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Residential Schools in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

In the early 1600s, Catholic nuns and priests established the first residential schools in Canada. In 1883, these schools began to receive funding from the federal government. That year, the Government of Canada officially authorized the creation of the residential school system. The main goal of the system was to assimilate Indigenous children into white, Christian society. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School .)

(This article is a plain-language summary of residential schools in Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Residential Schools in Canada.)

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Chanie Wenjack

Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack (born 19 January 1954; died 23 October 1966 near Redditt, ON). Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from Ontario, ran away from his residential school near Kenora at age 12, and subsequently died from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather. His death in 1966 sparked national attention and the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.

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Fred Loft

Frederick Ogilvie Loft (commonly known as Fred or F.O. Loft), Mohawk chief, activist, war veteran, reporter, author and lumberman (born 3 February 1861 on the Six Nations reserve, Grand River, Canada West [ON]; died 5 July 1934 in Toronto, ON). Loft founded the League of Indians of Canada, the first national Indigenous organization in Canada, in December 1918 (see Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada). He fought in the First World War and is recognized as one of the most important Indigenous activists of the early 20th century. His Mohawk name was Onondeyoh, which translates as “Beautiful Mountain.”

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Anahareo

Anahareo, or Gertrude Philomen Bernard, CM, conservationist, prospector (born 18 June 1906 in Mattawa, ON; died 17 June 1986 in Kamloops, BC). An independent, forceful animal welfare advocate, Anahareo is credited with converting her well-known husband, Grey Owl, into a conservationist.

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Peter Tomkins

Peter Tomkins Jr., Métis leader, political organizer, blacksmith (born 1 January 1899 in Poundmaker Reserve, SK; died June 1970 in High Prairie, AB). In the 1930s, he worked with Jim Brady and Malcolm Norris to build the Métis Association of Alberta (founded 1932, now the Métis Nation of Alberta) and the Indian Association of Alberta (1939). From health care to his work with the Métis settlements, Tomkins promoted improved living conditions for the Métis of Alberta and Saskatchewan. His diplomacy, lobbying and negotiating skills helped get the first Métis-specific legislation passed in Canada in 1938.

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Tommy Prince

Thomas George Prince, war hero, Indigenous advocate (born 25 October 1915 in Petersfield, MB; died 25 November 1977 in Winnipeg, MB). Tommy Prince of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation is one of the most-decorated Indigenous war veterans in Canada, having been awarded a total of 11 medals for his service in the Second World War and the Korean War. When he died, he was honoured at his funeral by his First Nation, the province of Manitoba, Canada and the governments of France, Italy and the United States. ( See also Indigenous Peoples and the World Wars.)

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Tom Longboat

Thomas Charles Longboat (Gagwe:gih), distance runner, Olympian (born 4 July 1886 in Ohsweken, Six Nations of the Grand River; died 9 January 1949 in Ohsweken). Tom Longboat was an Onondaga distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River. One of the most famous athletes of the early 20th century, Longboat pioneered training methods still used today. He is considered one of the first celebrity athletes in Canada, with his athletic successes known across North America and overseas. He was a leader in establishing marathon running as an international sport and won many marathons in record-breaking times, beating competitors from all over the world. Longboat was the first Indigenous person to win the Boston Marathon (1907). He competed for Canada at the 1908 Olympic Games. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

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Mary Brant (Konwatsi'tsiaiénni)

Mary Brant, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk), Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) leader, Loyalist, diplomat, political activist (generally known as Molly Brant and as Konwatsi'tsiaiénni in the Mohawk language, meaning “someone lends her a flower”) (born circa 1736; died 16 April 1796 in Kingston, ON). Brant was one of the most important Indigenous women in Canadian history. From her influential position as head of a society of Six Nations matrons, she enjoyed a much greater status within the Mohawk nation than her more colourful, younger brother, Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. Consulted by Indigenous people on matters of importance, she was a powerful ally to the British forces and served as their highly effective intermediary with the Iroquois in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).