Residential Schools as Catchments for 'Neglected' Children


Beginning in the early 1950s there was a shift in the character of residential schools from educational institutions to "a sort of foster home which endeavour[ed] to cater to the social and emotional needs of the child." This shift was brought about by the development of admission regulations. Each child was to be assigned to one of six categories based on the social and economic background of the child. A census taken in 1953 by the Department of Indian Affairs revealed that out of the 10,112 children in residential schools, 4,313 fell into a category defining them as neglected or as being in homes that were unfit because of parental indifference or over-crowding. In 1966 out of the 9,778 children in school 75 per cent fell into this category and in 1975 the children estimated to be from "broken or immoral homes" had risen to 83 per cent in the Gordon Residential School, 64 per cent in the Muscowequan Residential School, and 80 per cent in the Cowessess Residential Schools. Despite these findings, the official view of the Department was that this "was not a product of economic circumstances but of parental moral shortcomings."



The departments deflection of blame onto parents rather than government and departmental policies/actions as the root cause of neglect demonstrates the perpetual colonial belief of western superiority in education and parenting. In fact, it was not poor parenting that resulted in the neglect and poor health of Indigenous children, rather it was the government's genocidal and destructive policies that created conditions wherein children experienced neglect. Residential schools disrupted parenting while also instilling harmful beliefs in Indigenous children about themselves and their cultures, subjected them to various and extreme forms of abuse which mentally and physically impacted children, their parents, and communities, and were responsible for undermining Indigenous teachings, knowledge, and concepts of well-being integral to the meaningful upbringing of children. By denying access to resources, land, and traditional subsistence patterns, stripping rights to cultural practices/freedom, and enforcing residential schooling the government manifested an environment where Indigenous children were unprotected. To insinuate that neglect "was not a product of economic circumstances but of parental moral shortcomings" denies all responsibility that the Government of Canada had in creating economic and social inequities, and the deterioration of wellbeing in Indigenous children. 

The government of Canada was also responsible for developing inequitable and racist policies which served to bolster the success and support of Settler Colonists while intentionally underserving and criminalizing Indigenous peoples. Wealth and housing inequities are cumulative effects of Colonialism.  

  • INAC File 6-21-1, Vol. 2, 13 December 1956.
  • INAC File 40-2-185, Vol. 1, Relationships Between Church and State in Indian Education, 26 September 1966. See Also: File 671/25-2, Vol. 3, 24 Jan. 1974; and File 675/25-13, Vol. 2, 16 June 1975; and from R. Martin, 24 March 1975.
  • INAC File 675/25-1-018, Vol. 2, N.J. McLeod, to Chief Education Division, 8 December 1960; and File 675/25-13, Vol. 1, 18 Jan, 1974.
  • INAC FIle 675/25-13, Vol. 1, 29 March 1974.
  • INAC File 673/25-13, Vol. 2, 30 June 1975.
Sub Event
Students distributed into 'admission categories' based on socioeconomic factors