Gathering Theme: The Psychological and Intergenerational Impacts of the Indian Residential School

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.


The Psychological and Intergenerational Impacts of the Indian Residential School

(This theme is derived and adapted from the article “the Soul Wounds of the Anishinabek People,” Written by Dr. Brenda M. Restoule, C.Psych (Waub-Zhe-Kwens, Migizi dodem), Dokis First Nation, Anishinabek Nation)

(Facilitator reads)
I am going to introduce our theme in the Psychological and Intergenerational Impacts of the Indian Residential Schools, and then I am going to ask each of you to read a short section about these effects. By all means if you are not comfortable or shy reading aloud, please feel free to pass. There is no obligation to read. If you don’t have your reading glasses, just pass, not a problem. So let’s begin.

At the heart of the Indian Residential School system was the intent to “kill the Indian in the child” (Campbell Scott, 1920) by attacking Anishinabek culture, language and practices and replacing it with Euro-Canadian languages and practices. It is known that First Nation children were forcibly removed from their parents, families and communities and placed in schools thousands of miles away from all that was familiar to them. During their stays at the schools many suffered neglect and physical, sexual and psychological abuse while enduring harsh living conditions under the pretence of gaining an education. As a result many children experienced personal and cultural degradation that lasted a lifetime for many of them.

The survivors often believed these experiences to be traumatic and resulted in long-term negative impacts across many areas of their lives such as relationships, parenting, health, mental health, beliefs and coping. Many of the survivors were left without any supports or help to heal from the traumas they experienced in the Indian Residential School (IRS) system. In some cases, the survivors didn’t recognize some of their problems as being connected to the Indian Residential School experience. As the survivors had families of their own they unintentionally placed their children at risk of being exposed to these same long-term negative impacts. In doing so, they transmitted their trauma and its effects to their children who were often unaware of their parents’ experiences in the Indian Residential School system. This transmission of trauma is known as intergenerational trauma transmission and it has negative long-term impacts across the generations.

Today there is more awareness of the serious negative experiences that the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools were exposed to, trauma and its impacts, and the ability to transmit trauma across generations. As survivors and their families speak out about the trauma there are opportunities available using cultural and counselling supports to heal from their soul wounds.


(Participant 1 reads)
Residential schools were established in 1892. Most closed in the 1970’s but the last closed in 1996. There were about 80 schools in total.

About 150 thousand children attended these schools.

Some parents voluntarily sent their children to these schools believing they would provide their children with an education. However, many children were forcibly removed from their parents, homes and communities and placed in these schools often thousands of miles away. If parents objected there was a risk that they would be placed in jail. In 1933 residential school principals were made legal guardians, causing parents to forcibly give up legal custody of their children.


What happened to the children while at the school?

  • Forcible removal of their cultural identity such as cutting of hair, stripped of traditional clothing and possessions
  • Renamed with ‘Christian’ names or known only by a number
  • Unsanitary and overcrowded conditions
  • Exposure to illnesses such as tuberculosis with lack of effective and immediate health care
  • Inadequate food and clothing
  • Physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse
  • Forced replacement of spiritual beliefs by religious teaching
  • Physical and emotional separation from parents, grandparents, extended family, siblings and the opposite sex
  • Death due to violence, suicide, malnourishment, disease, exposure to extreme weather conditions
  • Loss of language
  • Loss of cultural practices and customs


(Participant 2 reads)
What are the long-term impacts to survivors of the Indian Residential School system?

  • Inability to express feelings about the abuse they suffered in the schools
  • Internalized feelings of anger, fear, grief, shame and guilt ·
  • Substance abuse, addictions ·
  • Self-sabotaging behaviours
  • Violence directed toward others or self (i.e., suicide, self-harm)
  • Risk taking behaviours
  • Avoidance
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Cultural alienation
  • Poor or no interpersonal and relationship skills ·
  • Lack of trust or belief in others or of a safe and predictable world
  • Lack of loving and effective parenting skills ·
  • Inability to effectively handle conflict in healthy ways
  • Continuation of abuse others
  • Anger


(Participant 3 reads)
What is trauma?

There are different types of trauma. Physical trauma is the result of a physical wound or injury. Psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that break a person’s sense of security and predictability, leaving one feeling helpless and vulnerable. It does not require a physical injury to be considered traumatic.

What are some causes of psychological trauma?

  • It happens unexpectedly
  • The person is unprepared for it
  • The person feels powerless to prevent it
  • It happens repeatedly
  • Someone was intentionally cruel
  • It happened in childhood


How does trauma happen?

  • A single, one-time event (i.e., car accident, unexpected loss, assault)
  • A prolonged or repeat experience (i.e., apprehension, abuse)
  • A cumulative effect (i.e., violence + abuse +racism/discrimination)
  • A historical event with prolonged impact (i.e., relocation)
  • It can take weeks, months or years before the impacts of trauma are noticeable.


(Participant 4 reads)
We are going to reflect on the spiritual, emotional, mental, social and physical impacts of trauma.

Spiritual impacts of trauma

  • Persons may describe a lack of belief or faith in others, including a higher power.

Emotional impacts of trauma

  • Feeling nervous, helpless, fearful, sad
  • Feeling shocked, numb and not able to feel love or joy
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Avoiding people, places and things related to the event
  • Being irritable or having outbursts of anger and aggressive behaviour
  • Becoming easily upset or agitated
  • Being withdrawn, feeling rejected or abandoned
  • Loss of intimacy or feeling detached
  • Feeling detached or unconcerned about others
  • Confusion
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviours


What are the mental impacts to trauma?

