Search for "residential schools"

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Children’s Books About Residential Schools in Canada

Church-run schools for Indigenous children were created in Canada in the 1600s. In 1883, the Canadian government funded and helped establish more church-run schools. The goal was to assimilate Indigenous children into the dominant white, Christian society. By the time the last residential school closed in 1996, more than 150,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit children had been forced to attend against their will and the wishes of their parents. Many children were physically, emotionally and sexually abused at the schools. Thousands died. The multigenerational social and psychological effects of the schools have been devastating and ongoing. The federal government and churches have apologized for what is now widely considered a form of genocide. (See also Genocide and Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

Knowledge of what happened at the schools is an essential part of reconciliation and healing. Many children’s books have been written about residential schools as part of that essential effort. This list includes titles for toddlers to preteens. Together, these books explore a variety of themes related to residential schools, including intergenerational trauma, language revitalization, commemoration and the power of resistance.

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Wilton Littlechild

Jacob Wilton (Willie) Littlechild, CM, athlete, lawyer, Cree chief, politician, advocate for Indigenous rights (born 1 April 1944 in Hobbema, [now Maskwacîs] AB). Littlechild formed and coached Alberta’s first all-Indigenous junior hockey team and created the National Indian Athletic Association. He is a member of seven sports halls of fame. In 1976, Littlechild earned a law degree from the University of Alberta. He went on to become the first member of Parliament with Treaty Indian Status in Canada in 1988. Littlechild served as a commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009. Throughout his career, Littlechild has promoted Indigenous rights both nationally and internationally.

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Duncan Campbell Scott

Duncan Campbell Scott, poet, writer, civil servant (born 2 August 1862 in Ottawa, ON; died 19 December 1947 in Ottawa, ON). Scott’s complicated legacy encompasses both his work as an acclaimed poet and his role as a controversial public servant. Considered one of the “poets of the Confederation” — a group of English-language poets whose work laid the foundations for a tradition of Canadian poetry — his intense works made use of precise imagery and transitioned smoothly between traditional and modern styles. However, his literary work has arguably been overshadowed by his role as the deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs. He enforced and expanded residential schools, failed to respond to a tuberculosis epidemic and oversaw a treaty process that many claim robbed Indigenous peoples of land and rights. His oft-quoted goal to “get rid of the Indian problem” became, for many, characteristic of the federal government’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.

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Georgina Lightning

Georgina Lightning, actor, director, producer (b at Hobbema, Alta 1964). Georgina Lightning was born into the Samson Cree Nation. Educated in Canada, she moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to pursue an acting career and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

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Rita Joe

Rita Joe (née Rita Bernard), PC, CM, Mi’kmaq poet (born 15 March 1932 in Whycocomagh, NS; died 20 March 2007 in Sydney, NS). Often referred to as the poet laureate of the Mi’kmaq people, Rita Joe wrote powerful poetry that spoke about Indigenous identity and the legacy of residential schools in Canada. Her works continue to influence Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers and artists alike.

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Indigenous Language Revitalization in Canada

Before European settlement in Canada, Indigenous peoples spoke a wide variety of languages. As a means of assimilating Indigenous peoples, colonial policies like the Indian Act and residential schools forbid the speaking of Indigenous languages. These restrictions have led to the ongoing endangerment of Indigenous languages in Canada. In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that for about 40 Indigenous languages in Canada, there are only about 500 speakers or less. Indigenous communities and various educational institutions have taken measures to prevent more language loss and to preserve Indigenous languages.

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Arthur Shilling

In May 1983 Shilling was one of 7 Canadian artists invited by Governor General Edward Schreyer to show at Rideau Hall, Ottawa. His paintings are in many corporate and private collections throughout North America. His life is documented in the film The Beauty of My People (NFB, 1978).

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Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Coast Salish and Okanagan (see Interior Salish) artist and activist (born in 1957 at Kamloops, British Columbia). Yuxweluptun trained at the Emily Carr College of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, focusing on historical European art. His paintings employ both traditional Northwest Coast imagery (see Northwest Coast Indigenous Art) and surrealist visual language to critique colonialism, racism against Indigenous peoples, capitalism, and environmental destruction, among other issues. In addition to paintings, Yuxweluptun has produced multimedia artworks, videos and performances that are political in nature. In 2013, Yuxweluptun was awarded a Fellowship at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, USA. Yuxweluptun’s art is featured in the permanent collections of many prominent galleries and museums in North America.

