Residential schools for First Nations, Métis and Inuit kids were run by church organizations in partnership with the Canadian government from 1883 until 1969. Designed to force Indigenous children to assimilate into “Canadian” culture by taking away access to their culture, spirituality, parents and communities, attendance was mandatory and the intergenerational effects have been devastating.
Most of the remaining schools closed in the 1970s, but there was still a federally operated school running as late as 1996. It’s estimated that 150,000 kids were sent to these schools, and the legacy of neglect, lack of education (many of these institutions were glorified workhouses) and abuse — both physical and sexual —is still being felt today. It’s a difficult part of Canada’s history to talk about, especially with kids, but reconciliation begins with understanding the past. Read on for some kid-friendly books about residential schools that can help.
Muinji’j Asks Why: The Story of the Mi’kmaq and the Shubenacadie Residential School
Written by Shanika MacEachern and Breighlynn MacEachern (Muinji’j), and illustrated by Zeta Paul, Nimbus Publishing (AGES 5+)
When seven-year-old Muinji’j comes home from school upset that her teacher’s lesson on residential schools doesn’t match what she already knows about the subject, her grandparents sit her down to tell the entire story of their history, purpose and effects. Written by mother-and-daughter duo Shanika MacEachern and third-grader Breighlynn MacEachern (Muinji’j), Muinji’j Asks Why candidly situates the existence of residential schools within the wider context of history and the Canadian government’s campaign to eradicate Indigenous cultures, breaking down complex issues and making them accessible to a young audience.
This article was originally published online in September 2017.