  • Blaming yourself or having negative views of yourself or the world
  • Distrust of others, getting into conflicts, being over controlling
  • Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling on guard and constantly alert
  • Having disturbing dreams, memories or flashbacks
  • Having work or school problems
  • Short term memory loss
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Decreased performance levels
  • Increased difficulty in relating to others
  • Sadness or depression
  • Anxiety Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


(Participant 5 reads)
What are the social impacts to trauma?

  • Inability to relate to others
  • Distrust in others
  • Problems with parenting and intimacy

What are the physical effects of trauma?

  • Headaches, aches and pains – including chronic pain
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Bowel problems
  • Skin problems
  • Pounding heart, rapid breathing, feeling edgy
  • Vomiting
  • Ongoing medical problems getting worse
  • Sleep problems such as nightmares, sleeping too much or not being able to fall or stay asleep
  • Addictions such as alcohol or drug abuse including prescription drug abuse

(Participant 6 reads)
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

  • An anxiety disorder that involves reliving psychologically traumatic situations long after the physical danger involved has passed, through flashbacks, nightmares and other physical responses (i.e., poor eating and sleep)

Can trauma be transmitted to others?

  • Yes, impacts or reactions may be transmitted to the offspring (and subsequent generations) of victims of collective emotional or psychological trauma. This is known as intergenerational, historical or multigenerational trauma.

Why does intergenerational trauma happen?

Victims of trauma such as survivors of the Indian Residential School system display various behaviours and (negative) coping strategies that increase the likelihood of trauma transmission.

  • Troubled with traumatic memories, behaviours and negative coping strategies they pass on to their children through modeling
  • Limited ability and/or lack of knowledge and skills to assist their children in coping with difficult situations.
  • Limited ability and/or lack of knowledge and skills to support their children in dealing with developmental transitions and milestones (i.e., moving from childhood to adolescence).
  • Overprotective or neglectful of children and their needs

(Participant 7 reads)
What are the impacts of intergenerational trauma?

  • Addictions, alcohol or drug abuse
  • Abuses: physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, mental, spiritual
  • Low self-esteem
  • Dysfunctional families and interpersonal relationships
  • Poor parenting such as rigidity, neglect, abandonment, emotional coldness
  • Suicide acts, thoughts and behaviours
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Depression, particularly chronic to individuals and widespread across the community
  • Chronic and widespread anger and rage
  • Eating and sleeping problems that are significant and chronic
  • Chronic physical illness
  • Chronic unresolved grief and loss
  • Fear of personal growth, transformation and healing
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol effect (FAE)
  • Unconscious internalization of residential school behaviours such as false politeness, not speaking out, passive compliance, excessive neatness, obedience without thought
  • School based learning problems like fear of failure, avoiding learning that seems ‘too much like school’, learning disabilities with a psychological basis
  • Spiritual confusion and alienation that doesn’t allow for growth
  • Internalized sense of inferiority or avoidance of non-First Nation people
  • Becoming abusers and oppressors of others
  • Denial or refusal of cultural background, cultural identity confusion, fear of learning or practicing culture
  • Disconnection from the natural world as an important part of daily life and spiritual beliefs
  • Passiveness or having no voice
  • High risk behaviours (i.e., sexual promiscuity)
  • Early death
  • Poor attachment to caregivers


(Participant 8 reads)
Is it possible to see intergenerational trauma transmitted at the community level?

Yes, many of the social, economic and political challenges in First Nation communities are directly or indirectly related to the residential school experience and other colonial factors. These may include:

  • Paternalistic authority
  • Passive dependency
  • Patterns of misuse of power to control others
  • Community social patterns that foster gossip and rumours but failure to support and stand with those who speak out or challenge the status quo
  • Breakdown of ‘social glue’ that binds families and communities together such as trust, common ground, shared purpose and direction, a strong community life of giving and sharing, lack of volunteerism, co-operative groups/neighbourhoods working together for the benefit of all
  • Conflict and lack of unity between individuals and families including factions within the community
  • Conflicts and confusion over religious and spiritual based practices
  • Toxic communication: gossip, criticism, personal attacks, sarcasm, secrets, put downs, etc.
  • Destruction of social support network
  • Passive acceptance of powerlessness with community life and/or governance
  • Loss of traditional governance processes that gave people a sense of influence in shaping the community
  • Joblessness and poverty
  • Family violence
  • Family breakdown
  • Homelessness
  • High rates of imprisonment


(Participant 9 reads)

Healing can occur at an individual level and requires the survivor to learn strategies to cope with the anxiety and negative emotions or behavioural reactions to the trauma. Seeking counselling from a counsellor trained in trauma therapy or a cultural support person/elder is often recommended. Some helpful coping skills are: ·

  • Muscle relaxation and deep breathing
  • Thought stopping
  • Pleasant imagery
  • Positive self-talk
  • Recognizing triggers and reminders
  • Family and social support
  • Creating a story that empowers one to survive and see strengths

As trauma and intergenerational trauma was the result of attacks to the culture and spirit of the children, addressing these soul wounds often requires cultural interventions and supports. Cultural ceremonies and practice allow one to reclaim their cultural identity and pride while learning strategies to cope with the impacts of the trauma. Healing from intergenerational trauma has 4 critical components:

1. Confront our trauma and embrace our history by learning Anishinabek history and what happened. Knowledge is power!

2. Understand the trauma by learning about trauma reactions and cultural practices to address grief and loss.

3. Release the pain; usually through cultural ceremonies/practices that creates a sense of belonging and connection to land, culture and others with a shared history.

