Residential Schools in Canada: Impact on Aboriginal Children

Topic: Culture and Education
Words: 877 Pages: 3

Residential schools were developed between the years 1831- 1996. They were run by the Canadian government and some Christian churches throughout Canada. The main goal of these schools was to assimilate Aboriginal youth into the dominant Canadian society and the isolation of children from existing traditional homes. However, in modern-day, residential schools have caused more drastic and adverse effects than positive ones. Luckily the residential schools were abolished in 1996. Residential schools had a lot of negative impacts on the Aboriginal children, and some of the results included low self-esteem, being subjected to physical and sexual abuse, loss of culture, and mental health issues.

Some students experienced a low level of confidence and felt unlovable because of the physical and emotional abuse they faced, which made students have low self-esteem. The residential students were beaten and abused in front of their peers, causing embarrassment and degradation. The school staff forcefully shaved students, which was humiliating since it showed an act of submission to the enemy. Hair in the Aboriginal culture had a deep spiritual meaning because it served as a reflection of beauty, strength, and feminine power.

Students were sometimes beaten, shackled to their beds, and subjected to sexual and spiritual abuse. Others were locked in dark and secluded rooms without food for an unspecified number of days. This form of abuse caused a lot of mental health issues and injuries to the Aboriginal children. The effects of these abuses were long-lasting that students, even after finishing school, students exhibited some characteristic behavior caused by the pain they underwent while in residential schools.

Residential schools had assumptions that the Aboriginals’ cultures were backward, inferior, and unequal to their own culture. Students in residential schools were prohibited from the observance of their culture. Students were forced to only speak in English and French, and if they failed to do so, they faced inhumane forms of punishment. Some of the sentence conditions included stuffing needles into the student’s tongues if they spoke their native language. All native students hence eventually forgot their language upon graduation from the schools. Residential institutions introduced school uniforms to abolish traditional wear among the natives. Traditional clothing was a form of expression of one’s culture and gender. The government did not see the importance of the native culture, and hence most Aboriginal children lost touch with their native identity.

Upon graduation, students from residential schools had some form of trauma, whether it was abuse from school or the embarrassment they received in front of their peers. Most of the students resorted to drug abuse and committing suicide. The government of Canada and the Christian churches reiterated that the policies set in schools sought to civilize and develop the Aboriginal natives. Families experienced trauma caused by the residential schools since children were removed from their native homes. Students from residential schools had a lot of mental issues, from psychological disorders to poor interpersonal relations. Students who underwent sexual abuse had a difficult time since it brought a lot of shame at a very young age. Sexual abuse instilled low self-esteem, which had a long-term impact on the individual’s mental health.

Residential schools affected many families since students were removed from their native homes and forcefully assimilated into the European culture. The banning of the native language in schools made life unbearable. Parents were banned from seeing their children leading to the disruption of First people’s families, thus affecting the development of the families.1 The schools took children from their homes and barred parents from seeing them. Separating children from their families resulted in poor psychological development caused by trauma cases. Numerous graduates from the residential schools indulged in drug abuse in order to make their pain and memories go away.2 The forceful removal of children from their families during the assimilation period led to several problems among the First Nation community in Canada.

In war, the First Nation soldiers were discriminated against and mistrusted since they neither spoke English nor French. The First Nation soldiers faced mistreatment regardless of their military skills as snipers and hunters. Some soldiers were discharged from the military because they refused to shave their hair. The stereotyping influenced hierarchy of soldiers within the military compared to their Canadian counterparts. Policies within the military affected the aboriginal culture since they had to neglect their culture to be accepted into the army.

However, even though the residential institutions had more negative impacts on the pupils, some of the positive roles of the schools to the students include teaching them how to read and write. The students gained a better lifestyle than they previously had, and they became civilized mainly because of the education they gained through the residential institutions.3 Lastly, graduates were taught manners and discipline, although the method to achieve this was inhumane, it was a means to the end.

The introduction of residential schools was meant to educate Aboriginal communities on the civilized European way of life, but instead, it brought a lot of negative impact to the First Nation community. The schools affected the Aboriginal children by lowering their self-esteem, increasing mental health issues, drug-related problems, and loss of indigenous culture among the natives.4 The Aboriginal children suffered psychological and developmental issues since they were separated from their families.


“Alberta Assignment Asks Students to Identify ‘positive Effect’ of Residential Schools.” CTVNews. Web.

“The Intergenerational Effects of Indian Residential Schools: Implications for the Concept of Historical Trauma.” PubMed Central (PMC). Web.

Quinn, Joanna R. “Why Many Canadians Don’t Seem to Care About the Lasting Effects of Residential Schools.” The Conversation. Web.

“The Residential School System.” Welcome to Indigenous Foundations. Web.


  1. Joanna R. Quinn, “Why Many Canadians Don’t Seem to Care About the Lasting Effects of Residential Schools,” The Conversation, Web.
  2. “The Residential School System,” Welcome to Indigenous Foundations, Web.
  3. “Alberta Assignment Asks Students to Identify ‘positive Effect’ of Residential Schools,” CTVNews, Web.
  4. “The Intergenerational Effects of Indian Residential Schools: Implications for the Concept of Historical Trauma,” PubMed Central (PMC), Web.
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