Both the and wanted to include schooling provisions in the treaties of the 1870s and beyond, though for different reasons. Indigenous leaders hoped Euro-Canadian schooling would enable their young to learn the skills of the newcomer society and help them make a successful transition to a world dominated by the strangers. With the passage of the in 1867, and the implementation of the (1876), the government was required to provide Indigenous youth with an education and to integrate them into Canadian society. The government pursued schooling as a means of making economically self-sufficient, with its underlying objective being a lessening of Indigenous dependency on the public purse. The government collaborated with to encourage Indigenous economic self-sufficiency and religious conversion through educational policy developed after 1880, which relied heavily on custodial schools. These were not the schools Indigenous leaders had envisioned.
Beginning with the establishment of three industrial schools in the in 1883, and through the next half-century, the federal government and churches developed a system of residential schools stretching across much of the country. Most of the residential schools were in the four Western provinces and the territories, but there were also significant numbers in northwestern and in northern .
From their inception until the late 1950s, residential schools operated on a half-day system, in which students spent half the day in the classroom and the other at work. The theory behind this was that students would learn skills that would allow them to earn a living as adults, but the reality was that work had more to do with running the school inexpensively than with providing students with vocational training. Funding was a pressing concern in the residential school system. From the 1890s until the 1950s, the tried constantly to shift the burden of the schools onto the and onto the students, whose labour was a financial contribution. By the 1940s, it was clear to many that the half-day system had failed to provide residential students with adequate education and training. However, it was only with the affluence of the later 1950s that funding was increased and the half-day system eliminated.
At its height around 1930, the residential school system totalled 80 institutions. The operated three-fifths, the one-quarter and the and the remainder. (Before 1925, the Church also operated residential schools; however, when the United Church of Canada was formed in 1925, most of the Presbyterian and all the Methodist schools became United Church schools.)
School days began early, usually with a bell that summoned students to dress and attend chapel. Breakfast, like all meals, was spartan, consumed hurriedly in a refectory, and followed by three hours of classes or a period of work. The late afternoon might see a short play period before supper. Evening recreation was limited, and bedtime was early. Weekends varied the routine by eliminating classes, but Sunday usually meant more time spent on religious observances. Until the 1950s, holidays for many of the students included periods of work and play at the school. Only from the 1960s on did the schools routinely send children home for holidays.
Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Although the first residential facilities were established in , the term usually refers to the custodial schools established after 1880. Originally conceived by churches and the as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to integrate them into Canadian society, residential schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples. Since the last residential school closed in 1996, former students have pressed for recognition and restitution, resulting in the in 2007 and a formal public apology by in 2008. In total, an estimated 150,000 , , and children attended residential schools.
Although residential schools are usually considered part of the assimilative policies that the Canadian government directed at Indigenous peoples from the 1880s onward, their roots lie deeper. The first residential facilities were developed in by to provide care and schooling. These early attempts, like a similar institution in colonial , failed abysmally; as people were largely autonomous and Europeans depended on them economically and militarily, the colonial administration was unable to compel Indigenous peoples to participate in the schools. However, residential schools became an enduring phenomenon with the creation of , and Roman Catholic institutions in () from the 1830s onward. These colonial experiments set the pattern for post-Confederation policies.
Since the fazing out of residential schools in the 1960's the survivors of residential schools and their communities have faced ongoing issues of substance addiction, suicide, and sexual abuse.2 These problems...
Although some students left with happy memories, the general experience of residential school students was more negative than positive. The food was low in quantity and poor in quality; preparation did nothing to enhance its limited appeal. Clothing was universally detested: ill-fitting, shabby and, in the case of winter clothing, not adequate protection for the season. The pedagogical program, both academic and vocational, was deficient. Students had to cope with teachers who were usually ill-prepared and curricula and materials derived from and reflecting an alien culture. Lessons were taught in or , languages which many of the children did not speak. In the workplace, the overseers were often harsh and the supposed training purpose of the work was limited or absent. In contrast, staff lavished time and attention on religious observances, often simultaneously denigrating .
Children as young as 3 were separated from their families and became wards of the state.
In the 1940s, the children were also, as more and more evidence is revealing, the unwitting subjects of bizarre, cruel and unethical experimentation.
A recently uncovered experiment reveals the depths of the access given to so-called researchers seeking to find evidence that aboriginal children, by dint of their race, had extrasensory perception, also known as ESP, or a sixth sense.
Fifty children at the Indian Residential School in Brandon, Manitoba, became the subjects of a series of tests that sought to establish a new measure for identifying ESP and also to find evidence of supernatural abilities of primitive people.
As was typical for the time, there was no parental consent.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least 3,200 Indigenous children died in the overcrowded residential schools. Underfed and malnourished, the students were particularly vulnerable to diseases such as and (including the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918–19).
The purposes of the residential schools were to remove First Nations children from the influence of their families and cultures, and to intergrade them into the dominant culture (The Residential School System).