Today marks the very first National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, a new federal statutory holiday in Canada in honour of the children lost to residential schools, Survivors, their families and communities.
The date of September 30th coincides with Orange Shirt Day, a grassroots movement created in 2013 to shine a light on the residential school system and the experiences of the 150,000 children who passed through their doors.
Our team is committed to learning more about the horrors experienced by Indigenous Peoples during the residential school system, and the lasting impacts felt by Survivors and their family members today. We put together this blog post as a resource in hopes that you will find it helpful and informative.
- Residential School History
- Recent Discoveries of Unmarked Graves at Residential School Sites
- Disparities Experienced by Indigenous Peoples
- Learn [Watch, Listen, Read]
Residential School History
For 165 years, First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their families and put into schools where they were forced to abandon their traditions, cultural practices and languages. In these schools, students experienced atrocities like malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse. There are at least 6,000 confirmed deaths of Indigenous youths that occurred under the watch of the residential school system, but with recent findings the true figure could be closer to 25,000 or more.
The residential school strategy enacted by the Canadian government and Canada’s churches worked to extinguish the cultures and spirit of Indigenous peoples. This attempt of total aggressive assimilation of Indigenous Peoples and territories would later be recognized as a form of cultural genocide.
Despite being such a horrific mark in our history, Canadians have had very little opportunity to learn about Indigenous peoples’ experiences at the hands of the Canadian government … simply because these issues were not taught in schools.
Recent Discoveries of Unmarked Graves at Residential School Sites
In May 2021, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of 215 unmarked graves near the Kamloops Indian Residential School, finally bringing national attention to the horrors of the residential schools.
There is a rightful outcry for proper inquiry into every former residential school to determine how many more burial sites have yet to be discovered. This map shows all of the former residential school sites across the country, noting the status of whether there are searches planned or in progress.
Since May, the tally of unmarked graves has increased to more than 1300 - with thousands more likely to be discovered as further investigation is done across the country.
These discoveries have finally brought the horrors of the residential school system to the minds of the everyday Canadian, but there is still so much more to understand. As generations of students left these institutions, they returned to their home communities with many experiencing significant psychological challenges from anxiety to PTSD, and higher rates of suicide. The trauma they experienced continues to be felt by the next generations.
The tragedies of the residential school system and colonization in general led to severe disparities experienced by Indigenous Peoples today.
Disparities Experienced by Indigenous Peoples
In nearly every country with an Indigenous population (including the wealthiest countries in the world) we can see clear disparities between the experiences of the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous populations.
To better understand the systemic issues brought on by colonization, we look at an overview of these disparities.
- Life Expectancy is increasing across all Indigenous groups yet it remains up to 15 years lower than the non Indigenous population
- There is a higher rate of infant mortality, suicide (especially among youth), chronic and infectious diseases in Indigenous communities particularly those residing on reserves in rural areas.
- Indigenous Peoples tend to have lower rates of education particularly in rural areas, and experience significant literacy, numeracy and technology skill gaps which impacts wage prospects.
- 4 out of 5 First Nation reserves have median incomes that fall below poverty line.
- The highest disparity of median income after tax is in Nunavut, where Indigenous median income is 20K and non-Indigenous is 83K.
- Many Indigenous communities face infrastructure deficits and poor housing conditions. Infrastructure like transportation, energy, telecommunications, housing, health, education, sewage and water access are fundamental to a community’s well-being and prospects for economic development.
- First Nations communities are 90 times more likely to be without piped water, and half of the water systems on First Nations reserves pose a medium to high health risk
- More info can be found in this report.
We set out to find films, podcasts and books to help us learn more about Indigenous perspectives. Take a peek below!
- Nahanni: River of Forgiveness - Herb Norwegian, Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations, has always wanted to follow the route of the ancestors who spent the winters hunting and trapping near the headwaters of the great Nahanni River in a moose skin boat. He enlists 12 Dehcho Dene, expert boat builders and bushmen among them, to set off on a 500 km journey through a magnificent landscape. As with many ambitious adventures, not everything goes to plan. They paddle along in a boat so riddled with holes it wasn't certain they would reach their final destination. As they travel down the Nahanni, portage around Virginia Falls, and whistle past canyon walls 1200 metres high, they discover the spiritual power of nature to heal the soul.
- Becoming Nakuset - As a small child, Nakuset was taken from her home in Thompson, Manitoba and adopted into a Jewish family in Montreal. She was part of the Sixties Scoop, a generation of Indigenous children who were forcibly removed from their families and communities throughout Canada, and adopted into settler homes. Told through personal archives, Nakuset details the abuse and confusion she suffered as a child and chronicles how, along with the help of her Bubby (Jewish grandmother), she was able to reclaim her identity and become a powerful advocate for her people.
- Métis in Space
- The premise: Chelsea Vowel and Molly Swain, both Métis, drink a bottle of wine and review sci-fi movies and television shows from a critical Indigenous lens
- Telling Our Twisted Histories
- The premise: Host Kaniehti:io Horn takes stories told about Indigenous people and instead gives the microphone to more than 70 Indigenous people from 15 Indigenous communities to clear up misconceptions stemming from English words that describe us.
- It is liberating to hear the interviewees take control of these words and strip them down to their truth, beginning with “discovery” and the idea of Europeans deciding that they’d “discovered” North America. Other episodes tackle reserves, residential schools and family names, decolonizing each one as it goes.
- Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, a young Ojibway boy who is ripped from his family and forcibly placed in residential school. Saul, a gifted hockey player, is both victim and witness to the dehumanizing abuse of students at the school. As an adult, Saul becomes dependent on alcohol to cope with the trauma of his childhood.
- Shi-shi-etko is a children’s book and the story of Shi-shi-etko, a young girl who has only a few days before she is sent off to a residential school. In the time she has left, she soaks in the natural wonders of the world around her, from the tall grass to the tadpoles in the creek. Before she leaves, the child learns valuable lessons and wisdom needed in the trying times ahead.
- In Search of April Raintree is about two young sisters who are taken from their home and family. Powerless to change their fortunes, they are separated and each put into different foster homes. Yet over the years, the bond between them grows. As they each make their way in the society, one embraces her Métis identity, while the other tries to leave it behind. In the end, out of tragedy, comes an unexpected legacy of triumph and reclamation. First published in 1983, In Search of April Raintree has become a Canadian classic.
- The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their Residential school experience: 1-866-925-4419.
- The Indian Residential School Survivor Society (IRSSS) is a provincial organization with a twenty-year history of providing services to Indian Residential School Survivors. Donate.
- Water First addresses local water challenges in Indigenous communities through education, training and meaningful collaboration. Donate.
- On July 1st this year, we provided funding to Water First to go toward their Drinking Water Internship program, which prepares Indigenous youths for careers in water science to benefit their communities.
- Trends and Data Needs : Linking Indigenous Communities with Regional Development
- Report of the National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls