In the 1870s, the Government of Canada commissioned the Catholic, Anglican, United, and Presbyterians churches to establish and operate boarding schools for Aboriginal (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) children. The intent of the “Indian Residential School” system was to educate, assimilate, and integrate Aboriginal people into Canadian society. A federal law passed in 1920 made attendance at residential schools mandatory for Aboriginal children. The federal government and churches operated 132 residential schools across Canada, of which Catholic organizations operated more than seventy per cent. Churches stopped operating the residential schools in 1984. More than 150,000 children—some as young as 4 years old—attended federally-administered residential schools. Approximately 80,000 residential school survivors are alive today.
Many Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes and separated from their families by long distances. Even those who attended residential schools near their communities were often prohibited from seeing their families outside of occasional visits. Many schools forbade students from speaking their language or practicing their culture, and they were often punished for doing so. Due to inadequate funding, many students were forced to do manual labour, and were fed poor quality food.
Many survivors of residential schools reported emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Severe punishments, overcrowding, illness, and a variety of maltreatments were common. Thousands of children died at residential schools. The abuses and even mere premature separation from family have caused post traumatic stress syndrome, difficulty for survivors to engage socially, and a variety of dysfunctions that have been transmitted generationally. Substance abuse, violence, crime, child abductions, disease, and suicide have become prevalent in affected communities. Many children also lost their l
anguage and traditional cultural practices.
In 2007, the Government of Canada implemented the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. The settlement agreement established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and several healing initiatives.
The mandate of the TRC is to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools. The TRC documented the testimonies of survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience. The TRC strives to guide and inspire First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and all Canadians in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect.
From 2009 to 2014, the TRC gathered statements from 6,500 survivors in more than 300 communities. The resulting million-page report will be released in the course of several commemorative events in Ottawa intended to promote reconciliation and healing from 31 May to 3 June.
Several of the 48 dioceses and orders of the Catholic Church that have operated residential schools have made expressions of reconciliation since 1991. The Church continues to support and pray for the process of reconciliation and healing. We invite you to participate by your prayers and your presence.