Residential Schools in Canada
By Svenja Hansen
On September 1, the Government of Canada recognized Residential Schools in Canada as an event of national historic significance, and two former residential schools as places of national historic significance. As Canadians, we should all learn about the history and legacy of the Residential School System because of the impacts it has had on generations of Indigenous peoples.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) nominated the Residential School System for consideration as a national historic event, while the former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School was nominated by the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba, and the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School was nominated by the Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum in Nova Scotia.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event took place virtually to facilitate the safe participation of Elders, Survivors, and Canadians across the country. The virtual announcement was coordinated by the NCTR. A recording of the ceremony is available online (English only).
A tragedy born from colonial policies in Canada’s history, the Residential School System was imposed on Indigenous peoples to assimilate them, and destroy their cultures and identities. By the time the last school closed in the late 1990s, it is estimated that at least 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children had attended federally-run residential schools.
The Residential School System has had disruptive effects on generations of Indigenous peoples, with enduring impacts on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis cultures, economies, communities, traditional knowledge and ways of life, languages, family structures, and connections to the land.
In its Call to Action #79, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon the federal government to commemorate "residential school sites, the history and legacy of residential schools, and the contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canada’s history." Commemoration is not celebration—it is recognition.
Parks Canada is committed to ensuring that the history and voices of Indigenous peoples are expressed in ways that are meaningful and respectful to Indigenous communities. The Framework for History and Commemoration: National Historic Sites System Plan 2019 supports greater inclusion of Indigenous peoples’ history, voices, and perspectives in Canadian history. It outlines an approach to sharing the stories of Canada’s history through diverse, wide-ranging, and sometimes complex perspectives, including difficult periods of the country’s past.
95% of nominations for nationally significant people, places, or events come from the Canadian public. Visit Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration to learn about the process of applying for national historic designations.