4. Transcend the trauma by moving to healing that allows us to define ourselves in ways that move beyond the trauma.

The Elders have shared that we have all the teachings within us to be well and live a good life – (‘mno-biimaadzawin”). Reclaiming culture and language have the ability to set us free from the soul wounds inflicted on our people and community. We are thankful to all those survivors who spoke out and demanded healing and brought about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Gathering Theme: Residential Schools

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Revised January 2020


Residential Schools

Author: This is an excerpt from “The Survivors Speak” (TRC 2015)

“My father was raised by people who didn’t love him…”

~Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk, p. 184


(We are going to hear an edited excerpt from Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future, “The History,” pages 37-43. A number of you will know these stories only too well. But for others of you, it may be the first time you are hearing them. They are very difficult to hear. 

During this presentation, I’m going to ask several of you to read sections. There are 6 sections, so not everyone needs to read. If you prefer to pass and not read, simply do so and do not feel guilty as there are not enough sections for everyone to read)

It can start with a knock on the door one morning. It is the local Indian agent, or the parish priest, or, perhaps, a Mounted Police officer. The bus for residential school leaves that morning. It is a day the parents have long been dreading. Even if the children have been warned in advance, the morning’s events are still a shock. The officials have arrived and the children must go.

For tens of thousands of Aboriginal children for over a century, this was the beginning of their residential schooling. They were torn from their parents, who often surrendered them only under threat of prosecution. Then, they were hurled into a strange and frightening place, one in which their parents and culture would be demeaned and oppressed.

For Frederick Ernest Koe, “And I didn’t get to say goodbye to my dad or my brother Allan, didn’t get to pet my dogs or nothing.” (1)

Participant 1: Departure from home

Larry Beardy travelled by train from Churchill, Manitoba, to the Anglican residential school in Dauphin, Manitoba—a journey of 1,200 kilometres. As soon as they realized that they were leaving their parents behind, the younger children started crying. 

At every stop the train took on more children and they would start to cry as well. “That train I want to call that train of tears.” Florence Horassi was taken to the Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, school in a small airplane. “When the plane took off, there’s about six or five older ones, didn’t cry, but I saw tears come right out of their eyes. Everybody else was crying. There’s a whole plane crying. I wanted to cry, too, ’cause my brother was crying, but I held my tears back and held him.”

Participant 2:  Arrival at school

The arrival at school was often even more traumatizing than the departure from home or the journey. 

Nellie Ningewance went to the Sioux Lookout, Ontario, school in the 1950s and 1960s. “When we arrived we had to register that we had arrived, then they took us to cut our hair.” Bernice Jacks became very frightened when her hair was cut on her arrival. “I could see my hair falling. And I couldn’t do nothing. And I was so afraid my mom … I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about Mom. I say, ‘Mom’s gonna be really mad. And June is gonna be angry. And it’s gonna be my fault.’” 

Campbell Papequash (says) “And after I was taken there they took off my clothes and then they deloused me. I didn’t know what was happening but I learned about it later, that they were delousing me; ‘the dirty, no-good-for-nothing savages, lousy.’” 

Archie Hyacinthe compared the experience (of going to the school) to that of being captured and taken into captivity. “That’s when the trauma started for me, being separated from my sister, from my parents, and from our, our home. We were no longer free. It was like being, you know, taken to a strange land, even though it was our, our, our land, as I understood later on.” When she first went to the Amos, Québec, school, Margo Wylde could not speak any French. “I said to myself, ‘How am I going to express myself? How will I make people understand what I’m saying?’ And I wanted to find my sisters to ask them to come and get me. You know it’s sad to say, but I felt I was a captive.” 

Participant 3: loss of Indigenous clothing

On their arrival at residential school, students often were required to exchange the clothes they were wearing for school-supplied clothing. This could mean the loss of homemade clothing that was of particular value and meaning to them. When Wilbur Abrahams’s mother sent him to the Alert Bay school in British Columbia, she outfitted him in brand-new clothes. When he arrived at the school, he was told to hand in this outfit in exchange for school clothing. “That was the last time I saw my new clothes. Dare not ask questions.” Martin Nicholas went to the Pine Creek, Manitoba school. “My mom had prepared me in Native clothing. She had made me a buckskin jacket, beaded with fringes.… And my mom did beautiful work, and I was really proud of my clothes. And when I got to residential school, that first day I remember, they stripped us of our clothes.”   On her arrival at the Presbyterian school in Kenora, Ontario, Lorna Morgan was wearing “these nice little beaded moccasins that my grandma had made me to wear for school, and I was very proud of them.” She said they were taken from her and thrown in the garbage. 

Gilles Petiquay was shocked by the fact that each student was assigned a number. “I remember that the first number that I had at the residential school was 95. I had that number—95—for a year. The second number was number 4. I had it for a longer period of time. The third number was 56. I also kept it for a long time. We walked with the numbers on us.” 

Participant 4: Separated from siblings

Older brothers were separated from younger brothers, older sisters were separated from younger sisters, and brothers and sisters were separated from each other. Wilbur Abrahams climbed up the steps to the Alert Bay school behind his sisters and started following them to the girls’ side of the school. Then, he felt a staff member pulling him by the ear, telling him to turn the other way. “I have always believed that, I think at that particular moment, my spirit left.” 

When Peter Ross was enrolled at the Immaculate Conception school in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, it was the first time he had ever been parted from his sisters. He said that in all the time he was at the school, he was able to speak with them only at Christmas and on Catholic feast days. Daniel Nanooch recalled that he talked with his sister only four times a year at the Wabasca, Alberta, school. “They had a fence in the playground. Nobody was allowed near the fence. 

