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National Day of Healing and Reconciliation

May 26, 2008

Photograph of children standing beside beds wearing t-shirts that read 'Carcross Residential School'.

Students at Carcross (Chooutla) Residential School, run by the Anglican Church from 1903–1969. Children were forcibly removed from their families and barred from speaking their language or practicing their culture. | National Residential School Survivors’ Society

Today is National Day of Healing and Reconciliation in Canada. According to the website created for this day, it has three objectives:

  • To celebrate a positive, collective healing and reconciliation movement within our families, communities, churches and government on May 26th of each year.
  • To educate ourselves and other Canadians about our collective history of government policies which impacted Aboriginal communities and other ethnic groups.
  • To develop commemoration sites and to encourage communities to join in the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation.

One piece of history that sits heavily in the lives of many Aboriginal peoples is the legacy of residential schools. It should sit heavily for all of us. While details are finally coming out, much has been hidden by denial on one side, and shame, pain and humiliation on the other. The damaging effects of these schools were known long before they were shut down.

In recent years there has been a growing interest by Canadians in the problem of integrating Canadian Indians with the life of Canadians in general. There are no doubt numerous reasons for this awakening of interest or perhaps stirring of conscience. Not the least of these reasons may be the fact that Canadians, consciously or unconsciously, have pursued an apartheid policy, or policy of racial segregation, with respect to the Indians of this country which, if continued, might have disastrous results.

... The traditional policy in Canada has been to regard Indians as wards of the state, to maintain them on Indian reserves and to see that they did not suffer unduly from privation. Education was provided in a variety of ways through mission schools, or schools operated by the Indian Affairs Branch. Many of these schools were residential schools where children were brought, often from great distances to spend ten months a year in school. The education provided was in most cases at the elementary school level from Grades 1 to 8. Upon completing Grade 8, or upon attaining school-leaving age, the pupils returned to their homes to resume the type of life led by their forefathers, hunting, trapping and fishing.

... The Committee ... felt that institutional life deprives children of the home influences to which each child is entitled. The love and constant guidance of parents, even if the home conditions may not be physically good, help children to feel secure, a condition which is essential for sound personality development.

Canadian parents, in general, do not subscribe to the principle that the State has the right to forcibly separate them from their children and determine the nature of the education their children should receive. Is there any reason why the Indian citizens of Canada should not have the same right to control the destiny of their children as other Canadians enjoy?

— Report of the Committee on Education for the Yukon Territory, Yukon, Canada | August 26, 1960

Since this report came out in 1960, stories of sexual, physical and emotion abuse – as well as death – across Canada have been added to the horror of children being robbed of their family life, culture and pride. So, what is happening now to address this wrong?

It’s the history of the government of this country – what they have done to little boys and little girls.

— Ted Quewezance, executive director of the National Residential School Survivors’ Society

June 1, the five-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission is scheduled to begin its work “to provide those affected by the legacy of Indian Residential Schools with an opportunity to share their individual experiences in a safe and culturally appropriate forum.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make a formal apology in the House of Commons for the residential school system on June 11.

The legacy of residential schools and other injustices continues to do damage. According to Dan Smith of the Toronto Star:

Indian, Métis and Inuit kids continue to kill themselves at a rate higher than anywhere else on Earth. They continue to suffer at epidemic levels as victims of joblessness, physical and sexual abuse, incest, fetal alcohol syndrome, addiction to booze, dope, solvents and other abusive substances. In the face of that miserable reality, most of the changes in government policies over the past 20 years – even counting for undeniable progress on some fronts – fade to more chatty insignificance.

As a recent feature for illustrated, communities are taking matters into their own hands (report from British Columbia: building a highway of hope, by JESSICA YEE | May 13, 2008). This could be where the best healing occurs. According to the Toronto Star, journalist Marie Wadden “has identified a rising tide of a do-it-yourself, community-based healing movement that has genuine, demonstrable potential to undo the social pathologies native communities have endured for generations.”

I don’t want to remain a victim of government or churches forever in my life. And neither should our people.

— Charlene Belleau, chief of the Alkali Lake First Nation, British Columbia


Indian Residential Schools Unit, Assembly of First Nations
National Residential School Survivors’ Society
Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada, Government of Canada
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Where Are the Children? Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools, a virtual exhibition, Department of Canadian Heritage, Library and Archives Canada, Donna Cona, Nation Media + Design, Isite Technologies, Jeff Thomas. There is a warning that this site could be triggering for survivors of the residential school system.
external download icon From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools (PDF download, 3.92 mb, 426 pages), Aboriginal Healing Foundation | 2008
Native Residential Schools in Canada: A Selective Bibliography, Libraries and Archives Canada
Report of the COMMITTEE on EDUCATION for the Yukon Territory 1960, Canadian Educational Policy Studies, part of 50 Essential Canadian 20th Century Education Commission Reports, by J.D. KING | August 26, 1960
Finding hope for the innocent ones, by DAN SMITH, Toronto Star | May 25, 2008
PM to apologize for native abuses , by SUE BAILEY, the Canadian Press, cnews | May 15, 2008


  • Seasonal Feature

  • April 1994: the night raid at Kingston’s Prison for Women

    by Sierra Bacquie

    There was supposed to be a new approach to the Correctional Service of Canada’s relationship to female offenders, who were promised responsible choices, respect, dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. But on the night of April 26, eight women experienced humiliation, degradation, raw fear and trauma at the hands of an all-male emergency team. How did this happen? What has changed since?  read more