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Government takes over residential schools from churches

The Story

Employees at residential schools couldn't be happier. They're now civil servants, making more money and working fewer hours under their new boss: the federal government. There's also a new emphasis on fostering Indigenous culture and language at the schools. But, as the CBC reports, others aren't so pleased by the changes. Some municipalities are resisting a plan to send students to local day schools -- a plan that would increase the proportion of Indigenous children in community schools. Since the 1950s, the federal government has been working to integrate students in the residential school system with provincial schools, recognizing that residential schools are not the solution to the "Indian problem." The Indian Act has also been amended to allow Indigenous parents to send their children to a school of their choice. But integration has been a long process, and the Catholic church in particular has resisted it due to fears its influence will wane.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: May 1, 1969
Guests: Stan Cuthand, Adrian Stimson
Reporter: Craig Oliver
Duration: 3:32

Did You know?

• The Catholic church strongly opposed the government's principle of integration, particularly in the West. In Ontario and Quebec, former residential school students could be sent to provincially funded Catholic day schools. Students in the prairie provinces and British Columbia, however, had no such option, and integration was much slower there. The church was also concerned that Indigenous children would be discriminated against in a mixed school -- a concern that would prove all too valid.

• The partnership between the government and churches ended on April 1, 1969. Though it fit with the government's goal of integration, the change was also hastened by a decision by the Labour Relations Board of Canada. In 1966, domestic employees at a school in Fort Frances, Ont., were ruled employees of the federal government. The ruling gave them collective bargaining rights and forced the Department of Indian Affairs to assume direct responsibility of the residential schools.

• In some schools, churches continued to help in the hiring of residence administrators and providing pastoral services.

• The government's policy of integrating students and closing residential schools sped up after the change. In 1969, there were 52 schools with 7,700 students; ten years later, there were 12 schools with 1,900 students.

• Indigenous groups took over some schools when the government moved to close them. The first such school, Blue Quills in St. Paul, Alta., was turned over to a First Nation council in 1970 after hundreds of people occupied the building when negotiations broke down. The occupation attracted supporters from across the province and became an "unofficial Indian cultural festival" before the Department of Indian Affairs gave in. The school continued to be funded by the federal government.


A Lost Heritage: Canada's Residential Schools more