In January 1967, the minister of Indian Affairs in Ottawa bought a troubling letter from the United Church’s Indian Work Sub-Committee within the Decrease Mainland of British Columbia.

Committee members had been so involved by the division’s dealing with of an increasing boarding dwelling program for Indigenous college students attending public colleges, they felt compelled to write down.

This system, then in its second decade, had “nice potential,” the committee stated, nevertheless it was “in severe hazard of collapsing due to weaknesses in its implementation and extreme case-loads for the counsellors.”

The committee stuffed two single-spaced, typewritten pages with what it noticed as issues with this system. First, the letter stated, the division didn’t correctly match college students to houses, which had “unlucky outcomes, as all of us can testify.” 

A involved letter from a United Church committee in British Columbia, bearing the minister’s workplace stamp, raises points with the boarding houses program in 1967. (Federal Court docket)

Training counsellors had been underqualified, culturally incompetent and already overworked. They proved incapable of adequately screening potential dad and mom and college students, “one of many biggest issues” in this system.

“We all know of households who’ve been allowed to take college students when there was already overcrowding and an unstable family,” the committee stated.

Boarding dwelling dad and mom often lacked perception, appreciation or primary information of the scholars’ cultures. There was an “insufficient medical and dental state of affairs that college students are uncovered to.”

Earlier this month, legal professionals for boarding dwelling survivors and the federal Liberal authorities agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit. The announcement of an agreement-in-principle got here practically 56 years after the church committee despatched its letter of considerations, which was filed in Federal Court docket in 2018.

The letter bears the minister’s workplace’s stamp — displaying Indian Affairs was informed early, and on the highest stage, of issues with this system.

Officers continued getting related stories as this system expanded throughout the nation, the historic file reveals.

Created after adjustments to Indian Act

The division launched the boarding dwelling program together with a brand new academic help coverage following 1951 amendments to the Indian Act. 

The revised laws repealed the regulation’s notoriously oppressive bans on issues like hiring legal professionals, submitting land claims and conducting conventional ceremonies.

Indian Affairs was exploring alternate options to residential colleges, ushering in an growth of the on-reserve day college system and new partnerships with provincial public colleges, historian Sean Carleton stated.

Three children play, pushing each other and smiling in the snow.
Indian Affairs photographs like this one, taken in 1961 at a public college close to Kenora, Ont., promoted the successes of a brand new coverage of “integration,” however inner stories revealed struggles. (David Portigal & Co./Library and Archives Canada/Division of Indian Affairs and Northern Growth fonds/e011308186)

He stated the division took this motion largely out of frugality — a perception the brand new methods can be cheaper — and by no means overlooked its long-standing purpose: assimilation.

“The undertaking of genocidal education continues in several varieties” after the Second World Battle, stated Carleton, an assistant professor on the College of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

“The purpose is de facto to get Indigenous kids publicity to secondary schooling on the floor, and the subtext of that’s that if they will get increased types of schooling they’ll assimilate extra simply into the capitalist workforce.”

Carleton cites a research Indian Affairs ordered into the boarding dwelling program a 12 months after receiving the church committee’s letter. A researcher named Bessie Snider accomplished the research in 1969.

Along with ‘separation trauma’ the Indian boarder suffers from cultural shock — lack of id, and lack of household, kinship and group assist.– Bessie Snider, 1969

The division’s annual report for that 12 months stated “the aim of the boarding dwelling program is to supply a passable residing surroundings for college kids who should go away their houses so as to proceed their schooling,” however Snider’s report steered this system failed to achieve that purpose.

“Indian boarding dwelling college students are in a much less advantaged place than foster kids in momentary care of kid welfare businesses,” Snider wrote. 

“Along with ‘separation trauma’ the Indian boarder suffers from cultural shock — lack of id, and lack of household, kinship and group assist.

“This may occasionally end in alienation from college, deep unconscious conflicts, and the necessity for a substitute assist.”

Carleton stated many within the public imagine circumstances improved instantly when Indigenous college students transitioned from residential to public colleges, however stories like Snider’s present this wasn’t at all times the case.

“This was a report by the Division of Indian Affairs within the ’60s that evaluated the system, identified its flaws, and form of revealed a state of affairs that will shock quite a lot of Canadians.”

‘I need to hear an apology’

These stories usually omitted and ignored the views of the Indigenous youth themselves, stated Reginald Percival, lead plaintiff within the class motion. He is learn a number of the stories that had been performed.

“I believed, wow, some of these items is unreal. The place did they get this? It is simply not actual,” Percival stated.

“They had been speaking about how nice it was for us. I believed, hmm, any individual’s making up a narrative right here.”

Even right this moment, boarding houses survivors’ experiences stay largely undocumented — one thing Percival, even earlier than he bought concerned within the case, spent greater than a decade attempting to alter.

Two children pretend to be in behind bars with a sign above them that read, "Vancouver 1969 Jail."
Lead plaintiff within the class motion Reginald Percival, proper, with childhood buddy Calvin Morven, throughout Percival’s first expertise of the massive metropolis in 1969. (Submitted by Reginald Percival)

A 67-year-old member of the Nisga’a Nation, Percival was positioned in boarding houses at age 13, the place he suffered excessive racism, mistreatment and alienation, a 2018 courtroom affidavit says.

Percival began writing letters to politicians on survivors’ behalf shortly after he discovered they had been excluded from the 2006 residential colleges class-action settlement.

Alongside along with his, affidavits sworn by 4 different survivors supply tales of racism, psychological abuse, malnutrition, rape, beatings, compelled labour, bullying, cruelty and inhumane remedy.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, who manages a part of the forms that was as soon as Indian Affairs, known as the affidavits horrific.

“As tough as it’s to listen to it, it is much more tough at instances to share,” Miller stated.

“We do know that there are nonetheless numerous survivors which can be struggling.”

Percival stated when he heard concerning the draft settlement “I stated, you realize, I need to hear an apology from Canada.”

“I need them to say we’re sorry for what occurred to you guys.”

Miller stated an apology is amongst a slate of points to be hashed out in a remaining settlement.

‘Main considerations’ reported in Nineteen Seventies

In 1971, Indian Affairs responded to Snider’s report with new, complete program pointers.

The doc confirmed Ottawa anticipated an “enhance within the variety of Indian college students requiring lodging in personal boarding houses.” In 1969, Snider documented 2,800 Indigenous boarders in personal houses countrywide. A 12 months later, the quantity practically doubled to five,040. 

Pupil boarding houses had been discovered to be insufficient and overcrowded. Communication between dad and mom, lecturers, college students and households was discovered to be poor.– Ontario activity drive, 1976

New stories revealed recurrent issues.

An inner 1971 Indian Affairs report raised “main considerations” with program procedures, choice of houses, Indigenous mother or father involvement, frequency of dwelling adjustments, provision of medical companies, and documentation.

“There’s often a scarcity of ample time for the counsellor to do enough follow-up,” the report stated.

“Extra houses are required in lots of areas, and higher adjustment and understanding of Indian college students and boarding dwelling dad and mom are required.”

A 1976 Ontario provincial activity drive investigating the schooling wants of First Nations folks was extra blunt.

“Pupil boarding houses had been discovered to be insufficient and overcrowded,” it reads. 

“Communication between dad and mom, lecturers, college students and households was discovered to be poor.”

Some officers administering this system knew the issues from expertise.

A 1976 Ottawa Citizen article confirmed the capital’s Algonquin Faculty wrestling with issues dealing with First Nations and Inuit boarders. The faculty fashioned an advisory committee in 1975.

The committee beneficial hiring Indigenous advisers to assist curb “a reasonably excessive drop-out fee.” The newspaper quoted the director of schooling at Northern Affairs, Ralph Ritcey, who stated there was “an pressing want” for Inuit counsellors to assist younger Inuit boarders.

One in all three Northern Affairs counsellors tasked with overseeing Inuit youth within the boarding houses program, Dave Grundy, described the struggles.

“I discover nearly all of Inuit do not need to insult you; in actual fact they exit of their manner to not insult you. That raises some issues,” Grundy informed the paper.

“As an example, if a child cannot stand a boarding dwelling or his landlady, he does not are available in and say he cannot stand them, he simply says he desires to go dwelling. He says his grandmother died six months in the past and so they want him at dwelling.”

A news article bears the headline "Indian students seeking local homes."
An archival article from 1978 reveals how the federal authorities and a neighborhood college in Ottawa collaborated to create an ‘Adaptation and Assimilation’ program for Indigenous pupil boarders. (Ottawa Citizen)

In 1978, Indian Affairs sought 60 such houses within the capital to deal with college students between the ages 13 and 18 from northern Ontario and Quebec, the Citizen later reported.

“At the least 18 college students will attend the ANA (Adaptation and Assimilation) program at Rideau Excessive Faculty, arrange within the fall of 1977 by the Ottawa Board of Training and the Division of Indian Affairs to assist Indian college students adapt to an city surroundings,” the article stories.

The continued creation of packages like this one into the late Nineteen Seventies — with assimilation nonetheless the acknowledged purpose — alerts a necessity for Canadians to reckon with public education’s function within the colonial undertaking, stated the historian Carleton.

“Public education is an important element of colonialism for each Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks,” he stated.

“That is part of this historical past that we’re solely beginning to grapple with.”


A nationwide Indian Residential Faculty Disaster Line is on the market to supply assist for survivors and people affected. Individuals can entry emotional and disaster referral companies by calling the 24-hour service at 1-866-925-4419.

Psychological well being counselling and disaster assist is on the market 24 hours a day, seven days every week by way of the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by on-line chat.



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