Truth and Reconciliation Permeates Visit

One of the tangible components of our travels through Canada was the impact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had on the educational agenda, the tone of officials we spoke with and the overall mood throughout our travels. This commission was established in 2007 to shed light on the Indian Residential Schools, much like in the Boarding Schools of the United States, served to “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man”.  The Canadian Residential Schools were modeled after American Boarding schools and stripped Indigenous Peoples of their identity, culture, land ripped families apart in the most inhumane fashion. The implications of these Residential Schools are still felt today.  

Below is a chart that introduces the establishment and ending of these institutions in the U.S. and Canada, the laws that made them possible, an estimate on how many children were killed, when the last of these institutions closed and what each country has done to come to terms with the legacy of the Residential Schools in both nations.

    The Travesty of American and Canadian Residential Schools 

American Residential Schools 1819-1969 Canadian Residential Schools 1870-1998
1830 Indian Removal Act1876 Indian Act 
408 Federal schools across 37 states, 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii, 431 sites in total. Over 60,000 Indigenous children taken from their families. 139 sites, which impacted 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and into residential schools.
Kill the Indian, and save the man”. General Richard Henry Pratt, Civil War veteran spearheaded the Residential School policiesI 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, that is the whole object of this Bill”. Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs 1920
Indian boarding school historian Preston S. McBride has found over 1,000 student deaths at former boarding schools, and estimates deaths resulting from U.S. residential schools to be as much as 40,000.Number of child deaths believed to be over 10,000.
Last Residential School closing: 1969Last Residential School closing: 1998
Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report (2022Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2007-
Brief comparison between the historical ties of the Residential Schools between the U.S. and Canada

Residential Schools serve a very dark part in both United States and Canadian histories. As visitors, what we witnessed in Canada was still very raw, their last residential school was shuttered in 1998, nearly thirty years after the last U.S. Residential School. The Saskatoon cohort met with Residential School survivors and children of Residential School survivors. it is one thing to read about the travesty and another completely different emotional level when you hear the individual story of someone who has lived the horrific experience. The pain and trauma permeates, and there is no way you walk away from such an experience the same person.

The Truth and Reconciliation initiatives were apparent not only in the meetings we attended, which began with land acknowledgments and language centered around decolonization but also signs which read “there is no healing before truth”, along busy streets. Nations are crippled if they are unable to reckon with their past. In Canada this discussion is taking up space in their society.

Image taken in the Royal Ontario Museum [ROM] in Toronto

Canada began this process in 2007. Here at home, the U.S. just published the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report in May 2022 under the leadership of the Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland. The Secretary is the first Native American, member of the Pueblo of Laguna, to serve as a cabinet secretary. Truthful conversations are difficult and necessary to heal. If the recommendations made in the investigative report are taken into action, it may be the U.S. will begin chipping away at the legacy the Boarding Schools have had on generations of Native Americans.

**This website is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are the participant’s own and do not represent the Fulbright for Global Classrooms Program, the US Department of State, or IREX.**

Resource on American Boarding Schools: PBS Video 

7 Comments

  1. What a comprehensive and important post that not only educates but calls the reader to further investigation, understanding and action. Thank you, Ahlam.

    1. Amy, truly the experience of meeting with Residential School survivors is one I can not shake. This happened within our lifetime, and this narrative needs to be shared and acknowledged. I hope the investigative report that was published in the U.S. can help begin that journey here.

  2. P.s. I just finished Firekeeper’s Daughter, Ahlam. A novel by Angeline Boulley, a Native American woman who wants more stories told by and about her people from a contemporary point of view. If you haven’t read it yet you might like it.

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