The only reason Bernice Jacks had wanted to go to residential school was to be with her older sister. But once she was there, she discovered they were to sleep in separate dormitories. On the occasions when she slipped into the older girls’ dormitory and crawled into her sister’s

bed, her sister scolded her and sent her away: “My sister never talked to me like that before.” Bernard Catcheway said that even though he and his sister were both attending the Pine Creek school, they could not communicate with each other.

“I couldn’t talk to her, I couldn’t wave at her. On her second day at the Kamloops school in British Columbia, Julianna Alexander went to speak to her brother. “Did I ever get a good pounding and licking, get over there, you can’t go over there, you can’t talk to him, you know. I said, ‘Yeah, but he’s my brother.’” 

Participant 5: Fear and loneliness 

Taken from their homes, stripped of their belongings, and separated from their siblings, residential school children lived in a world dominated by fear, loneliness, and lack of affection.

William Herney, who attended the Shubenacadie school in Nova Scotia, recalled the first few days in the school as being frightening and bewildering. “Within those few days, you had to learn, because otherwise you’re gonna get your head knocked off. Raymond Cutknife recalled that when he attended the Hobbema school in Alberta, he “lived

with fear.”  Of his years in two different Manitoba schools, Timothy Henderson said, “Every day was, you were in constant fear that, your hope was that it wasn’t you today that we’re going to, that was going to be the target, the victim. You know, you weren’t going to have to suffer any form of humiliation.”  Shirley Waskewitch said that in Kindergarten at the Catholic school in Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, “I learned the fear,

how to be so fearful at six years old. It was instilled in me.” 

At the Fort Alexander, Manitoba, school, Patrick Bruyere used to cry himself to sleep. “There was, you know, a few nights I remember that I just, you know, cried myself to sleep, I guess, because of, you know, wanting to see my mom and dad.” …

Students’ hearts were hardened. Rick Gilbert remembered the Williams Lake, British Columbia, school as a loveless place. “That was one thing about this school was that when you got hurt or got beat up or something, and you started crying, nobody comforted you. You just sat in the corner and cried and cried till you got tired of crying then you got up and carried on with life.” 

Participant 6: Hardening of the heart

Nick Sibbeston, who was placed in the Fort Providence school in the Northwest Territories at the age of five, recalled it as a place where children hid their emotions. “In residential school you quickly learn that you should not cry. If you cry you’re teased, you’re shamed out, you’re even punished.”  One former student said that during her time at the Sturgeon Landing school in Saskatchewan, she could not recall a staff member ever smiling at a child. (38)

Stephen Kakfwi  said this lack of compassion affected the way students treated one another. “No hugs, nothing, no comfort. Everything that, I think, happened in the residential schools, we picked it up: we didn’t get any hugs; you ain’t going to get one out of me I’ll tell you that.” (41) Victoria McIntosh said that life at the Fort Alexander, Manitoba, school taught her not to trust anyone. “You learn not to cry anymore. You just get harder. And yeah, you learn to shut down.” 

These accounts all come from statements made by former residential school students to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. These events all took place in Canada within the realm of living memory. 

Participant 7: Run down schools

Like previous generations of residential school children, these children were sent to what were, in most cases, badly constructed, poorly maintained, overcrowded, unsanitary fire traps. Many children were fed a substandard diet and given a substandard education, and worked too hard.

For far too long, they died in tragically high numbers. Discipline was harsh and unregulated; abuse was rife and unreported. It was, at best, institutionalized child neglect.


Now I’m going to pass around our talking stick. 

We have about ____ minutes for sharing so I would ask you to be conscious of your sharing time so that everyone has a chance to speak, if they wish.

A question you may wish to consider:

Imagine you are a nine year old girl (or boy). How do you think you would feel arriving at the school the first time?


There is a full volume published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission entitled “The Survivors Speak” (2015). We encourage you to read it. Thirty different dimensions of school life are addressed. The publication is available online. 


Meaning of Land for Indigenous Peoples

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Revised April 2020


Meaning of Land for Indigenous peoples

Author: Raymond F. Curri

(Facilitator reads)
Why do Indigenous people stay on reserves when there is often water that has to be boiled, mold in the houses, few educational opportunities and no jobs? For the sake of the children, why don’t they leave and come to the city?  This is a real question that was posed by a non-Indigenous person. The answers are somewhat complex. The answer provided to this person constitutes the text of our theme today. It is prepared by a non-Indigenous person.

(Participant 1 reads)
Perhaps we should begin by distinguishing between a Band and a Reserve. A Band is the community recognized by the federal government with its governing structure of Chief and Council, as outlined in the Indian Act. A reserve is the land upon which the Band resides. Some bands have several reserves. The are 634 recognized bands in Canada under the Indian Act but 3,100 reserves. For example, there are now more than 120 urban reserves across Canada. More than fifty percent of First nations people now live in urban areas, so clearly not all live on reserve lands. Nevertheless the home reserve is a very important reality for most First Nation people. Most refugees, given a choice would not want to come to Canada. It is so far from their beloved homes. In Canada, at the holiday seasons people get in their cars, buses, or planes to go back home, to the farm, to the reserves, to their home cities.

