churches. Their lives were run by the strict orders of their teachers, and it often included grueling chores and stiff punishments.

Additionally, infectious disease was widespread in society, and often swept through the schools. This was due to lack of information about causes and prevention, inadequate sanitation, insufficient funding for meals, overcrowded conditions, and students whose resistance was low.

Native American group of Carlisle Indian Industrial School Male and Female Students; Brick Dormitories And Bandstand in Background 1879.

An Indian boarding school refers to one of many schools that were established in the United States during the late 19th century to educate Native American youths according to Euro-American standards. In some areas, these schools were primarily run by missionaries. Especially given the young age of some of the children sent to the schools, they have been documented as traumatic experiences for many of the children who attended them. They were generally forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity instead of their native religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Indian identity and adopt European-American culture. Tragically, many cases of mental and sexual abuse have been documented, as in North Dakota.

By 1923 in the Northwest, most Indian schools had closed and Indian students were attending public schools. States took on increasing responsibility for their education.  Other studies suggest attendance in some Indian boarding schools grew in areas of the United States throughout the first half of the 20th century, doubling from 1900 to the 1960s.  Enrollment reached its highest point in the 1970s. In 1973, 60,000 American Indian children were estimated to have been enrolled in an Indian boarding school.

The Meriam Report of 1928

The Meriam Report, officially titled "The Problem of Indian Administration", was prepared for the Department of Interior. Assessments found the schools underfunded and understaffed, too heavily institutionalized, and run too rigidly. What had started as an idealistic program about education had gotten subverted.

It recommended:
  • abolishing the "Uniform Course of Study", which taught only majority European-American cultural values;
  • having younger children attend community schools near home, though older children should be able to attend non-reservation schools; and
  • ensuring that the Indian Service provided Native Americans with the skills and education to adapt both in their own traditional communities (which tended to be more rural) and the larger American society.

Change to community schools

Several events in the late 1960s and mid-1970s (Kennedy Report, National Study of American Indian Education, Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975) led to renewed emphasis on community schools. Many large Indian boarding schools closed in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 2007, 9,500 American Indian children lived in an Indian boarding school dormitory. From 1879 when the Carlisle Indian School was founded to the present day, more than 100,000 American Indians are estimated to have attended an Indian boarding school.
A similar system in Canada was known as the Canadian residential school system

Lasting effects of the Americanization policy

While the concerted effort to assimilate Native Americans into American culture was abandoned officially, integration of Native American tribes and individuals continues to the present day. Often Native Americans are perceived as having been assimilated. However, some Native Americans feel a particular sense of being from another society or do not belong in a primarily "white" European majority society, despite efforts to socially integrate them.

In the mid-20th century, as efforts were still under way for assimilation, some studies treated American Indians simply as another ethnic minority, rather than citizens of semi-sovereign entities which they are entitled to by treaty. The following quote from the May 1957 issue of Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, shows this:
"The place of Indians in American society may be seen as one aspect of the question of the integration of minority groups into the social system."

Since the 1960s-1970s, however, there have been major changes in society. Included is a broader appreciation for the pluralistic nature of United States society and its many ethnic groups, as well as for the special status of Native American nations. More recent legislation to protect Native American religious practices, for instance, points to major changes in government policy. Similarly the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 was another recognition of the special nature of Native American culture and federal responsibility to protect it.

Admin note:

When you look at all the evidence of the past & the present concerning abuse against Natives by non-natives, it shows after all that it wasn't us who in reality are the savages. In time..  all things are brought to light.
        * Please see our other articles on Residential Schools.


  1. Boarding schools are very helpful for the teenagers who are struggling with academic and behavioral problems. There are different types of boarding schools are their.

    Top boarding schools in India

    1. The problem was that these were not just boarding schools. They were set up to turn us, Natives into non natives. We were looked at as non human & therefore our children were kidnapped & taken to these schools.
      We lost so much of our history because of this.Some were raped & beaten. Some were never heard from again. These schools are a disgrace on Canadian & American history, along with the churches who helped run them.
      Our people were not alllowed to be Native.

  2. I have personally met many other Natives who were victims of abuse while in residential schools. Many have a look of defeat, eyes that tell the story of horrors & abuse. The pain of being abused is written on their faces, in their eyes for all to see.The memories of inhuman abuse still lingers for them. Helpless children abused by adults. They have never forgotten what happened to them, what they saw happen to other children who were there. This was an act by governments and christianity such as Hitler's history is except it was strictly aimed at little children who were Native.
    It's no wonder our many of our people have no trust in government nor their religion. They preached love, but showed hatred for our people through their examples.