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Bertha Skye

Bertha Skye, cook, entrepreneur, Indigenous Elder (born 1932 on Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, SK). From a young age, Skye learned to cook and used her talent to feed those in her community. She was chosen to participate in the 1992 Culinary Olympics, where she and her teammates won several medals, including a gold for Skye’s corn, bean, and squash soup (also know as Three Sisters soup). Among other advisory positions, Skye has served as an Elder in Residence at various post-secondary institutions in Ontario.

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Angela Sidney (Stóow Ch’óonehte’ Máa)

Angela Sidney (née Johns), (Stóow Ch’óonehte’ Máa), CM, Elder, storyteller, author (born 4 January 1902 near Carcross, YT; died 17 July 1991 in Whitehorse, YT). Of Tagish and Tlingit descent, Sidney was one of the last fluent speakers of the Tagish language. A storyteller, Sidney recorded and preserved the stories, traditions, languages, place names and genealogies of her people. She was the first Indigenous woman from Yukon to be appointed to the Order of Canada.

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Basil H. Johnston

Basil H. Johnston, Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) author, linguist, and teacher (born 13 July 1929 on Wasauksing First Nation, ON; died 8 September 2015 in Wiarton, ON).

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Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway, OC, playwright, novelist, pianist and songwriter (born 6 December 1951 in northwestern Manitoba). Highway is one of the most prominent and influential Indigenous writers in Canada. His works discuss and explore important issues affecting First Nations people, including residential schools, reserve life, Indigenous identity and more. Highway is an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1998 was named one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history by Maclean’s. Tomson received the Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement at the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards in 2022. (See also Influential Indigenous Writers in Canada.)

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Piita Irniq

Piita Irniq (formerly known as Peter Irniq and Peter Ernerk), cultural proponent, artist, public servant, commissioner of Nunavut (born 1947 at Lyon Inlet, NT [now Nunavut]). Irniq represented the Keewatin region in the Council of the Northwest Territories from 1975 to 1979. From 2000 to 2005, he served as the second commissioner of Nunavut . Irniq has worked to preserve and promote Inuit culture and languages.

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Gordon Tootoosis

Gordon Tootoosis, CM, actor, activist, band chief (born 25 October 1941 at Poundmaker Reserve near Cutknife, SK; died 5 July 2011 in Saskatoon, SK).

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Margo Gwendolyn Kane

Margo Gwendolyn Kane, actor, singer, dancer (b at Edmonton, Alta, 21 Aug 1951). Kane, who is of mixed Cree/Salteaux/Blackfoot ancestry, trained in acting, singing and dance at Grant McEwan College in Edmonton, the BANFF CENTRE, and Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City.

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George Lester Tuccaro

Tuccaro began his career as a broadcaster in 1971. As an Announcer-Operator with CBC North Radio in Yellowknife, NWT, Tuccaro was an integral part of reporting life in the north to a broader Canadian audience.

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Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden, CM, author (born 31 October 1966 in Toronto, ON). Joseph Boyden's work focuses on the historical and contemporary experience of First Nations peoples of Northern Ontario. He became widely known in Canada following the publication of his debut novel, Three Day Road (2005), which won numerous awards and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. His second novel, Through Black Spruce, won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015. Born in Toronto to Blanche and Raymond Wilfrid Boyden, a highly decorated medical officer who served in the Second World War, Boyden has claimed Indigenous heritage through both his father’s and mother’s ancestry. However, he has been accused of misrepresenting himself by those who say his claims cannot be documented or confirmed.

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Sylvia Hamilton

Sylvia D. Hamilton, filmmaker, writer, educator (born in Beechville, NS). Sylvia Hamilton specializes in re-evaluating Canadian history and focusing on the perspectives of Black Canadians, particularly Black Canadian women. Her films include Black Mother Black Daughter (1989); the Gemini Award winner Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia (1993); the biographical documentary Portia White: Think On Me (2000); and The Little Black School House (2007). She has received many honours and awards, including the Nova Scotia Portia White Prize, the Pierre Berton Award from the Governor General’s History Awards for Popular Media, and the Luminary Award from the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC).

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Shingoose

Shingoose (also Curtis Jonnie), Ojibwe singer-songwriter, guitarist, folk musician, Indigenous activist (born on 26 October 1946 in Winnipeg, MB; died on 12 January 2021 in Winnipeg, MB). Shingoose rose to popularity in Canada and the US in the late 1960s. A well-respected musician, Shingoose was also a strong advocate of Indigenous issues and strove to highlight Indigenous culture on the world stage. (See also Music of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)