Emily S.

Grimsby, Ontario

Niagara Catholic Regional Fair

The Canadian Residential School System

My project is about The Canadian Residential School System. Residential Schools were established by the Canadian government to change Indigenous children’s background, culture, traditions, and lifestyles. Indigenous children were taken from their families to be taught in these Residential Schools and the government hoped that by them receiving this education it would make the children forget about their culture and make them become more like other Canadians. Residential Schools operated from the period of 1870 to 1996. Physical, mental, and emotional abuse were common experiences shared in Residential Schools. This has had a devastating impact on individual, family, and Indigenous communities. As a result, Canada has taken steps to overcome the schools’ tragic legacy and hopefully we can continue to keep moving forward together towards building awareness, healing, and reconciliation.

What was the most interesting thing you learned about your topic?

The most interesting fact I learned about The Canadian Residential School System was why this happened in Canada’s history and why Indigenous Peoples were treated this way. I did not realize that in 1867 the Indian Act was established by the Government of Canada to give power for the government to create laws regarding the education and caring of Indigenous Peoples in Canada which paved the way for the Residential School System. I learned that perspective was a big factor. At that time, the government thought that the European Canadian way of life was superior to Indigenous ways of life. I was also not aware that there were so many Residential Schools all across Canada and how badly children were treated at these schools. I could not believe that the last Residential School was only closed in 1996 which is really not that long ago. Even though Residential Schools are now closed, the way these children were treated was not right and the effects of their experiences are felt across generations and will take generations to heal. This is referred to as the intergenerational effect.

What important lessons have you learned that you want to share with other Canadians?

Residential Schools are a part of Canadian history that not everyone is aware of. These schools are a reminder of the Canadian government’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples. Even though Residential Schools are a symbol of Canadian racism and discrimination it is important to recognize this part of Canadian history because by understanding and accepting what happened back then can help us learn from the past and move towards making positive changes for the future. We can ensure the future human rights of all Canadian children so that something like this will never happen again. We can learn how wrong it is to treat others in such a way because of their culture and the lasting effects that such an experience can have on a person’s body, mind, and soul. Canada is a very multicultural country and it is essential to find balance in supporting our own and each other’s background culture but at the same time embracing our Canadian heritage. I feel that as Canadians we have a responsibility to honour, respect, preserve, and build awareness together on this remarkable land we live on with our country’s First Peoples.

How would you compare your life today to the lives of those studied in your project?

The lives of those studied in my project were very different from my life today. I keep thinking that many of the children who attended these Residential Schools were the same age as I am now. It is hard to imagine how it must have felt as a child to be taken away from your home, from your parents, from your family, and from your community. Then not being able to see them or talk to them for months and sometimes for years. I am fortunate that I can live at home with my family, I go to a day school, I am allowed to practice my faith and culture, wear clothes that I like, eat what I would like, and have a basic amount of freedom that these children who attended Residential Schools did not have. I read a quote from one of the Residential School Survivors that had an impact on me which said, “Every night your mom and dad would have tucked you in bed but you didn’t get that here. Nobody loved you.” It really made me feel the pain, sadness, and loneliness that these children must have felt. I have so much respect for Residential School Survivors who have had to endure so much and for those who are now able to share their stories so that others can understand the strength and courage they needed to face to be able to survive. What I find truly inspiring is that despite all of this, Indigenous Peoples continue to have strength, courage, and resilience to preserve their culture. They are true survivors.