Trigger Warning (TW): The AFN acknowledges the following content could be distressing. Please reach out if you or someone you know needs support. The Hope for Wellness Help Line offers immediate counselling and crisis intervention toll-free at 1-855-242-3310 or through chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca

Recoveries of unmarked graves have put a spotlight on the genocide committed through the Residential Institution system in Canada from the 1800s until the 1990s. As First Nations from coast to coast to coast pursue searches of Residential Institutions and the number of recoveries grows, we must remember each number represents a loss – a child with a name, a family and a community coping with grief. This is our shared history.

Federal Indian Day School Claims

Many First Nations children who attended Federal Indian Day Schools experienced the same abuses as those who went to Residential Institutions. Under a settlement, Survivors and their families can submit an Extension Request Form and Claim Form until January 13, 2023. Visit the class action website or phone 1-888-221-2898 for eligibility details and assistance.

Words Matter

The words we use to describe Residential Institutions and their continuing impacts is crucial to reflect the lived experiences of the children who never came home, Survivors, families and communities.

As First Nations continue to grieve and heal, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) asks Canadians, including media, to use words that are respectful of and sensitive to the reality of First Nations peoples.

Do use
Institutions
Children
Recoveries
Survivors

Instead of
Schools
Students
Discoveries
Victims

Why
Schools do not have burials.
Institutions do not have students.
Burial sites have been well documented for years by Survivors and their communities.
Survivors are empowered to walk a healing path forward.

Why We Use the Word ‘Institutions’

“It’s very clear that genocide did happen in Canada and that these were not schools. These were institutions of assimilation and genocide.” – AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald

As documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for many, Residential and Day Institutions were places of abuse and neglect. While this webpage uses ‘Residential Institutions’ except when referring to proper names, Survivors, families and First Nations should be empowered to use the words that reflect their lived experience.

Ways the AFN is Seeking Justice

The AFN’s advocacy and role in the class action lawsuit resulting in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) and Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), was the start to a greater understanding of the intergenerational trauma inflicted by Residential Institutions.

The AFN continues to press for accountability and meaningful action to help bring justice to First Nations. This includes continuing to urge the implementation of all TRC Calls to Action, advocating for investigations of former sites of residential institutions, accountability for crimes committed and an apology by the head of the Catholic Church in Canada.

Independent Investigation

National Chief RoseAnne Archibald is calling for a United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission Special Rapporteur to investigate the crimes and human rights violations associated with residential institutions.

Justice Minister David Lametti announced the appointment of Kimberly Murray to the role of Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools to identify needed measures and recommend a new federal framework to ensure the respectful and culturally appropriate treatment of unmarked graves and burial sites of children at former Residential Institutions.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Calí Tzay has told media he will come to Canada to examine the “overall human rights situation” but stated that he does not have the authority to conduct an investigation or criminal prosecution.

International Criminal Court

The AFN has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate and hold the Imperial Crown, Government of Canada and the Roman Catholic Church accountable for their actions and to seek justice for the crimes against humanity for the victims’ families and the international community.

Roman Catholic Church

His Holiness Pope Francis visited Canada from July 24 to 29, 2022 and delivered penitential speeches to Indigenous peoples. He stopped short of denouncing the church’s role in creating systems that spiritually, culturally, emotionally and physically abused and killed First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, as called for in Call to Action #58.

The AFN continues to focus its advocacy on the needs of Survivors and call for the Pope to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, which seeded the genocidal process and included Residential Institutions.

The papal visit followed an AFN delegation which attended the Vatican March 28 to April 1, 2022. The Pope offered an apology to the full Indigenous delegation (First Nations, Inuit and Métis). Get details of the papal visit and AFN delegation to the Vatican.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)

The TRC was created through a legal settlement between the Assembly of First Nations and the parties responsible for Residential Institutions: the federal government and church organizations.

Its purpose was to investigate and document the origin, purposes and effects of Residential Institutions, and to have a national truth telling process in order to address the legacy of our shared history. More than 6,750 Survivors shared their truths.

In addition to its seven-volume final report, the TRC provided 94 Calls to Action to address the intergenerational impacts of Residential Institutions and 10 Principles for Reconciliation. The AFN continues to press for action, mandated by Resolution 15/01 Support for the Full Implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. To review the progress to date, please refer to the AFN TRC Report Card.

Public Education

Every single person in Canada is responsible for influencing meaningful change.

Many Canadians say they do not know the history of our country. According to a poll released on June 15, 2021 by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, AFN and Abacus Data, only 10 per cent of Canadians were very familiar with the history of the Residential Institution system.

The majority, 76 per cent, said provincial governments should improve school curricula on Residential Institutions and Indigenous history.

AFN Education Toolkit

The AFN Education Toolkit is a tool to bring together First Nations and non-First Nations people and foster a spirit of cooperation, understanding and action. It is available on Apple Books, Windows, Mac, Chrome, Android, Blackberry, and PDF formats.

