Topic Exploration Paper

Residential Schools


This paper includes an analysis of three journal articles regarding past residential schools that were open for over 100 years throughout Canada. Different perspectives on residential schools can be read throughout each of these journals. People who have attended residential schools speak out to share their story regarding the positive and negative aspects of residential schools. With the perspective from the people who attended those schools comes their opinion as to why they were started in the first place. Since residential schools have been closed, the government has tried to improve and advance the relationship between Aboriginal people and modern society. This paper provides explanations of the steps that can be taken to build a better relationship. The outcomes that were intended have been compared to what was actually achieved as a result of residential schools. The truth is spoken from Aboriginal peoples as to how they were affected by residential schools and the conditions they had to bear while being a part of this monstrosity, as well as, the measure that has been taken to fix this mistake.

Residential Schools

Residential schools are a part of Canada’s history that has shaped Aboriginal peoples heritage and culture. A limited number of positive experiences were achieved through residential schooling for Aboriginal children; a much larger portion of negative experiences were recognized. Endless pieces of literature can be found that share Aboriginal people’s experiences while attending these schools. “The Residential School Experience” and “My Life in an Indian Residential School” are two journals that show the depth and bares the truth of what Aboriginal people had to endure throughout the years in residential schools. Their stories show both the undesirable, harmful and damaging aspects of residential schools, along with an optimistic side. The “Introduction: Residential Schools and Decolonization” journal presents a brief overview as to why residential schools were opened, what happened in them and the historical effects after their closure. People’s opinions, experiences and beliefs, whether they are Aboriginal people, from another ethnicity, or personal, about residential schools can be explored to learn more fully.

Personal experiences are shared in the journal “My Life in an Indian Residential School” by Pauline Dempsey. She explains her perspective during the time in her life that she attended a residential school. Pauline Dempsey starts off explaining that she was born Pauline Gladstone on the Blood Reserve, also known as St. Paul’s Anglican Indian Residential School. She entered into school at a young age where she completed classes in the morning and chores in the afternoon. Residential schools started, according to Dempsey (2011), because, “…children had to be taken from their homes in order to get a Christian education” (p. 25). From my experience, past history lessons, books and videos suggested that residential schools occurred to create assimilation between the Aboriginal people, and the Europeans. While attending the residential school parents were allowed to visit Pauline’s school on Sundays and during summer vacation they were allowed to go home. In efforts to stamp out their culture, language, dance, music, religion and politics they still attended the Sun Dance and fairs while they were at home. In accordance to what Dempsey said, “We were taught the three “Gs” – Good Christians, Good wives, Good housekeepers” (p. 25) I agree. The three “Gs” is what Canada was trying to accomplish when sending Aboriginal woman to residential schools. History explained that the European men married Aboriginal woman to take care of their essential needs. Pauline talks about her situation in great detail, but also explains towards the end of the article about her mother’s situation with Mrs. Wells, who was a lady that taught girls how to survive in the outside world. She had a very strong character and was very opinionated, but her values were morally upstanding and her students respected her. Pauline Dempsey explained two different situations in “My Life in an Indian Residential School,” both occurred on opposite ends of the spectrum. If more Aboriginal people we taught to assimilate to the modern society by Mrs. Wells’ ways, the stories documented would be less drastic and more positive.

The journal “Introduction: Residential Schools and Decolonization” written by Rosemary Nagy and Robinder Kaur Sehdev explains the important facts involving residential schools. In the beginning it explains that more than 15,000 children were a part of the residential school system from 1870-1996. Nagy and Sehdev (2012) claimed that residential schools were aimed at “killing the Indian in the child” (p. 67). Young children were torn away from their families at a young age and placed in residential schools. Sehdev and Nagy (2012) also explain the conditions in residential schools as being, “underfunded, mismanaged, inadequately staffed, and rife with disease” (p. 67). These accusations collaborate along with what I have learnt about residential schools in the past. Sexual, emotional and physical abuse was not uncommon during this tragic time. No student is able to learn without a safe environment, so I question: How did these Aboriginal children learn in the environment of a residential school? Details are given as to how the government is trying to make right for their history. The article breaks down the compensation that Aboriginal people attending a residential school received for going through that trauma. $10,000 was given for the first year at a residential school and an additional $3000 for each year spent after that. Some Aboriginal people benefited from this money given to them, but previous knowledge of mine implies that many Aboriginal people turned to drugs and alcohol to try to diminish the pain created from residential schools. I believe some of that money they received went towards those outlets. In 2008, Steven Harper did a public announcement apologizing for the residential schools and recognizing the impact that it has had on today’s society. Aboriginal people are not going to heal as a result of a public apology; however time will be the major factor with mending the mistakes the government has made in the past.

“The Residential School Experience” is another journal article like “My Life in an Indian Residential School” that takes us back into their personal experiences of residential schools that has now played a crucial role and affected their future. “The Residential School Experience” justifies the reason for residential schools starting and continuing was to attempt to make Aboriginal people “Canadian.” Overall, the journal article explains that they were denied regular contact with their tribes and families, life skills were taught very poorly, as well it enforced that Aboriginal culture and traditions were wrong. Suggested ways to help Aboriginal people who have experienced residential schools is also mentioned throughout “The Residential School Experience.” Some methods that were recommended was recognizing the need to change, discussing the past and reconnecting with yourself, your family, your community and your nation. Aboriginal communities are making attempts to heal by cooperating with others to share powers. Observing the Aboriginal culture that is around me today I notice the language that has been lost over the years. Their pride in their heritage is rarely shown amongst those that are my age. I believe that more awareness would make those who know little about Aboriginals less afraid to interact with them. Not only does the journal “The Residential School Experience” create solutions for healing Aboriginal communities, but entire communities involving Aboriginals and others of different ethnicity to band together.

Pieces of literature can be thoroughly examined to determine people’s opinions and personal opinions regarding residential schools in Canada. Three journal articles with three different perspectives were overviewed and summarized. There are a lot of damaging acts that occurred throughout Residential Schools. “My Life in an Indian Residential School” and “The Residential School Experience” portrays the worthy aspects as well. They include suggestions to help the healing process begin, and good experiences of assimilation to the European culture. The journal “Introduction: Residential Schools and Decolonization” picks out the situations that Aboriginal peoples endured, but shows how the government has put in effort to make up for their mistake in the past. These articles can summarize that the years residential schools existed were hard times for the Aboriginal peoples and a lot of their culture and heritage was lost, but throughout all these negative experiences, there were still petite situations that were found to be helpful for the future. These do not override and make up for the errors made, but any progress and positive experience is helpful in moving towards a strong culture.

 Works Cited

Anonymous, The Aboriginal Nurse (2002). The Residential School Experience. Finding Our Way: A Sexual and Reproductive Health Sourcebook for Aboriginal Communities, Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada and Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada, 13, 195-207. Retrieved from

Dempsey, P. (2011). My Life in an Indian Residential School. Alberta History, 59, 22-27. Retrieved from

Nagy, R., & Sehdev, R. K. (2012). Introduction: Residential Schools and Decolonization. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 27, 67-73. Retrieved from


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