Indian Residential Schools

Residential Schools in Canada 

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. These schools were part of Canada’s official policy which aimed to eliminate Indigenous cultures and through assimilation cause Indigenous Peoples to cease to exist.

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 schools were routinely overcrowded, underfunded, and rife with disease, and many children, weakened by malnutrition, did not survive. Mortality rates in some schools at times were in excess of 60%. The system became notorious for a high rate of physical and sexual abuse, as well. These conditions and the abuses happening within the schools were documented at various times in government reports (e.g., the 1907 Bryce report), and yet nothing was done. 

The impacts of the conditions, treatment of the children and the abuse are felt by generations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in Canada. It is estimated that between four to six thousand children died at 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

The Residential School System was a part of how Canada became a Nation and how settler colonialism took shape in Canada. Other measures of colonial control over First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples are all closely tied to the Residential School System. This includes the reserve pass system, the banning of ceremonies, forced relocations, gender-based violence4, the Sixties Scoop and the contemporary child welfare system. Intergenerational impacts from residential schools still ripple through communities, and research at the Centre supports both the histories and ongoing impacts of the schools today. 

Residential schools in BC

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

In addition to residential schools, BC also co-administered more than 100 Federal day schools and three large Indian hospitals in Prince Rupert (Miller Bay), Nanaimo and Sardis (Coqualeetza). Children from British Columbia were also taken out of the province to attend residential schools. 

Further resources