Residential School Era
Children taken from their homes, stripped of their culture and punished for speaking their language. This has affected generations of our people.
"This is not an aboriginal story. This is not only about the experience of those who were students in the school. This is also the story about Canada's experience. While they were indoctrinating aboriginal people into believing that their people were inferior, their languages were irrelevant, their cultures were not worth protecting, the very same message was being given to students in public schools in this country."
Justice Murray Sinclair, 2015
From the 1870s until as late as the mid-1990s, the Canadian government cooperated with various churches to remove some 150,000 aboriginal children from their families. Until the late 1950s and 1960s, our children were not allowed to attend the same schools as children of European ancestry. Most of them were taken from their families and sent to government-funded, church-run residential schools, often for years at a time. It is only fairly recently that all the impacts of this upheaval have been fully understood. Children lost their families, their link to the land and their culture. They grew up without models of family life in an environment that was often harsh and uncaring.
This isolation from our culture was worsened by the abuse our children experienced from those who were supposed to be caretakers. The scars of the residential school experience affected families, communities and individuals leaving a painful legacy extending across generations. It has been a long, slow process to acknowledge and recover from this shameful chapter in Canadian history.
(Link: To learn more about our healing measures taken by residential school survivors, their families and educators, see the Reconciliation page.)
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In 2009, Justice Murray Sinclair – Manitoba’s first aboriginal judge – was appointed head of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commissioners travelled across Canada for six years meeting with residential school survivors. They collected over 6,000 stories, and in June 2015, released a summary report with 94 recommendations relating to education, health and justice. Many Canadians learned the painful details of this infamous period for the first time.
An important recommendation of the commission is that the history of the residential school era be taught to all Canadian school children. In the Yukon, this is already well underway. In 2013, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in began covering this important subject at Robert Service School. We have also worked with other First Nations and the Yukon Department of Education to develop curriculum for all Yukon schools. Our goal is to incorporate curriculum elements into different subjects and geared to different ages.
Many of our young people attended the Anglican-run residential school at Carcross.
Yukon Archives #9665, William Geddes fonds
The Sixties Scoop
This term describes an infamous period from 1960 to the mid-1980s when it was common practice for government workers to remove First Nations children from their families then relocate them to Euro-Canadian households. It has been estimated that as many as 21,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were abruptly “scooped” without family permission or consultation with community leaders. Many of these children were sent to families in the United States and even sent overseas.
At the time child welfare workers had no training in aboriginal history or dealing with First Nations families. Their actions were based on the belief that the children would have a better upbringing in non-aboriginal households. Many children ended up in foster homes and adoptive homes where they were denied their heritage and in some cases abused. Reunions with their birth families later in life could be traumatic. In some cases, the adoptees returned to their birth homes to learn their parents and many older family members had already passed on.
It is only recently that most Canadians have learned the full extent of this practice of forced adoption and relocation and the damaging consequences to the adoptees and the families left behind.
In June 2015, Manitoba’s premier Greg Selinger led the way in apologizing to indigenous families for the policies of his provincial government. He stated that:
"It was a practice that has left intergenerational scars and cultural loss. With these words of apology and regret, I hope all Canadians will join me in recognizing this historic injustice. I hope they will join me in acknowledging the pain and suffering of the thousands of children who were taken from their homes."
An important first step has been acknowledging the past and recognizing the harm that has been done. As with the residential school survivors, much needs to be done to foster healing, reconciliation and redress.