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Shedding Light on Canada’s Dark History

CW: Discussion of residential schools, assault, and abuse.

Land Acknowledgement: Our team acknowledges that we conduct our service, work, and operations on the traditional and unceded territory of First Nations Peoples. Our head office is situated on the land of the Coast Salish, sc̓əwaθenaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsawwassen), S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō), Kwantlen, Stz'uminus, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Peoples.

July 1 marked Canada’s 153 “birthday” on the anniversary of the 1867 Constitution Act which created the Canadian Confederation. However, many did not celebrate Canada’s national day and instead called for it to be canceled in light of the recent discoveries of Indigenous childrens’ bodies at former residential schools, as well as Canada’s history of Indigenous oppression. This past May, 215 bodies of Indigenous children were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. This led to increased support from the government and the general public for excavation efforts at former residential schools. Weeks after the Kamloops discovery, 751 unmarked graves were found at the former Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan. As hundreds of more remains and unmarked graves are found, the numbers (of those found since this spring) are nearing the thousands. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (NCTR) estimated that at least 4,100 students died or “went missing” from residential schools. However, Murray Sinclair, a former senator and judge who led the commission, stated more recently that he now thought the death toll was “well beyond 10,000.”

In understanding these horrific deaths that were hidden away by the administrations of the schools and the government, it is important to also understand what exactly the residential schools were. Residential schools refer to the extensive school system organized by the Canadian government and administered by the Catholic Church with the so-called mission of educating Indigenous children. In reality, the true intentions of these schools were to rip Indigenous children away from their family and culture, forcibly indoctrinate them into the Christian European way of life, and assimilate them into conventional European Canadian society. The first prime minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald even stated that the goal of residential schools was to “take the Indian out of the child.” Children at these schools were forbidden from and severely punished for, among many other things, acknowledging their Indigenous culture or speaking their own language. Many survivors of residential schools have shared their experience with physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse at the hands of school administration. The education that was provided, often only up to lower grades, consisted mostly of prayer and manual labor. Despite the Canadian government’s support for residential schools, they were severely underfunded and the living conditions were extremely poor. This, combined with the constant abuse from school staff, gave the residential schools an extremely high death rate, as evidenced by the many bodies found at former schools. In 2015, the NCTR concluded that the residential school system was a form of cultural genocide.

People in the U.S., around the world, and even here in Canada often believe many of the positive stereotypes about Canada. There is a notion that, amongst the colonial countries, Canada is one of the nicer ones. For example, when we think of Canada, we point to the healthcare system, the celebration of diversity, the polite people, and other such positive aspects. Though there are many good things about Canada, it is way past time for this narrative to be changed to reflect the truth of so-called Canada and its history, so that we can grow and improve as a country and community. How can Indigenous Peoples celebrate the founding of the country that invaded/stole their land, eradicated their culture and people, and continues to brutalize, oppress, and exploit them? In 2008, 12 years after the last residential school closed, the Canadian government formally apologized in Parliament for the harm caused by the residential school system. In spite of this apology and Canada’s attempt to distance itself from its dark past, the consequences of these so-called ‘schools’ persist. It will take much more than a performative apology for this country to undo the educational, social, health, and financial disparities between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of Canadian society.

Our team is committed to providing safe and equitable communities for everyone, and we stand with the Indigenous Peoples on whose land we conduct our operations. We mourn the lives lost of Indigenous children, and the countless families whose children never made it home, using this day to further educate ourselves on how we can do better as settlers on this land. Through education and understanding, we can begin to flip the narrative and foster safer communities for everyone in this country. If you or someone you know would like to learn more and/or could use some support, utilize the following resources for further information and help:

Information based resources:

  • Reports -- NCTR: Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports about the harm inflicted in Indian Residential Schools

  • | Our home on native land: find out what native territory you live on and how to support those Indigenous groups

Emotional and trauma support:

  • Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program (

  • Services -- Indian Residential School Survivors Society (

  • The National Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Action-based resources:

Disclaimer: Please note that our team is not claiming expertise in the topics discussed on our platforms, and we endeavor to verify any published information with reliable sources and community experts and organizations. Any content on our platforms should not replace advice given to you by professionals, and you are using our information, resources, and programs at your own risk. Please contact us if you see an error so that we can investigate the matter and make corrections where necessary.

Sources we used that you can check out for some further reading:

  • Indigenous Foundations at UBC Arts - Article on the Residential School System

  • The New York Times - Article on the discovery of mass graves

  • CNN - Article on the Kamloops Indian Residential School

  • CBC News - Article on the findings of graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School

  • ABC News - Article on the graves found

  • WSWS - Article on unmarked graves discovered

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