Colonial Education and Residential Schools

Federally funded “Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to minimize parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children. During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents' wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, "Summary of the Final Report," 3.) 

The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada - Vol. 1-6 | Gladue Rights Research Database (

Canada's Residential Schools


Not all Indigenous youth attended residential schools. Some attended Indian day schools, some attended provincial public schools alongside non-Indigenous students, and some avoided formal western education entirely. But attending Residential Schools was prioritized by the federal and provincial governments for the cultural ‘reformation’ and assimilation of Indigenous children. Parents and guardians who refused to allow their children to be taken to residential schools were at risk of arrest by Indian Agents and/or RCMP. Children were forced to attend and those who ran away from the schools were brought back. Some children who fled the schools did not return home to their communities, as many children died from exposure in their attempts to escape the institutions and return to their homes. 

Residential schools were designed eradicate Indigenous cultures and peoples. Taking children from their families and replacing their culture with the culture of the colonizing society is an act of genocide. In addition, children in Residential Schools were tragically subjected to extreme abuse from teachers and school staff (including by nuns, priests/pastors, teachers, and custodial staff), and the mistreatment of students was extremely common in all areas of their life. Children also died from neglect, disease, malnourishment and starvation, sexual, physical, mental, and spiritual abuse/assault. Some children were even victims of homicide at the hands of staff.

For instance, food in Residential Schools was of poor quality with no nutritional value, in certain cases governments used Indigenous children as test subjects for nutritional programs that developed the lowest quality food using additives (such as bone marrow) to stave off starvation. Hunger and malnutrition was just one reality children had to survive at their time in Residential schools, poor nutrition along with small and unsanitary living quarters resulted in poor health making the frequency of infection, sickness, or disease (such as tuberculosis) statistically high.

While nearly 80 000 survivors are living today, nearly 1 in every 25 children died in Residential Schools (CBC) due to the inhospitable environmental, social, and spiritual conditions. In comparison, there was a 1 in 26 chance of dying in the line of duty serving Canada's military during WWII. Original federal estimates recorded 6000 deaths in Residential Schools, but it is has now been proven after the unearthing of Indigenous children's graves that the death toll was much higher. The recorded number of deaths also does not account for the retroactive deaths of former students/survivors who had since left school but died of complications caused by Residential Schooling. Eg: widespread experiences of trauma and PTSD, physical ailments and mental illness, substance related deaths, or any further complications due to poor nutrition and initial illness originally contracted in the schools.


Saskatchewan Residential Schools

Each link contains a summary profile on a Saskatchewan Residential School authored by Shuana Niessen and published by the University of Regina. Succinct research features general descriptions, interviews with survivors, archival documents and images, and additional resources:


Day Schools

General Information

Zoe McDaniel, “What are Indian Day Schools?” University of British Columbia   

“Indian day schools initially preceded Indian residential schools and later ran in tandem with them. Like residential schools, day schools were used as tools of assimilation and cultural genocide by the federal government [….] The children that attended day school were allowed to return home in the evening as they did not live at residential schools like their counterparts. However, they were also denied their culture and language, and were subject to the same forms of physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse."

Wahéhshon Shiann Whitebean, "Child-Targeted Assimilation: An Oral History of Indian Day School Education in Kahnawà:ke," MA Thesis, Concordia University, 2019. 36. 

“All forms of schooling for Indigenous children in Canada were notoriously underfunded and poorly staffed and did not provide an adequate education by any standard. Day Schools became the primary educational institution for Indigenous children in both Canada and the United States because they were “cheaper educational programs.” According to Raptis (2011), ‘The main argument in favor of such establishments was that in addition to educating individual learners, they could positively influence entire communities to adopt ‘western ways.’ In Canada, Day Schools existed over a longer period of time and in greater numbers than Residential Schools (since the early 1600s) and operated with the same colonial intent of erasure of identity and assimilation into Western society as the Residential Schools. Miller (1996) found that after the year 1900 there were far more Day Schools than Residential Schools, 241 Day Schools ‘for which Indian Affairs was responsible served 6784 students, while the boarding schools were home to 2229 and the industrial institutions a further 1612’. At the time, there were 19,528 status Indians between the ages of six and fifteen but only about half were registered in ‘Indian schools.’ By 1927, the number of Day Schools under Indian Affairs supervision increased to 250 for Indian and Inuit children [and Métis].”   

There is an ongoing class action lawsuit against Canada to compensate Day School Survivors for the abuse and harm they endured while attending schools.


Looking for a Map or List of Day Schools? Check out these links: