Canada’s Residential Schools

Since the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. and now the discovery of what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Saskatchewan, I have been reading a lot of angry, sad and accusatory Facebook posts regarding the tragic legacy of Canada’s Residential Schools.

This is understandable given the fact that such revelations must be jarring and alarming to those who claim ignorance of the residential schools, a network of mandatory boarding schools for Indigenous children funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches throughout Canada starting in the late 19th century (the 1870s) and lasting until well into the 20th century (the 1990s). Shockingly, the last residential school in Canada didn’t close until 1996.

However, blaming the education system and former teachers for your lack of knowledge about the schools concerns me as a former high school History teacher (1978-2008) who always included lessons about the schools in my classes using the available resources and information, which admittedly were scarce at the beginning of my career. One individual even suggested there is a large nationwide conspiracy of silence about the schools on the part of schools and teachers.

Let’s set the record straight. Much of what we now know about the schools was uncovered by the federal government’s mammoth Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 2008 and which concluded in 2015 with the publication of a six-volume, 4,000-plus-page report detailing the testimonies of survivors and historical documents from the time to wide public acclaim and media attention that year. Accordingly, schools and teachers were asked to include information from the Commission’s findings in their classrooms.

Still, if you genuinely do not have any knowledge of the residential schools and their horrific legacy, please take the time to read this primer published by CBC News shortly after the Kamloops discovery. It should go far in answering most of your questions.

RY, June 25, 2021

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