The reserve communities provide a constant experience of belonging. That is why those who come to the city often experience loneliness and a real sense of loss. Those who come to universities or colleges take longer to complete their studies as family responsibilities and financial issues often draw them back to their home communities during their studies.  Universities recognize that Indigenous students often endure these additional difficulties and try to ensure student success with special programming and academic assistance, and physical meeting places such as Indigenous learning centres on campuses. In spite of these difficulties, many Indigenous parents and young people embrace higher education because they see it as “the new buffalo,” with its promise of economic benefits. Just like the buffalo provided for so many needs of the community, so also higher education will play the same role.
We cannot discount the significant role that racism plays in making those who come to the city feel lonely, unhappy and unwelcome. No matter how many troubles there might be on some reserves, they are, because of this sense of belonging, still perceived as a more comfortable place than the cities. Finally, in addition to the individual prejudice and racism Indigenous people often experience in the city, there is the systemic racism that takes away some of the housing benefits of Indigenous people who leave a reserve and come to the city. These are reasons why some of the Indigenous people want to stay on reserves.

(Participant 2 reads)
There are more important reasons. Indigenous people see the land itself in ways non-Indigenous people often do not understand:  An Indigenous person’s sense of self is not separate from the land. The interconnectedness with the land and the natural world is a lived experience. Indigenous persons have a hard time knowing themselves and being themselves without this relationship to their homeland. The vital knowledge of generations has taught them how to live with nature and be in balance and harmony with the natural world. It is compelling to see how often Indigenous art shows an interconnectedness between animals and people and the land. Just one example: many Indigenous masks are created in the likeness of an animal. Some believe that each clan is descended from a different animal.

So coming to the city can be disorienting, although the intensity of this obviously varies between individuals. The land is sacred. When several Indigenous groups in B.C. were offered over a billion dollars for permission to develop oil projects, they turned it down –because they judged the project would destroy Mother Earth, and they could not allow that to happen. There is a relationship to Mother Earth that is sacred, nourishing and that carries responsibilities. “We do not own Mother Earth to give it away; we must respect it. We are part of it, it is part of us,” they would say.

Related to this is the fact that not all people want to live a Western, urban, life style.  For many Indigenous peoples, there is no ‘good life’ that does not include a daily, intimate relationship with land and nature. Of course Indigenous people want access to some of the benefits of a middle-class lifestyle such as education, health care, housing and quality of life which are the most important drivers of migration, even from small town and villages. But it would be a mistake to go from there to the conclusion that we all want these things in the same way.

(Participant 3 reads)
Land is of course a key factor in the making of treaties. Winnipeg is on Treaty # 1 land, signed in 1871 at Lower Fort Garry. It is located on the original lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. We are all treaty people and it is up to both parties to live by the responsibilities agreed to in the Treaties. In fact, as Jamie Wilson, former Treaty Commissioner for Manitoba pointed out, even the right of non-Indigenous peoples in Manitoba to own land and buy a house in Winnipeg is possible because of Treaty 1. Aimée Craft’s book, “Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One” brings a unique approach to the history of this treaty.

Reserves were established by the treaties, and in principle the treaties were supposed to allow Indigenous people to select the areas of land they wanted. They looked for land linked to their traditional fishing, burial and ceremonial customs at the same time ensuring they had steady access to wood, water, shelter and existing transport routes. However, their reserve lands were often badly or not at all surveyed and the federal government in some cases removed people from their original reserve in order to make way for land speculation. That is the story of Peguis Reserve in Manitoba. This gave rise to the current issues of treaty land entitlement and land claims. In brief, after treaties were negotiated, the Crown became the only significant interpreter of their terms. Then, the Indian Act was passed in 1876. It should be noted that it was never part of any treaty and Indigenous people were not asked for their consent. By that date, the Crown had already launched a century or more of assimilation. However, as Aimée Craft has pointed out: “Aboriginal people in Canada did not view the land and its resources as something they owned, so they did not see the treaties as a transfer of ownership. Rather, they saw the treaties as providing a basis upon which the use of the land and its resources could be shared.”

(Participant 4 reads)
Land is important in two respects. First, as has been pointed out, traditional lands are the ‘place’ of the nation and are inseparable from the people, their culture, and their identity as a nation. Second however, – individuals, families, communities and nations. Capturing this, Fergus MacKay says the following when discussing the World Bank’s approach to Indigenous people: “For Indigenous peoples, secure and effective collective property rights are fundamental to their economic and social development, to their physical and cultural integrity, and to their livelihoods and sustenance.” (MacKay 2004, 16).

Twenty-nine comprehensive land claim and/or self-government agreements, covering over 40 percent of Canada’s land mass, have been ratified and brought into effect since the announcement of the Government of Canada’s Comprehensive Land claims Policy in 1973 and the establishment of the British Columbia Treaty Process (1992). These agreements change the relationship between Aboriginal signatories, the federal government and the provincial / territorial governments concerned and are based on Article 35 of the Canadian Constitution. According to Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements and Self-Government Agreements, Aboriginal signatories constitute governments in their own right and, as a result, the Parties to the agreements form ground breaking government-to-government relationships that transform how they relate to and collaborate with one another. (This text comes from the government of Canada website, the use of the term Aboriginal is in some older texts. The text can be found at:

Most non-Indigenous people do not realize that these are existing government to government agreements.

(Participant 5 reads)
The reserve system was not created by Indigenous peoples. It was never intended to provide an equal quality of life. Forced relocation has not been uncommon. In 2016 the Canadian government apologized and will provide millions in compensation for the forced relocation of the Sayisi Dene First Nation 60 years ago in northern Manitoba. “Without proper consultation, without explanation and without adequate planning, the federal government took your people from the land and the waters that sustained you,” Carolyn Bennett, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister said in prepared remarks delivered in Tadoule Lake. The Indian Act continues to make Indigenous people wards of the state which affects many aspects of peoples’ lives.

