Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.
Featured Resources: For this lesson, students can read the article “Lost Lives, Lost Culture: The Forgotten History of Indigenous Boarding Schools” or listen to The Daily episode “State-Sponsored Abuse in Canada” from the beginning until 11:40.
(Note to teachers: The podcast contains accounts of physical and sexual abuse. Please listen to the entire episode to make sure it is appropriate for your class.)
The discovery of the remains of hundreds of children this summer at two former boarding schools for Indigenous children in Canada has rekindled discussion of a dark chapter in Canadian and American history.
In the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, Indigenous children in parts of Canada and the United States were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools where Indigenous languages and Indigenous cultural practices were banned, and those restrictions were often enforced through violence. The abuse has left a lasting effect on Indigenous communities today.
In this lesson, you will learn more about these schools, hear from survivors, and consider the importance of history, memory and justice.
What do you know about Indigenous boarding schools, also sometimes referred to as “residential schools”?
Create a K/W/L chart to record your thinking before reading the featured article or listening to the podcast episode. Write what you already know about this period in history in the “What I Know” column. Write down any questions you have in the “What I Want to Know” column.
Share your facts and questions with a partner. What else can you come up with together?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article “Lost Lives, Lost Culture: The Forgotten History of Indigenous Boarding Schools” or listen to The Daily episode “State-Sponsored Abuse in Canada” until 11:40. Then answer the following prompts:
1. Describe in your own words what Indigenous boarding schools were like.
2. Who ran these schools? For what purposes were they created?
3. What methods did the schools use to enforce the assimilation of Native American children?
4. The abuse that Indigenous children endured in the boarding schools has had many lasting effects. According to the article or podcast, what is one way in which the treatment they received has affected a survivor’s life long-term? What is one way in which it has affected a family or community? What is one way in which it has affected Native American culture?
Indigenous Children Vanished in Canada
The remains of what are presumed to be Indigenous children have been discovered at the sites of defunct boarding schools in Canada. Here’s what you should know:
- Background: Around 1883, Indigenous children in many parts of Canada were forced to attend residential schools in a forced assimilation program. Most of these schools were operated by churches, and all of them banned the use of Indigenous languages and Indigenous cultural practices, often through violence. Disease, as well as sexual, physical and emotional abuse were widespread. An estimated 150,000 children passed through the schools between their opening and their closing in 1996.
- The Missing Children: A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of a government apology and settlement over the schools, concluded that at least 4,100 students died while attending them, many from mistreatment or neglect, others from disease or accident. In many cases, families never learned the fate of their offspring, who are now known as “the missing children.”
- The Discoveries: In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school — which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church until 1969 — after bringing in ground-penetrating radar. In June, an Indigenous group said the remains of as many as 751 people, mainly children, had been found in unmarked graves on the site of a former boarding school in Saskatchewan.
- Cultural Genocide: In a 2015 report, the commission concluded that the system was a form of “cultural genocide.” Murray Sinclair, a former judge and senator who headed the commission, recently said he now believed the number of disappeared children was “well beyond 10,000.”
- Apologies and Next Steps: The commission called for an apology from the pope for the Roman Catholic church’s role. Pope Francis stopped short of one, but the archbishop of Vancouver apologized on behalf of his archdiocese. Canada has formally apologized and offered financial and other search support, but Indigenous leaders believe the government still has a long way to go.
5. Indigenous people rebelled against the boarding schools in ways both big and small. Give one example of an act of resistance from the article or podcast.
6. Add to your K/W/L chart from the warm-up. What key facts have you learned about Indigenous boarding schools? What questions do you still have?
The story of Indigenous boarding schools, and the hundreds of children whose remains have been discovered at school sites in Canada, raises important questions about history, memory and justice.
To learn more about these “missing children” and what is being done to atone for their deaths, listen to the rest of The Daily episode, from 13:40 to 25:40, or read the article “How Thousands of Indigenous Children Vanished in Canada.”
Then, with your classmates, discuss:
In 2008, the Canadian government issued a formal apology for its role in the perpetuation of Indigenous boarding schools. The United States and the Roman Catholic Church still have not. In your opinion, are these kinds of formal apologies helpful? Why or why not?
What other steps have been taken, or are being taken, to make amends for the abuse that Indigenous children endured in these schools? How might these actions help heal Indigenous communities? Do you believe they are enough? If not, what else do you think should be done?
Why do you think the history of Indigenous boarding schools might have gone unacknowledged for so long, particularly by the Canadian and American governments and others outside Indigenous communities? Why might it be important to learn about this history?
Additional Teaching and Learning Opportunities
Examine photographs that document some of the history of Indigenous boarding schools. What do you notice and wonder about these images? How do these photos speak to the “legacy of cultural erasure” that you learned about in the lesson?
The creators of The Daily episode suggest this idea: “Routine at public gatherings in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the custom of Indigenous land acknowledgment, or acknowledgment of country, has only recently started to gain traction in the United States outside of tribal nations. If you want to identify the origins of the land you live on, you can view local and historical Indigenous territories on this map.”
Want to learn more about this history? Choose one of the questions from your K/W/L chart, or another aspect of the story that you’re curious about — such as the disinterment and burial ceremonies for missing Indigenous children, the technology behind the search for burial sites, or the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Research it and share what you discover with your classmates.