About Indian Residential Schools

WARNING:  If this information causes any crisis or distress, call the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419


* The goal of Indian residential schools was to assimilate Indians into society.

* The Canadian government operated Indian residential schools in partnership with the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, among others.

* The Canadian government was financially responsible for Indian residential schools.

* Indian residential schools operated in all Canadian provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.

* Indian residential schools operated in Canada between the 1870s and the 1990s.

* The last Indian residential school closed in 1996.

* Children between the ages of 4-16 attended Indian residential school.

* It is estimated that over 150,000 Indian, Inuit, and Métis children attended Indian residential school.


Before residential schools existed, industrial schools existed both on and off-reserve.  They were a form of “manual labour school”.  Eventually, the industrial school model was phased out, in favour of the residential school model.

The Indian residential school system was mainly located off-reserve, attended by children for the duration of a 10-month academic year.  In some cases, children lived at the residential school year round. The students’ time was divided between academic learning, religious prayer, and tasks.  


The Indian residential school system was based on the clearly stated goals of assimilating Indians, deemed to be the most effective way to “civilize” the Indians.

“...[I]f anything is to be done with the Indian, we must catch him very young.  The children must be kept constantly within the circle of civilized conditions.”

Nicholas Flood Davin, “Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds,” 1879.

Duncan Campbell Scott, who was the Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs in Canada in 1920, has been quoted on the record saying,

"I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone... 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."


In 1884, amendments to the Indian Act, 1876 were adopted and provided for the creation of Indian residential schools.  The Indian residential schools in Canada were predominately funded and operated by the Government of Canada and Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and United churches.  To a lesser scale, some Indian residential schools were funded by provincial governments or by the various religious orders.

In 1920, amendments to the Indian Act make it mandatory for every Indian child between the ages of seven and sixteen years, to attend Indian residential school.  

In 1933, legal guardianship of the Indian children attending Indian residential school was assumed by the principals of those Indian residential schools, upon the forcible surrender of legal custody by parents.


It is estimated that over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, between the ages of 4 and 16 years old, attended Indian residential schools in Canada.  


There are 139 Indian residential schools identified within the Indian Residential School (IRS) Settlement Agreement.  This figure represents the residential schools that were funded and operated in whole by the federal government or in part by the federal government and a religious order.

It is to be noted that there were a number of other schools that were funded by the provincial government and/or a religious order.  These schools are not included in the IRS Settlement.


The list of Indian residential schools can be found HERE

Click HERE for a map of residential schools across Canada that are recognized by the IRS Settlement.  Below the map you will find the name of each residential school, with their specific location, and the affiliate religious order.


For the most part, children do not recall positive experiences while attending Indian residential school.  They were forced to abandon their language, cultural beliefs, and way of life, and mandated to adopt the European languages of English or French, foreign religious denominations, and new habits.  

The following is a list of some of the forced changes and unpleasant traumatic experiences lived by former students that have been documented:
* Forbidden to speak their Aboriginal languages
* Required to speak English or French
* Required to adopt religious denomination of the school
* Forced style of prayer consistent with school denomination
* Forced haircut, or shaved head
* Use of toxic chemical to clean children’s hair and skin
* Forced to wear uniform as designed by the school
* Forced to shower, no access to bath tubs
* Lack of nutritious diet
* Insufficient quantities of food
* Served spoiled food
* Segregation based on gender: brothers and sisters no contact
* Sexual assault
* Forced abortions
* Electrical shock
* Force-feeding of own vomit when sick
* Exposure to freezing outside temperatures with improper clothing
* Withholding of medical attention
* Exposure to contagious illness: students with tuberculosis not segregated
* Forced labour in unsafe work environments
* Vilification of cultural traditions
* Use of racist language to address students
* Withholding presents and letters from family


Strict rules were developed, implemented, and strictly enforced at Indian residential schools to ensure children accepted and adapted the languages, religious beliefs, and ways of life.

Below are some of the documented ways that Indian residential school staff ensured students respected the rules:
* Needles inserted into tongues for speaking their language
* Leather strap used to hit on various areas of body
* Beating with fists
* Burning and scalding hands
* Inflicting beatings until unconscious
* Starvation
* Shaming
* Public beatings of naked children
* Public strip search
* Genital search
* Sexual abuse
* Locking in closets, cages, and basements


The last Indian residential school, located in Saskatchewan, closed in 1996.

For further information on the Anishinabek Nation Indian Residential School Project please contact the Union of Ontario Indians at:
Toll Free 1-877-702-5200  ext. 2308   
Email: irscp@anishinabek.ca


For emotional and crisis referral services you can contact the 24 hour Indian Residential Schools National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419

For more information on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission please contact: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3 or by phone at
1-888-872-5554 or by email at info@trc.ca

For more information on Health Canada’s Indian Residential School Health Support Program please contact: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index-eng.php or by phone at 1-888-301-6426 

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