Attachment to home and reserve community has been central to Indigenous life in Canada. It has had a great deal to do not only with family but with resilience and resistance to the attempts, both direct and indirect, to destroy so many aspects of Indigenous life.

(Facilitator reads)
For a simple, straight-forward grasp of the history of Indigenous people and their relationship to land, we encourage you to take part in what is called a “Blanket Exercise.” These are one hour stories on the history of Indigenous peoples since the arrival of settlers. These Blanket Ceremonies are offered by KAIROS right across Canada and you can probably easily organize one in your area.


Craft, A. (2013). Breathing Life Into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One. Puruch Publishing Ltd. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

MacKay, F. (2004). Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent and the World Bank’s Extractive Industries Review. Sustainable Development Law & Policy, the journal of the American University’s Washington College of Law (WCL) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), 4 (2). Pp. 1-42.
Retrieved from:


Gathering Theme: The Pass System – Segregation in Canada


The Pass System: Segregation in Canada

“Charles Sawphawpahkayo wanted to get married. To do that, the man from a reserve near Duck Lake, Sask. now known as Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation would need to travel to the bigger town of Battleford, about 140 kilometres away as the crow flies.

Before he could leave, however, Sawphawpahkayo would need the written authorization of the local Indian agent, who signed the required permission slip—issued by the Department of Indian Affairs — on June 3, 1897. The agent granted him 10 days away from the reserve.”

This is an example of the Pass System in Canada.

The  information presented here comes from viewing the film of the same name directed by Alex Williams, and by borrowing extensively from articles on the internet, particularly  a very extensive one by Joanna Smith, Ottawa Bureau correspondent for the Toronto Star, as well as on line conversations with Alex Williams. I think that we are indebted to Williams for five years of research before he produced his film, and he could not have done so without the oral history of a number of Indigenous persons.  See the RESOURCES section of our website for a link to the film.

The history of the pass system in Canada is very dark and shrouded in mystery and will require a great deal more research.  But there are several elements beyond dispute.  

Smith  states that the system was first implemented as an emergency measure — designed to be temporary — in response to the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel, and the Northwest Rebellion in Saskatchewan (1885) as” the Canadian government was concerned resistance could grow out of control if indigenous people began leaving their reserves to join in.”

It was formalized after 1885 at the suggestion of then Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hayter Reed and approved by his superior Edgar Dewdney, in a document entitled “Memorandum to the honourable the Indian Commissioner for the Future Management of Indians”. Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald’s  response was that “…it is in the highest degree desirable to adopt it.” He then signed an internal order that became an unofficial policy of Indian Affairs. Henceforth, a pass to get off reserve would only be issued at the pleasure of the local Indian Agent, a man who controlled every aspect of First Nations lives, holding judicial powers.

It lasted nearly 60 years without ever going through Parliament.

It is one example of policies and practices that were often arbitrarily applied by Indian Agents. What’s particularly suspicious about the pass system is how light the surviving documentation is, considering its powerful and illegal control of people. The pass system had no basis in law, but the system nonetheless lasted over six decades. Although not without exception, it appears to have been applied primarily in Treaties 4, 6 and 7.
Macdonald acknowledged they were on shaky ground in that requiring passes would violate treaty rights:

pass-161In a letter to Indian Commissioner Edgar Dewdney on October 28, 1885. Macdonald wrote : “…should resistance be offered on the ground of Treaty rights the obtaining of a pass should not be insisted upon as regards loyal Indians.”  Indian agents were supplied with books of passes, or permits to leave. As you can see from the photo of one of the passes, the time the individual is allowed to be off reserve is recorded, as is the purpose of the time away, and whether or not he is allowed to carry a gun. So the “pass system” was initially applied to “rebel Indians” but later expanded for all First Nations.

In order to obtain a pass, individuals would often have to travel many days by foot to the Agent’s house, not knowing if he would be there when they arrived. If the Agent was away, they would either camp and wait, or return home. If the need to leave the reserve was pressing, such as to sell market-ready produce, the delay resulted in produce that rotted. First Nation farmers also were required to have a permit to sell their produce. The pass system additionally enabled the government to attempt to quash potlatches, the Sun Dance and other cultural practices.

The North-West Mounted Police was the only agency that protested the system. In 1893, Commissioner Lawrence William Herchmer ordered members of the force to stop returning people without passes to the reserves.

(“You know something is wrong when the cops say don’t do it,” said film Director Williams)

Hayter Reed, who was then in charge of the Indian Affairs department, overruled the Mounties but acknowledged in a letter that year “there has never been any legal authority for compelling Indians who leave their Reserves to return to them.” Later, he also wrote: “all we can do is to endeavour to keep the true position from the Indians as long as possible.”

The system remained in effect until 1941 and was formally repealed in 1951. Oral history also records stories told by First Nations people who either experienced the pass system themselves, or remember relatives talking about it.

As reported by Smith, one powerful testimony comes from Elder Therese Seesequasis, of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, who recalls spending 10 months of the year away from her family at residential school.

“We sure spent some lonely, lonely days . . . Our parents didn’t even come for Christmas,” Seesequasis says.

Smith points out that “the pass system helped support the residential school system as Indian agents would often refuse to sign passes if they suspected they would be used to visit children there.”

Winona Wheeler, an historian and professor of indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan said in an interview with Smith that oral history is crucial to understanding what happened.

