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Residential School Education

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada


Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future:  Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"This volume is a summary of the discussion and findings contained in the Commissions's final multi-volume report.  The Final Report discusses what the commission did and how it went about its work, as well as what it heard, read, and concluded about the schools and afterwards, based on all evidence available to it.  This summary must be read in conjunction with the Final Report."

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada:  Calls to Action

"In order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes the following calls to action."

In the spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Alberta commits that all Alberta students will learn about the history and legacy of residential schools, along with the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of Canada. Provincial Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum will include enhanced mandatory content for all Alberta students on the significance of residential schools and treaties.  Read the Ministry's announcement and full text of the statement that was committed to the Bentwood Box.  Watch the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Education Day Video.

Recommended Residential School Education Literature:

Division 1:

**New** When We Were Alone, by David A. Robertson

A young girl is curious about her grandmother and learns about her experience in Residential Schools.  This is an excellent introduction to learning about Residential Schools.

Shi-Shi Etko, by Nicola I. Campbell

This beautifully illustrated story is a moving account of how a young girl spends her last day with family before leaving for residential school. Just before she leaves, mother, father and grandmother share valuable teachings.

Shin-chi’s Canoe, by Nicola I. Campbell

This poignant sequel to award winning Shi-shi-etko tells the story of two young siblings in residential school. In telling this story, Nicole Campbell draws on interviews with her family and Elders who survived this particular schooling experience. In spite of the devastation of a long separation, collection in a cattle truck, daily hard work and meagre meals the strong family ties prevail. The beautiful illustrations help make this a positive story of hope and resilience.

**New** When I was Eight, by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Ignoring her father’s warnings, Olemun travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn to read.  The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read. A true story based the life, courage and resilience of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton.

Division 2:

Arctic Stories, by Michael Kusugak

This collection of stories about a 10-year-old girl named Agatha is based on the childhood experiences of beloved Inuit author Michael Kusugak. The book begins with a tale of Agatha 'saving' her community from a monstrous flying object.

We Feel Good Out Here : Zhik Gwaa'an, Nakhwatthaiitat Gwiinzii, by Julie-Ann André and Mindy Willett

We Feel Good Out Here offers a personal account of Julie-Ann André's family story that includes a discussion about her residential school experience.

Cheyenne Again, by Eve Bunting

One day Young Bull is at home with his people, the next day he is far from home in school. This book introduces children to the tragedy of residential school in a way that still carries hope and points to resiliency. Introduces children to the famous ledger drawings as well.

As Long as the River Flows, by Larry Loyie

A gentle story of Lawrence and his family as they spend the summer among the animals, fishing, hunting, collecting berries and enjoying their summer camp by the river. At the close of the summer Lawrence and his brothers and sister are told they must go away to school. It is the saddest day of Lawrence's life. An epilogue concludes the story with historical details and photos of the author's family and their time at residential school. Detailed watercolour illustrations help to depict the traditional way of life this young boy enjoyed. An excellent book for junior/senior high students with below grade literacy skills. This book would also be a great resource in a unit on aboriginal culture and history.

No Time to Say Good-Bye, by Ann Sam, Rita Morris, & Syliva Olsen

While this is a fictional account of five children sent to residential school, the stories are based on recollections of members of the Tsartlip First Nations people. Every dimension of life is altered and yet the students band together in companionship. The book is sad, funny, painful and yet compelling.

Goodbye Buffalo Bay, by Larry Loyie

A story of a boy's coming of age making the transition from the Residential school system into young adulthood. As a personal story it relates the experiences of many Aboriginal people in Canada and thus provides insight into the era of government Indian policies. The book provides an epilogue and glossary making it a great resource book. Could be used as a novel study.

Fatty Legs, by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

This is an informative, true story about the effects of residential school on a brave young Inuit girl in her quest to learn how to read. Her spirit, dignity and resilience remain intact against all atrocities that she experiences. Archival photos and striking artwork add to the authenticity of this story. Many young readers will be attracted to this memoir.

A Stranger at Home, by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

A Stranger at Home is the sequel to Fatty Legs, a true story about the effects of residential school. Separated from her family for two years, ten year old Margaret–Olemaun is finally heading home but it’s hardly the homecoming she expected. Margaret has forgotten her language - Inuvialuktun and feels like a stranger in her community. This title explores how Margaret–Olemaun reconciles her “old self with the new”.

Division 3 & 4:

**New**Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation, by Monique Gray Smith

"Speaking Our Truth" is a book chronicling the historical and current day relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the country now called Canada. It speaks about Canada's true history and how we can all advance towards reconciliation.  A very visual, informative and current book that would be an asset to any classroom.

**New** Secret Path, by Gord Downie

Secret Path is a ten song album written by Gord Downie with a graphic novel illustrated by Jeff Lemire that shes the story of Chanie Wenjack. The images are lyrics shared the journey of the young boy's escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School and attempt to find his home.

