OTTAWA — At times it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who came for them. Other times, it was a school van. However it happened, for generations, Indigenous families in Canada had no choice but to send their children to church-run residential schools established by the government to erode their culture and languages, and to assimilate them.
A national Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared in 2015 that the schools, which operated from 1883 to 1996, were a form of “cultural genocide.”
But the profound damage inflicted by the schools didn’t stop there. The commission cataloged extensive physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the schools, which were often overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded. Disease, fire and malnourishment all brought death and suffering.
Now, the national shame of the schools is again dominating the conversation in Canada.
Since May, new technology has enabled the discovery of human remains, mostly of children, in many hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of three former schools in Canada — two in British Columbia and one in Saskatchewan. Who they were, how they died or even when they died may never be fully known.
were forced to attend residential schools in a forced assimilation program. Most of these schools were operated by churches, and all of them banned the use of Indigenous languages and Indigenous cultural practices, often through violence. Disease, as well as sexual, physical and emotional abuse were widespread. An estimated 150,000 children passed through the schools between their opening and their closing in 1996.