“I think without hearing those stories, a lot of stuff has been glossed over or hidden or has not surfaced in the public realm, because documents go missing or documents have not been made accessible in the archives,” says Wheeler who drew a parallel to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission having to fight the government for access to archives on residential schools.

Williams said only two actual passes exist at Library and Archives Canada and he suspects many were deliberately destroyed by a government who knew what it was doing was illegal. There is also one at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and two in the Saskatchewan archives.

A letter dated July 11, 1941 by Harold McGill, who was director of the Indian Affair branch at the department of mines and resources was circulated to Indian agents to put an official end to the pass system, saying there was no law compelling First Nations people to stay on their reserves and that they were “free to come and go” like everyone else.

McGill mentions government lawyers having come to that conclusion in 1900 — for which Williams could find no documentation — and also makes a request: “If you have any such forms in your possession kindly return them to the Department where they will be destroyed”.

Smith records the story of Leona Blondeau, 82, who “was 8 years old when the extralegal federal government policy was officially revoked in 1941, but she and other living witnesses to history recall restrictions on their movements lasting until at least her teenage years.

We never went anywhere. We stayed on the reserve. We were very segregated . . . It was the way life was, I thought. I didn’t realize that wasn’t the right thing to do,” said Blondeau.

She remembers being 14 years old when she and her siblings — she was the eldest of six — came home from residential school for the summer and their mother took them to the closest town, Punnichy, Sask., for the day.

“We travelled by wagon and horse and go there and our treat was an ice cream cone. That was our treat for the day,” Blondeau recalled.

She says her mother had to get permission from the local Indian agent before she could create those memories with her children.

permit-to-sell“They were like a receipt and you had to tell how long you were going away off the reserve and he signed them to give you his permission,” she said.

Blondeau remembers a happy childhood spent close to her family, but says that as she grew older she became angry and resentful at how limited her life and future appeared.

Why didn’t the First Nations people complain you might ask? Until 1951 First Nations people were denied the right to counsel; the Indian Act prohibited people to hire a lawyer to defend themselves.

In addition, Indian Agents in Western Canada were empowered as Justices of the Peace, and so mounting a defence against them would have been difficult. As well, people were not allowed to complain to anyone but the Indian Agent (who was the one implementing the policy) So, in fact the Agency could be the perpetrator, judge and complaints officer all in one.

Why do we need to know this history? The TRC report is entitled: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future.” Can you imagine the sense of shame adults, both men and women would feel having to ask permission to go hunting, to go fishing, to go visit their own children? What would this do to the self confidence, the self worth people would feel?  Furthermore this control of Indigenous people, in their movements, in their rituals, in their farming and hunting and even in their visits to their children without question helped create an intergenerational sense of dependency. We need to support Indigenous people as they break out of it.  

Closing Protocol for Meetings

Closing Protocol for Meetings:

(Each sentence to be read by a different participant,
with the last sentence being read together by all six)

  1. Reconciliation must become a way of life.
  2. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships in Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
  3. Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, and relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemorations, but also needs real social, political and economic change.
  4. Ongoing public education and dialogue are essential to reconciliation.
  5. Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples.
  6. (All six readers) Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.”

(Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Page 18)


Opening Protocol for Meetings

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Opening Protocol

  1. I wish to acknowledge that we are on the original lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation.
  2. Following the presentation of the topic for today, a general discussion will follow with each of you being given an opportunity to speak to the issue. You are encouraged to keep in mind seven sacred teachings of the Anishinaabe in your thoughts and words.
  3. (The Seven Sacred Teachings are then to be read aloud by one of the participants)
    LOVE: it is important to care for one another
    HONESTY: better to fail with honesty than succeed by fraud
    RESPECT: give it, earn it, receive it.
    TRUTH: it is always easiest to speak the truth
    HUMILITY: to be humble about your accomplishments is to be strong
    COURAGE: let nothing stand in the way of doing the right thing
    WISDOM: with hard work and dedication will come knowledge
  4. Sharing around the circle, clockwise is recommended. Should you wish to “pass” at that time, you will be given a chance at the end to offer your thoughts. While you may not wish to speak at all on a given week, your participation is desired as each individual has gifts to offer the circle.
  5.  An item, such as a talking stick, will be passed around giving each person a chance to speak. Speak on behalf of yourself only and speak what comes from your heart and from your own experience.
  6. It is very important that we all recognize that the feelings of an individual are neither right nor wrong. They are real and need to be respected.
  7. In accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the four guiding principles for the new relationship are “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility.” (Interim Report, page 23)
  8. We ask you to be conscious of your sharing time so that everyone has a chance to participate. Because we have a number of gatherings you will have ample opportunity to share your ideas and feelings.


Opening protocol for the first circle

I would like to share with you some of the feedback we have received from our participants. While most of it has been very positive, there have been several concerns raised.

Our non-Indigenous participants have sometimes been frustrated when Indigenous participants have not continued in the group after the first few meetings.

Our Indigenous participants also have some concerns. Some feel that too much burden has been placed upon them to share difficult moments of their past, while the non-Indigenous participants have not felt that same obligation. We need to respect each other’s stories. We cannot ask Indigenous participants to share if the non-Indigenous partners are not also willing to share.

