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Violence against Indigenous people in Canada: Why we should talk about it 

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

On May 27, 2021, the news was focused on Canada. The reason? The body remains of 215 children were found buried in unmarked graves in the city of Kamloops, in the province of British Columbia. The children were former residential school students that operated in the area until 1969.

The reveal was enough for investigations and searches for graves in other regions of the country, exposing what happened inside the residential schools. Around 400,000 indigenous children studied in these schools for decades. The system was enforced, and indigenous children attended until 1947.

Image of a residential school in Canada

Residential schools were an educational system that functioned as boarding schools implemented from 1894 until 1996 in various regions of Canada. They were created through an amendment to the Indian Act of 1894. The schools were part of a program of assimilation to bring the Aboriginal population into “Canadian society.”

The agreement between the state and church organizations removed children and adolescents from indigenous communities in order to provide a quality education at the time. Still, there were hidden details such as total separation from parents and family members, loss of indigenous culture, and even physical punishment and sexual abuse. The last school was closed in 1996. 

Beliefs to maintain domination were based on religion and the prejudices of the time. Thoughts such as “The objective is to take the Indian out of the child” made them and people of the time believe their customs, language, and culture were seen as inferior, and treated as savages. The state’s mission to civilize children from 3 to 17 years of age led it to condone and practice cultural genocide in the name of God. 

Before and after picture of Thomas Moore in 1897 to demonstrate the “success” of the residential school experiment.

During the operation of these schools, the living conditions of these children were not the best, often precarious, the difficult adaptation due to the food offered and contamination by the confinement of harsh winters from diseases such as tuberculosis caused many children to die.

In addition to these conditions, physical punishment was normalized as repression so that the children had no contact with their native culture or language. According to the TRC (True and Reconciliation Commission), About 6,000 children died at boarding schools. Many of these reasons were tuberculosis, drowning, and starvation.

‘We were children’

The documentary produced by Tim Wolochatiuk in 2011 tells the story of two survivors from the residential schools, Lyna Hart and Glen Anaquod. Lyna was an activist and nurse for First Nations, one of an indigenous population, in Manitoba. She was at the residential school from the age of 4 to 17. Glen was Black Eagle, of Muscowpetung First Nation, and also spent his childhood and adolescence in residential schools. Both suffered abuse as children. 

The documentaries show that their stories are similar to thousands of survivors. The representation of what many indigenous children went through in residential schools, at the time of the documentary there were over 80,000 Indian Residential school survivors.

The survivors

This significant number of victims and the closing of residential schools led the Canadian government to take steps toward historical reparation for the fundamental population, letting their culture be autonomous.

The history of these schools has led to social problems: the re-socialization of these children who are now adults, after all, they were underemployed for 17 years, they didn’t have a family or a reference, and suffered from a high level of violence within indigenous communities.

The philosophy professor and doctoral in Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, Canada, Eduardo Vergolino, reiterates how difficult is the process of socialization and has become a social problem that can affect future generations.

In many of these children, there is no reference to what it means to be a father or a mother.

Eduardo Vergolino

Problems of violence between couples and families in these communities suffer from remnants of this tragic episode. Other problems such as abuse of alcohol and drugs still affect intergenerational indigenous communities. A report from 2014 showed alcohol is not just an adult problem, but also a teenager’s problem. On average, Indigenous youth reported beginning at slightly younger ages than did non-Indigenous students.


The formal apology from religious personalities and political figures marked the beginning of reconciliation with the indigenous peoples, but effective change was needed. 

Federal Government apologies for the occurrence

On June 1st, 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was created. A legal settlement between the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, and the parties. This commission had the objective to inform all the Canadians what happened at residential schools, they published reports from Dr. Scott Hamilton as “Where are the children buried?” but also made 2015 reports such as “Principles of Truth and Reconciliation” and “The Survivors speak.”

In addition to that, practical steps had to be taken. Investments in education and programs focused on the professionalization of teachers for indigenous communities were fundamental to this historic reparation. 

One of these projects Professor Eduardo quoted was the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Center, established in 1998 (MFNERC), which provides education, administration, technology, language, and culture services to First Nations schools in Manitoba. Universities around the country are investing and helping students to engage in departments and providing studies about indigenous culture.

One of the purposes of MFNERC is to promote and encourage First Nations involvement in all aspects of the development and implementation of educational change. Over the years, the program has become a benchmark for how indigenous communities have become independent and autonomous in the face of violent past colonization. 

The political presence of members of Indigenous communities, such as the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Michele O’Bonsawin, shows a gradual representativeness, given that these people make up around 5% of the total Canadian population. In addition to the political judgment, former MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq has been part of this political change.

Survivor Glen Anadouq speaks out: “What happened there (in the residential schools) shouldn’t have happened, but it can’t be kept a secret, it can’t be hidden. People need to know that things like this happened, they didn’t have to happen’’. This thought is what drives survivors and the Canadian nation not to forget about this tragic event. 

Reflecting the past

Wearing an orange t-shirt on September 30 is a reminder of the impact of residential schools on indigenous Canadian society. 

This campaign began in 2013, inspired by the life story of Philips Webstand, a residential school survivor. It gave society the opportunity to discuss the effects of residential schools on their legacy. In 2021 the Canadian government designated 30 September as a federal holiday known as Orange Shirt Day. 

This day indigenous people honor their ancestors and family experiences, and their resilience. Also is an opportunity for non-indigenous people to reflect and learn about this not-so-far history episode. 

Another form to spread and engage the population was through the national sport of Hockey. The Western Hockey League (WHL) announced a partnership with the Orange Shirt Society. This helps generate awareness for Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Also encouraged WHL fans to wear orange during this period of time and show their support.

These things are just the beginning to ensure their independence, to supporting their rich culture, which was and is really important for building that country, being fundamental for coexistence, and making peace with the past that cannot be forgotten. 

The article above was edited bBeatriz Gatz.
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Brunna Bitencourt

Casper Libero '25

Journalism student who loves to talk about art,music,fashion,travel,books. Looking for to write new stories.