Indian Residential Schools

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem.… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”—Scott, Dr. D. C. (1920). Department of Indian Affairs, 1913 – 1932.

Between the late 1800s and 1996, the Government of Canada and church organizations operated the Indian Residential School System. An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were removed from their families, homes, languages and lands. A part of official Canadian policy, the residential school system aimed at the complete assimilation of Indigenous people.

The schools were routinely overcrowded, underfunded, and rife with disease. Many children, weakened by malnutrition, did not survive. Mortality rates in some schools exceded 60%. As of September 2021, the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has documented the deaths of 4,118 children. The system also became notorious for a high rate of physical and sexual abuse. Despite documentation and reporting of conditions over the years, (1907 Bryce report, letters from clergy, etc.) nothing was done.

Indian culture was a contradiction in terms, Indians were uncivilized, and the aim of education must be to destroy the Indian” – Nicholas Davin. Davin, N. F. (1879). Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds.

The Indian Residential School System (IRSS) was an integral part of the rise of the nation of Canada and the colonialism and white supremacy upon which it was established. Other measures of colonial control over Indigenous communities, closely tied to the IRSS, include the reserve pass system, the banning of ceremonies, forced relocations, gender-based violence, the Sixties Scoop and the contemporary child welfare system. The Centre supports research into these histories.

In BC there were 18 Federal-Church operated Residential Schools: Ahousaht, Alberni, Alert Bay, Anahim Lake, Cariboo, Christie, Coqualeetza, Cranbrook, Kamloops, Kitimaat, Kuper Island, Lejac, Lower Post, Lytton, Mission, Port Simpson, Sechelt, and Squamish. The first school to open in 1867 was St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission. It was also the last to close in 1984. The Catholic-run Kamloops School was one of the largest schools in the residential school system, with more than 500 students enrolled in the early 1950s.

To browse residential school records and resources, visit the IRSHDC Collections website.

Further resources