Strength & Struggle:  Perspectives from First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Peoples in Canada

An anthology of short stories, poetry, music lyrics, graphic art, and essays that are thought provoking, humorous, and artistic. A highly recommended, must have title that celebrates First Nations, Inuit, and Métis authors!

**New**Moving Forward:  A Collection About Truth and Reconciliation

Moving Forward: A Collection About Truth and Reconciliation is a collection of short stories, poetry, narratives, graphic stories, and much more! This collection would be a valuable addition to any English, Social Studies or Aboriginal Studies class. Each of the selections provides insight and multiple perspectives on the Residential insight and multiple perspectives on the Residential School System in Canada, as well as before during and after discussions and topics. A corresponding Teacher's Resource is available too.

One Story, One Song, by Richard Wagamese

A book about stories, what they teach us, how they shape us and how they can change our lives. Contemporary, cultural, spiritual, humorous and poignant, this book will take you on a personal journey with the author.

Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese

Set in the 1960’s, Wagamese takes readers on the often difficult journey through Saul Indian Horse’s life, from his painful forced separation from his family and land when he's sent to a residential school to the brief salvation he finds in playing hockey.

Additional First Nations, Métis, and Inuit titles:

Orange Shirt Day - Sept. 30
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013.  It grew out of Phyllis' story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually.  View the website for additional information.   

Reconciliation in Education Day - June 2

Edmonton Public Schools, Edmonton Catholic Schools and the City of Edmonton continue to host a series of Reconciliation in Education events on the anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's closing ceremony at Rideau Hall (June 2, 2015).  These events demonstrate our ongoing commitment towards reconciliation and healing by acknowledging the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.

Reconciliation in Education Ideas

Plant a Heart Garden

As a legacy to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, former students of Indian Residential Schools and their families, the TRC, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, KAIROS and Project of Heart invite children and youth across the country to create a Heart Garden on June 3rd.  

On June 3, 2015 children from the Ottawa-Gatineau area gathered at Rideau Hall for the closing ceremony of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Events.  Children greeted the Commissioners of the TRC, survivors and all those with the responsibility of continuing the important work of reconciliation started by the TRC. Each child carried two hearts mounted on gardening stake; planting one heart in the Heart Garden at Rideau Hall and sharing the other with an adult attending the formal closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Following a brief ceremony, a rendition of “Sing”, and the planting of the hearts, the children lead a procession away from Rideau Hall to symbolize that children will lead us to a future of reconciliation.  The idea behind the Heart Gardens is to honour children lost to the Indian Residential School (IRS) system.

Create your own heart and decorate it in your own way to honour those lost to the IRS along with why reconciliation is important to you. Click here for the Heart Garden instructions, lyrics for ‘Sing,’ and heart patterns.  Suitable for:  All Ages

Possible Ideas:

  • Plant forget-me-not seeds to create a flowering Heart Garden

  • Invite an Elder to provide blessings for your Heart Garden

The TRC Bentwood Box

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The Ministry's announcement and full text of the statement was committed to the Bentwood Box:  “In the spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Alberta commits that all Alberta students will learn about the history and legacy of residential schools, along with the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of Canada. Provincial Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum will include enhanced mandatory content for all Alberta students on the significance of residential schools and treaties.”  

The TRC Bentwood Box:  “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bentwood Box reflects the strength and resilience of residential school survivors and their descendents, and honours those survivors that are no longer living. . . offerings were made to it to commemorate personal journeys towards healing and reconciliation”.

Suitable for:  All Ages

Possible Ideas:

Journey to Reconciliation Video & Discussion

In partnership with Edmonton Catholic Schools and the City of Edmonton, the Journey to Reconciliation student conference was held March 27th, 2015. This was the anniversary date of Education Day at the seventh and final Truth and Reconciliation event held in Edmonton on March 27th, 2014. The theme of the conference was to engage students to support next steps in reconciliation.  This video captures key messages from the Journey to Reconciliation student conference.

Possible Ideas:

  • View video and ask students to reflect on the following questions (responses can be collected on 4 colours to represent the medicine wheel)

    • What can I do differently as a leader in my school community to interact in a better way with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit families to strengthen respectful relationships?

    • What can I do differently in my classroom and school to strengthen collaborative relationships with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit families to contribute to success for all students?

    • What message do you want to express about the impacts that the Indian Residential School experience is still having on intergenerational survivors and our community as a whole?

    • What can I do differently at home to effect positive change, truth and reconciliation in our community?