Monument

The AFN continues to press the federal government to ensure a world-class monument is realized with the involvement of Survivors, intergenerational Survivors and their families, as mandated by Chiefs-in-Assembly under Resolution 19/112 Urgent Action by Heritage Canada to Implement TRC Call to Action #81

The TRC called for publicly accessible, highly visible monuments honouring Survivors and all children lost to their families and communities to be commissioned and installed in Ottawa, Ontario and all provincial and territorial capital cities. The federal government announced in April 2022 that a national monument will be built in Ottawa.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) has an important role in protecting and maintaining a national database of records regarding the Residential Institution system. The comprehensive collection of documents is based on human rights principles and fulfills a personal and collective right to know, a right to justice and Canada’s duty to remember.

The Government of Canada has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the NCTR, outlining how it will share historical documents with the NCTR.

The AFN continues to press for action based on the mandate by Chiefs under Resolution 21/01 Demanding Justice and Accountability for the Missing and Unidentified Children of Residential Schools to ensure that churches and other institutions also provide their records to the NCTR.

Timeline of Events

2022
July 24, 2022

Papal visit to Canada

Pope Francis visits Canada with stops in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, delivering an apology in Maskwacis, AB near the site of the former Ermineskin Residential School.

May 13, 2022

Pope Francis trip to Canada announced

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announces His Holiness will visit Canada July 24 to 29, 2022.

April 1, 2022

Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous Delegation

The Pope apologizes to First Nations, Inuit and Métis members of an Indigenous delegation during their visit to the Vatican.

2021
September 30, 2021

First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Known as Orange Shirt Day since 2013, September 30 is a day to honour the children who died while attending Residential Institutions, Survivors, families and communities.

September 24, 2021

Federal Court approves Indian Residential Schools Day Scholars settlement

The settlement provides compensation to claimants for harms suffered while attending Residential Institutions as ‘Day Scholars’.

May 27, 2021

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

Announces that the remains of 215 children were confirmed at the former Kamloops Residential Institution.

2019
June 3, 2019

MMIWG Inquiry releases final report

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls identifies colonial structures, including Residential Institutions, as the root of acts of violence and genocide against women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ peoples.

2015
December 15, 2015

TRC issues its final report

In addition to its final, seven-volume report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission releases 94 Calls to Action to address the multi-generational impacts of Residential Institutions.

2009
April 29, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI expresses sorrow

His Holiness expresses sorrow to a delegation from the AFN for Residential Institution abuse suffered at institutions run by the Roman Catholic Church.

2008
June 11, 2008

Federal apology

Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Government of Canada, formally apologizes to those sent to Residential Institutions, their families and communities.

June 1, 2008

TRC is established

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins its work, investigating the origin, purposes and effects of Residential Institutions. For the next six years, the TRC travels across Canada, hearing from more than 6,500 witnesses.

2007
January 26, 2007

Courts certify Class Actions

Nine courts certify class actions and approved terms of Indian Residential Schools Settlement (IRSSA) settlement.

2006
May 8, 2006

IRSSA signed

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement establishes a $1.9 billion fund for survivors.

2004
November 26, 2004

AFN Publishes Report

Report on Canada’s Dispute Resolution Plan to Compensate for Abuses in Indian Residential Schools stresses the need for a comprehensive approach including compensation, truth-telling, healing and public education.

1996
January 1, 1996

Gordon’s IRS closes

The last federally operated Residential Institution, Gordon’s Indian Residential School, in Punnichy, SK, closes.

1990
October 30, 1990

Phil Fontaine shares his truth

Then-National Chief Phil Fontaine speaks publicly of the abuse he suffered at Fort Alexander Residential Institution and calls for a public inquiry.

1966
October 3, 1966

Chanie Wenjack dies

Chanie Wenjack, 12, dies after running away from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School. His death leads to the first official inquiry into the treatment of children at residential institutions.

1920
April 1, 1920

Residential Institutions mandatory

Amendments to the Indian Act make it mandatory for First Nations children ages 7 to 16 years to attend Residential Institutions.

1883
July 1, 1883

Federal government authorizes Residential Institutions

Then-Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald authorizes the creation of the Residential Institution system to assimilate First Nations children to white, Christian culture.

1876
April 12, 1876

The Indian Act is enacted

The Indian Act provides a single coordinated policy to assimilate First Nations peoples into white, Christian culture.

1831
January 26, 1831

The Mohawk Institute opens

The first Residential Institution, The Mohawk Institute near what is now Brantford, ON, opens.

Resources

Resolutions

Residential Institutions

Federal Indian Day Schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Key Organizations Supporting Survivors

Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society

Legacy of Hope Foundation

  • The Legacy of Hope Foundation’s goal is to educate and raise awareness about the impacts of Residential Institutions in the form of educational tools and consultation with Survivors.

Orange Shirt Society

  • The Orange Shirt Society works to raise awareness of intergenerational trauma caused by Residential Institutions and commemorate the experiences of Survivors.

First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

Reconciliation Canada

  • Reconciliation Canada focuses on workshops and community outreach to further the dialogue around reconciliation.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

  • The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation maintains a national database of records regarding the Residential Institution system and provides educational resources for Canadians to learn more about Residential Institutions across the country.

Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund

Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society

  • The Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society works with Residential Institution Survivors and provides outreach and cultural support. They also provide a toll-free line that Indigenous Peoples in crisis or needing support can call at: 1-888-403-3123.
Sid LeeResidential Institutions