Residential schools, day schools, day scholars: what you need to know

For over a century, Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend schools aimed at stripping away their culture and language, and many also suffered physical and sexual abuse at these institutions.

Schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children and abuse was widespread

Kamloops Indian Residential School survivor Clayton Peters, 64, who was forced into the school for 10 years, sits on the lawn at the former school, in Kamloops, B.C., in May 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

For over a century, Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend schools aimed at stripping away their culture and language, and many also suffered physical and sexual abuse at these institutions.

Residential schools

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded residential schools between the 1870s and 1997.

The schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children while eradicating Indigenous languages and cultures, and there was widespread abuse.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has identified the names of, or information about, more than 4,100 children who died while attending these schools.

School narratives – histories of each school as compiled from archival documents, but not survivor testimony – are available in the digital archives of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) estimated there would be 80,000 people eligible for the settlement.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon shakes hands with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine watches in Ottawa, on June 11, 2008, the day Harper formally apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the residential school system. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

It compensated survivors a common experience payment (CEP) of $10,000 for the first year of living at a residential school and $3,000 for every year after. Between 2007 and 2011 about 105,000 applications were received and 79,000 were paid. The average payment was about $20,000.

The settlement also had an independent assessment process (IAP) through which survivors could seek compensation for abuse. It received 38,000 claims. The average amount of IAP compensation was $91,000.

In addition, the IRSSA allotted $20 million for commemoration projects and $125 million to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (created in 1998 to support community initiatives to address the impacts of the residential school system) to extend its mandate by five years. It shut down in 2014 when its funding ended. 

Ten schools have been added to the IRSSA since 2006, bringing the total number of recognized residential schools to 140. 

People asked for 1,531 institutions to be added to the settlement. To be added to the IRSSA, the criteria were that children were placed in a residence away from the family home under the authority of Canada for the purposes of education and that Canada was jointly or solely responsible for the operation of the residence and care of the children. Institutions like day schools, hospitals and residential schools run entirely by provinces/territories or religious groups were not added.

Survivors from the Île à la Crosse residential school in Saskatchewan that was Catholic-run, have been fighting for years for compensation.

Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools

In Newfoundland and Labrador, thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities to attend five residential schools run by the International Grenfell Association or the Moravian church.

Nicky Obed was sent to a residential school in St. Anthony, N.L., after his mother died in the late 1950s, and stayed in the residential school system for eight years. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The schools were not included in the IRSSA. They were established before Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949 and the federal government argued that because the schools were not created under the Indian Act they were not true residential schools. The last school closed in 1980.

A class-action lawsuit went to trial in 2015, with 29 survivors testifying in court about the physical, psychological and sexual abuse they suffered at the schools.

Under a 2016 out-of-court settlement, those who boarded at an N.L. residential school for less than five years would receive $15,000, while those who spent more than five years would get $20,000. There were an estimated 750-900 people eligible.

The prime minister made an apology to these survivors in 2017.

Day scholars

Day scholars were children who attended residential schools during the day but were able to go home at night. Day scholars were not eligible for the IRSSA's common experience payments though they could access the individual assessment program for survivors of abuse.

In 2021, the Federal Court approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit, providing individual compensation of $10,000 and a $50 million Day Scholars Revitalization Fund to support healing, linguistic and cultural reclamation. It's estimated between 12,000 and 19,000 people may be eligible.

Claims began being accepted in January and the deadline to apply is Oct. 4, 2023.

The Band Class part of this lawsuit, in which First Nations are suing for damages for lost language and culture caused by residential schools, is scheduled to go to trial in September 2022.

Day schools

Like residential schools, day schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children while eradicating Indigenous languages and cultures, and often had religious affiliations. There was also widespread abuse.

Teacher Charlotte Bush at the Federal Catholic Tekakwitha School Caughnawaga in 1952. (Kateri Center)

There were 699 Federal Indian Day Schools or Federal Day Schools recognized in a 2019 class action settlement, and they operated across Canada in every province and territory except Newfoundland.

The first day schools opened in the early 1860s. Many closed or were transferred to the community's control from the 1970s on, with the last school transferring in 2000.

It was estimated between 120,000 and 140,000 people would apply for the settlement. So far more than 150,000 claim forms have been filed.

Survivors can file claims for compensation on a tiered system for harms suffered, from level one to level five, ranging from $10,000 to $200,000.

Cultural support worker Richard 'Buddy' Young, of Eskasoni First Nation, N.S., sorts documents for day school settlement claims in February 2020. (Submitted by Buddy Young)

The settlement includes a legacy fund of $200 million for wellness and healing initiatives, language and cultural initiatives or commemoration.

The claim process opened in January 2020 and the deadline was July 13, 2022. There were many calls to extend the deadline for everyone as survivors reported problems accessing wellness supports and legal counsel during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Under the settlement agreement, people can ask a committee to allow them file late, until January 2023.