My Canadian Time Capsule

Hands-On Canadian History: Residential Schools

One of the darkest parts of Canadian history is the use of residential schools for native children. Youngsters were removed from their families and homes, forced to wear European style clothing, had their braids cut off, punished for speaking their native language and required to become “civilized.” Children were seriously abused and mistreated. Shockingly, the last residential school didn’t close until the 1990s! The lasting effects of this 100 years of removing children from the cultural and traditional heritage have left the First Nations communities struggling to find, claim, and celebrate their identities, languages, and history.

Hands-On Canadian History: Residential Schools

My Identity Activity

Residential schools were typically horrible, abusive, and destructive places to live. Children had to give up all the things that made their identity and were expected to conform to a set of rules, beliefs, and systems that weren’t theirs. It is incredibly hard to keep a sense of self in a place that won’t let you be you.

The picture above is me. It shows all the things that make me be me. But something isn’t right with this picture…. Let’s talk about it.

Print out a copy of the person outline. Inside the body write down all the words that describe you. Think about what you are to your family and friends – a daughter/son, a brother/sister, etc. What do you believe in? What languages do you speak? What is your cultural history? What are you good at? What do you like to do? After you’ve filled up your person with words about you – colour the person to look like you.

Instruct your child to do the following:

Inside the body write down all the words that describe you. Think about what you are to your family and friends – a daughter/son, a brother/sister, etc. What do you believe in? What languages do you speak? What is your cultural history? What are you good at? What do you like to do? After you’ve filled up your person with words about you – colour the person to look like you. 

Now, either take their paper (or have them do this themselves).

Imagine you’ve been taken from your family now and sent away to residential school. Everything about you is no longer allowed.  All the things you are good at, all the things you are to other people is not true anymore because you aren’t allowed to be with your family and friends, all the things you believe are forbidden, and you can’t even speak your language anymore. 

First, crumble the paper up into a tight ball, then open it up.  Rip the page into pieces (but not too small because you will have to put it back together!) Hand it back to your child with a roll of tape. Can they put it back together?

Talk about how that person they are taping together can never be the same again. They are damaged and broken. All the things that made them special and unique and themselves are destroyed. Would it be hard to figure out who you were again if this happened? What if this had happened to you and all your friends? Would you be able to go back to being your old selves ever again?

Discuss ways that someone who didn’t have this happen could help. How can you support someone who is this damaged?

Want to read some books on reconciliation? Here is a list of 10 books about residential schools to read with your kids.

See all 31 Days of  Hands-on Canadian History.

My Canadian Time Capsule

10 Comment(s)

  • by Leanne Posted October 15, 2016 9:47 am

    I like this idea! The only hesitation that I would have is that it doesn’t give the side of hope. I wouldn’t want them to think that if they ever experience something really traumatic that they will never be the same so they might as well give up. Just pondering how to balance the idea of not wanting to hurt anyone else or yourself (prevention) vs putting yourself back together (survivor vs victim). Thanks so much for this series! You’ve given me some great ideas for when I plan our next Canadian history unit!

    • by Leanne Posted October 15, 2016 9:48 am

      When I say “them”, I mean my kids.

    • by LisaMarie Posted October 15, 2016 5:58 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. This is why the whole topic of residential schools is so incredibly challenging. It isn’t a story of hope. It’s a story of destruction. And it’s painful to deal with. I think the important thing to note is that this person IS back together, but they will never be exactly the same. I don’t think that this is necessarily a message of hopelessness, but it is the truth. You AREN’T the same. You are changed.

      Such a hard topic.

      • by Renee Anderson Posted April 30, 2018 11:06 pm

        I agree with you completely. I teach Indigenous children and am Indigenous myself. I think this is one of the few lessons I’ve read/heard about that even begins to scratch the surface. Well done!

        • by LisaMarie Posted May 1, 2018 6:13 am

          Thank you, Renee. 🙂

  • by Isabelle L. Posted October 21, 2016 10:59 am

    Did you know that there is a book within the Dear Canada Series that is about residential school as well? It is brand new.

    • by LisaMarie Posted October 22, 2016 7:07 am

      I just heard about it! Thanks for sharing.

  • by Isabelle L. Posted October 21, 2016 11:06 am

    On another note – we have friends who are missionary on Manitoulin Island, ON and they have told us that the residential schools have affected the relationship and the trust between Natives and white/government people. Unfortunately, the grandparents/parents of current youth have often reticent in the mission work done on the island because of the residential school. It has affected families to numerous generations and still to this day affect relationships. It is very sad and we need to be more aware of what has been done to these people. Reminds me of the Orphans of Duplessis (kids born out of wedlock in the 40s in Quebec which is somewhat similar situation).

    • by LisaMarie Posted October 22, 2016 7:07 am

      So sad 🙁

  • by Suzanne Posted July 9, 2018 12:21 pm

    Thank you for this graphic depiction of the incredible damage done by the Residential Schools. I was 12 years old and living in Winnipeg during the “60’s scoop”. I was horrified by the things that I saw happening to Indigenous children in the North-east neighborhood, where most of them lived — in abject squalor. What I didn’t understand at the time is that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had all gone through the Residential Schools program — which essentially, was an attempt at ‘cultural genocide’! I remember feeling so badly for those children who were wandering the streets — either, looking for one of their (drunken, or ‘high’) parents; or begging for food — or for money. While I never experienced that level of desperation; I, nevertheless, have always ‘identified myself’ with those Indigenous children. I, too, grew up with an ‘alcoholic’ mother and a ‘physically violent’ father — which was ‘traumatizing’.

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