A second concern Indigenous people have expressed is in the form of a question: “Why should we have to educate settlers about things they should have learnt in school or elsewhere? It is not our job to educate them”. The answer to that question is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is that settlers did not learn it in school. Period. But now there are plenty of books, T.V. programs and media reports that are telling the stories. Non-Indigenous people cannot be blamed for not learning this in school, but there is no longer an excuse to be ignorant. Now that we know a little more, we can do something about it. Let’s all take responsibility ourselves to learn more and do something about it. Our circles give us a wonderful opportunity to meet one another, to get to know one another, to hear the stories of one another and to build that mutual respect that the TRC states is the foundation of reconciliation. Knowledge has to add empathy to bring about change.

There is another reason we encourage Indigenous participants to take part in our circles. We hope your children and grandchildren will no longer have to experience the racism and ignorance that has marked Canadian history and Indigenous lives for so long. You can help end that with your participation. We hope you will grace us with your presence and participation. We need you!

To our non-Indigenous participants, we want to ask you to share some of your own history. How does it relate or does it not relate to Indigenous people in Canada? Why have you not been taught more about Canada’s broken promises to Indigenous people or about your relationships with the systems that uphold the status quo? Together, our sharing can lead us to live by the treaties that our forefathers signed in our name.

General Procedures for Gatherings


Each meeting would have the following format:

    1. Opening standard Protocol (by facilitator)
    2. Reading (or alternate presentation) by facilitator or by a designated but volunteer participant, determined by the facilitator (10-12 minutes).
    3. Sharing by everyone in the circle using a talking stick
    4. Closing  (Initiated by the facilitator, but each phrase read by 6 different participants, with the last sentence read by all six). We consider it important that gatherings conclude after 75 minutes with the sharing of the Closing protocol.  In that way, those who wish to leave can do so without feeling guilt or disrupting things. Some may wish to continue discussions if that is acceptable in the facility. But our commitment is for meetings of 75 minutes.
    5. Items needed for each meeting
      • Refreshments, possibly muffins and a drink
      • A talking stick
      • A copy of the Opening Protocol
      • A copy of the  Sacred Teachings of the Anishinaabe
      • 6 copies of the closing Protocol for each group
      • Materials for smudging (if desired) or appropriate invocation


Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada


Indigenous Rights And Relationships

Liberated by God’s Grace, the ELCIC encourages all members and congregations to reflect upon our own national and church history, to seek greater understanding of the issues facing Indigenous peoples, and to walk with Indigenous peoples in their ongoing efforts to exercise their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights.

Canada is currently living in a historic moment for seeking truth and reconciliation. For the last 6 years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been listening to the stories and gathering the statements of survivors of the Indian Residential Schools and anyone else who feels they have been impacted by the schools and their legacy in order to hear and document the truth of what happened. The TRC has also been considering what is required for reconciliation. While the work of the TRC is concluding, the recommendations of the TRC will be a new call to form more respectful, just and equitable relationships. This involves both a deeper, more honest understanding of the history of colonialism and Indian Residential Schools, and addressing current issues of indigenous rights, climate change, resource extraction, poverty and racism.

In 2011, the ELCIC made a commit to promote right and renewed relationships between non-indigenous and Indigenous Peoples within Canada. In July, 2015, the ELCIC renewed this commitment to truth, reconciliation and equity by repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.

We understand this to be both an urgent and a long-term commitment.

An ELCIC Resolution on Encouraging Right Relationships with Indigenous Peoples

Click here for complete list of resources.

Rewrite: The Protests at Standing Rock

Rewite: The Protests at Standing Rock

Context of Reconciliation between Indigenous and Settlers

Transcript Lawrence O’Donnell:

Dakota means friend…friendly. The people who gave that name to the Dakotas have, sadly, never been treated as friends. The people whose language was used to name the Dakotas and Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states, the Native American tribes, the people who were here before us… long before us, have never been treated as friends. They have been treated as enemies..more harshly than any other enemy. In any of this countrys’ wars. After all of our major wars we signed peace treaties and live by those treaties. After world war II when we made peace with Germany we then did everything we possibly could to rebuild Germany. No Native American tribe has ever been treated as well as we treated Germans after World War II.

The original sin of this country is that we invaders shot and murdered our way across the land killing every Native American that we could, and making treaties with the rest. This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented. Before there was a War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. When we finally stopped actively killing Native Americans for the crime of living here before us, we then proceeded to violate every treaty we made with the Tribes. Every. Single. Treaty. We piled crime on top of crime against a people whose offense against us was simply that they lived where we wanted to live. We don’t feel the guilt of the crimes because we pretend they happened a very long time ago, in ancient history. And we actively suppress the memories of those crimes.. but there are people alive today whose grandparents were in the business of killing the Native Americans. That’s how recent these crimes are.

Every once in a while there is a painful and morally embarrassing reminder, as there is this week in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation where hundreds of people have gathered and camped out in opposition to an interstate pipeline being built from North Dakota to Illinois. The protest in being led by this countrys’ original environmentalists. Native Americans. For hundreds of years they were our only environmentalists. The only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state. The only people who thought a mountain or a prairie or a river could be a sacred place.

Yesterday a federal judge heard arguments from the tribes against the federal governments approval of the pipeline and said he will deliver his decision on whether the pipeline can proceed next month. There are now over ninety tribes gathered in protest of that pipeline. That protest will surely continue even if the judge allows construction to proceed. And so we face the prospect next month of the descendants of the first people to ever set foot on that land,.. being arrested by the descendants of the invaders who seized that land. Arrested for trespassing. That we still have Native Americans left in this country to be arrested for trespassing on their own land is testament, not to the mercy of the genocidal invaders who seized and occupied their land, but to the stunning strength and the five hundred years of endurance and the undying dignity of the people who were here long before us. The people who have always known; what is truly sacred in this world.