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‘A new future’ for children at James Bay residential school

The Story

Warning: This video contains distressing details.

Orphans, convalescents and those who live too deep in the bush for day school: these are the students of the residential school in remote Moose Factory, Ont. For 10 months a year, these Indigenous children -- some taken from their homes -- start each day with a religious service before heading to classes. In 1955, a CBC Television crew visits the school to salute Education Week -- and here, the education is all about how to integrate into mainstream Canadian society.

About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend the government-funded residential schools from the 19th century to 1996, when the last one closed. They lived in substandard conditions and endured sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. The system was "cultural genocide," said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. A 24-hour national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419 to support former students and others affected by a residential school experience.

Discover more archival CBC audio and video about the painful legacy of residential schools in Canada.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: March 13, 1955
Duration: 2:38

Did You know?

• Residential schools had been preceded by church-run mission schools in the early 19th century. The goal of the mission schools was to teach Indigenous students to read English so they could learn the Bible and convert to Christianity.

• The federal government began working with the churches -- Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian -- to set up the residential school system around 1874. Under the Indian Act, the government had a responsibility to educate Indigenous children.

• Government and churches established residential schools with the assumption that Indigenous culture was unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing Canadian society. Without intervention, they felt Indigenous people would be left behind. Children were much easier to mould than adults, but it had to be done outside the family and the "influence of the wigwam." Residential schools, where students lived far from home for most of the year, were believed to be the answer.

• Until the 1950s, parents couldn't choose whether to send their children to a residential school. All Indigenous people, both children and adults, were considered wards of the state. The churches recruited students and the Department of Indian Affairs employed "Indian agents" -- white men whose job descriptions included ensuring all Indigenous children went to school.

• Until 1951, the residential school curriculum consisted of a half-day of classroom study and a half-day of learning a trade. Boys were taught blacksmithing, carpentry and auto mechanics while girls learned sewing, cooking and other domestic skills. This system also made the schools cheaper to manage, as much of the labour needed to run them -- milking cows, cleaning dormitories, chopping wood -- was provided by the students.

• In general, residential schools were for children aged five to 16.

• In 1931, at the peak of the residential school system, there were about 80 schools operating in Canada. They were in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. There were a total of about 130 schools from the earliest in the late 19th century to the last, which closed in 1996.

• The Department of Indian Affairs funded all residential schools.

• Canada is not the only country with a history of residential schools for Aboriginal children. From 1910 to 1970, the Australian government placed Aboriginal children in foster homes and institutions. Those children are now known as the "stolen generation." Each May 26 since 1998, Australians have observed National Sorry Day -- a day acknowledging the impact of forcible family removal on Aboriginal people.



A Lost Heritage: Canada's Residential Schools more