  • Create a “Reconciliation Wall” using reflections from the questions to display

  • The following are valuable resources:

Explore the Archives

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation: University of Manitoba

A shared vision held by those affected by Indian residential schools was to create a place of learning and dialogue where the truths of their experiences were honoured and kept safe for future generations. They wanted their families, communities and all of Canada to learn from these hard lessons so they would not be repeated. They wanted to share the wisdom of the Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers on how to create just and peaceful relationships amongst diverse peoples. They knew that Reconciliation is not only about the past; it is about the future that all Canadians will forge together. This vision is the legacy gift to all of Canada. View the website for access to education, archives, documents and lots of valuable resources to share with students and staff.

Click here for a list of recommended reading, literature, records and documents from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Possible ideas:

  • Research Residential Schools throughout Alberta

  • Create a story of individuals that attended Residential Schools utilizing the archives

The Blanket Exercise

The Blanket Exercise was created 15 years ago, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition worked with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Elders and teachers to develop an interactive way of learning the history most Canadians are never taught.  The Blanket Exercise was the result; it has since been offered thousands of times and was last completely updated in 2013.  The script that was used had been adapted to include information from Edmonton and surrounding area, as a result of collaboration with Edmonton Catholic & Edmonton Public Schools, Elders and KAIROS Canada.  Click here for KAIROS Blanket Exercise Education Resource Kit.

Suitable for:  Grade 4 +

Possible Ideas:

  • Create a blanket for each classroom to be used in the Blanket Exercise

  • Host an Awareness Walk:  display the Blankets and/or create banners that could be displayed on fences and/or windows

  • Modify the Blanket Exercise to include history and perspectives from your local area

Project of Heart

The classroom/school project idea: “Project of Heart is an inquiry based, hands-on, collaborative, inter-generational, artistic journey of seeking truth about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada. Project of Heart tiles can be ordered online from (heavier tiles) or (lightweight tiles - use ultra-fine permanent markers. The purpose of the Project of Heart is to:

  • Examine the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada and to seek the truth about that history, acknowledging the extent of loss of former students, their families and communities.
  • Commemorate the lives of the thousands of Indigenous children who died as a result of the residential school experience.

  • Call Canadians to action, through social justice endeavors, to change our present and future history collectively

Suitable for:  All Ages

Possible Ideas:

  • Create a permanent installation with the Project of Heart tiles to display in a prominent location.

Calls to Action 

AliahGray.JPGTruth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada:  Calls to Action  “In order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes the following calls to action . . . “  

“The 94 calls to action represent the first step toward redressing the legacy of Indian Residential Schools and advancing the process of reconciliation”. - Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair

Suitable for: Grade 4 +

Possible Ideas:

  • Create art inspired by the Calls to Action

  • Create quilt squares for each of the Calls to Action

Additional Resources:
Secret Path:  Social Studies Lesson Plans
Secret Path is a graphic novel based on the concept album of the same name by Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. This is the story of 12 year old Chanie Wenjack, who died after escaping his Residential School and attempting to walk home in 1966.  Click here to access a series of lesson plans and additional resources to accompany this valuable graphic novel.  

Class sets of Secret Path are available to borrow from the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education unit.

These lessons have been created to support the Grade 5 Alberta Education curriculum engaging with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit perspectives and worldviews. This resource discusses Residential School experiences in Alberta from the perspective of an Intergenerational Survivor. The following lessons and activities are based on the information provided by Wilson Bearhead. Wilson Bearhead provided information about his mother, Nancy Bearhead, and his father, Stephen Bearhead and their experiences before, during and after Residential School.

The Legacy of Hope Foundation is a national Aboriginal charitable organization which raises awareness and understanding of the legacy of residential schools, including their effects and intergenerational impacts on First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. The foundation also supports the ongoing healing process of Residential School Survivors. Fulfilling this mandate contributes towards reconciliation among generations of Aboriginal peoples and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.  There are many resources available from the Legacy of Hope Foundation. Lots of valuable resources and access to exhibitions that can be shared with students and staff.

Where are the Children?  Healing the Legacy of Residential Schools

In 2010-2011 the Legacy of Hope Foundation began developing an education program for Canadian youth aged 11-18. This program is designed to support educators and administrators in raising awareness and teaching about the history and legacy of residential schools - effectively providing practical tools that can be implemented in classrooms. These products come in response to demands from educators for complete in-class resources and serve as an entry point to both the subject matter and to existing resources currently available.  Please check out their newly redesigned website!
Project of Heart: Illuminating the hidden history of Indian Residential Schools in BC

This eBook is intended to be an interactive resource leading educators from the story to the "back story" utilizing links on each page to offer related resources.  Throughout this book you will find Project of Heart tiles with an "aura" which indicates that this is a link.  Click on each of these titles to find additional resources including films, videos, documents, articles, activities and more.
Christi Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's fatty legs and a stranger at home explore Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's experiences before, during and after         attending Residential School.  This Division 2 Novel Study has pre-reading and post-reading activities for students and teachers so they can engage in and with the text in multiple ways.  First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Education has a set of books available to loan for the study if required.  Please contact for availability.

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