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Measuring the toll from residential schools


That’s how Nunavut member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq describes the impacts of residential schools.

An Inuk girl paints a sculpture on her desk at school in Iqaluit, then called Frobisher Bay and part of the Northwest Territories, in May 1958. If you have any details relating to this image that you’d like to share with Library and Archives Canada, please contact
Ted Grant / National Film Board of Canada. Phototheque Collection / Library and Archives Canada / e010975839

“We have seen loss in our way of life, culture and traditional practices – loss of language, tradition, culture, child rearing, relationship skills among so many other things. Residential schools often taught Inuit that their way of life was inferior and incorrect. Instead of showing respect, care and support the federal government forcibly relocated, put into schools (often experiencing abuse) and ensured that Inuit lives were changed negatively forever,” Qaqqaq says. “We see people trying to instill hope while the federal government continues to severely underfund basic human rights in Nunavut.”

The MP points to the federal government’s lack of progress on the Truth and Reconciliation’s 94 calls to action.

“We continue to see failures from the federal government. We saw the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples voted against (in 2008), this document provides the guidelines to reconciliation, the right for Indigenous peoples to determine what their life looks like. We don’t have to look very far to see racism in Canada. The Indian Act is a document that legalizes racism.”

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) sent this statement in regards to residential schools: “The mistreatment of Indigenous children is a tragic and shameful part of Canada’s history. Canada deeply regrets any abuse experienced by former students of residential schools and is committed to justice and healing for former students and their families.”

Asked for a figure pertaining to financial compensation paid to Nunavummiut and how many Nunavut residents have accessed personal credits and counselling services based on residential schools, CIRNAC declined to provide details “to protect the privacy of survivors.”

Pat Angnakak, MLA for Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu would like to see long-term programs and services to address myriad social ills that have resulted from residential school trauma.

“Inter-generational effects will continue to haunt affected families for many years to come if not properly addressed now. We do not have enough, or, in some communities, no support measures to address addictions, mental well-being, proper parenting and so on,” Angnakak stated. “Communities need more support to make mental wellness initiative more accessible and run by its very own people using local initiatives that provide for a means for programs to be locally run and managed.”

Successful individuals, but Inuktut recognition lacking

Numerous residential school survivors have gone on to become mayors, hamlet councillors and MLAs.

“A lot of us who went to residential school experienced a lot of negativity, but that hasn’t deterred us,” says Paul Quassa.
NNSL file photo

Paul Quassa, an MLA himself, knows many of these individuals because he went to school with them.

“A lot of these (people) are bilingual. Being bilingual, you can go quite a ways further in pursuing your dreams. A lot of (them) are now leaders,” he says. “We’ve gone through a lot of hardships in the past. A lot of us who went to residential school experienced a lot of negativity, but that hasn’t deterred us… We still have some traditional knowledge that we carried from our childhood. We can live in this English-speaking world, English way of thinking. I always see them as successful.”

Aluki Kotierk, president of land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, says the federal government ought to recognize Inuktut as the founding language of Nunavut and ensure that the language thrives in schools, workplaces and elsewhere.

“Each time I speak Inuktitut, I am asserting who I am. I am asserting my self-determination,” says Kotierk.

The government used residential schools as a tool to strip language, culture and families from the Inuit, she says.

“A federal government (was) making decisions on behalf of people with no regard as to what the self-determining people wanted. Because, of course, it was part of a colonial approach and policies that were inflicted on Indigenous peoples,” says Kotierk. “Work needs to happen and investment and supports need to occur to get Inuit to a point where they were before they were taken to residential school so Inuit are proud of who they are as Inuit… and they walk around our communities with dignity.

“Through all these public policies, there’s been so much shame put on us as a society… that shame does not belong to us. We are a product of the public policies that were placed on us. Sometimes I think, no wonder, no wonder we’re like this… in terms of high school graduations, in terms of high incarceration rates, in terms of high suicide rates – this has nothing to do with who we are. It is a result of all the things that have been done to us and any people having had those same experiences would be having these social challenges as well.”

Fact file
Compensation payments and services

-Since 2008, through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the federal government has disbursed $1.6 billion – known as “common experience payments”– to approximately 80,000 former students nationwide

-More than 21,000 survivors and their families have received in excess of $75 million toward educational opportunities through the Personal Credits Program

-$20 million has been allocated to fund 144 commemoration projects across the country

-Approximately $46 million has been devoted to a 24/7 national crisis phone line (1-866-925-4419) to support residential school survivors and their families. This service is still available and is staffed by trained crisis counsellors, many of whom are Indigenous

-The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program provides professional crisis and emotional support services directly to former students and their families, such as emotional support from health support workers, cultural support from Elders and/or traditional healers, professional counselling by psychologists and social workers

Source: Government of Canada