Some left the church in anger

Published May 2, 2000

Boys horse around at Old Sun.

At their peak in the 1930s, there were 80 residential schools in all provinces and territories except New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. By 1945, there were 9,149 children in residential school, but only slightly more than 100 were at the Grade 8 level, and none were beyond Grade 9. As Miller points out, "widespread criticism and resistance on the part of Indian communities …when coupled with doubt on the part of society in Canada at large, and non-Catholic Christian denominations in particular, about Indian affairs policy" effectively sealed the fate of residential schools. Government committees and lobby groups were failing in their attempts to restore residential schools that were grossly underfunded, poorly staffed and flawed to the point of being dangerous to students’ health.

In 1969, the partnership between government and churches drew to a close, with the government taking over direct control of the 52 remaining schools, with a total enrollment of 7,704 students. (By then, 60 per cent of the Native school population was enrolled in provincially run schools.)

By that time, the Anglican Church was ending its century-long involvement in the operation of Indian residential schools. Charles Hendry released his report, Beyond Traplines (1969), which called for solidarity between Natives and Anglicans based on partnership, equality and mutual respect. Beyond Traplines resulted in a significant shift in the church’s policy and led to the appointment of a council and a co-ordinator of indigenous ministries.

Over the ensuing 14 years, the residential-school system was wound down until, in 1983, the last institution closed its doors. As early as the 1960s, stories of abuse at residential schools were leaking out. Then, in the early 1990s, accounts of abuse erupted from Native communities, tearing lives apart. It seemed obvious that the abuse had been a significant impediment to the advancement and even survival of many Native Canadians who, after spending much of their lives away from their families at residential schools, entered adulthood with no sense of how to organize their lives or care for their children, with predictably troubling results for them and their families.


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