Indian Residential Schools in Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee (James Bay)

IRSIndian Residential School GCGovernment of Canada JBJames Bay HBCHudson's Bay Company RCRoman Catholic Church ANGAnglican Church BIDBritish Indian Department DIA(ND)Department of Indian Affairs (and Northern Development)
N.B.: This timeline is a work in progress, and will evolve as new information is gathered.
1400 to 1800
1423Pope Alexander VI issues Discovery Doctrine: in order for Christianity to "be everywhere increased", lands inhabited by non-Christians should be claimed by Christians. 1620sRecollets introduce mission schools in Canada and struggle with runaways, student deaths, parental reluctance. None last long. 1633After an Indigenous man asks French parents to beat him instead of their own misbehaving son, Jesuit Paul le Jeune notes: "Indian nations of these parts … cannot punish a child." Anticipates "trouble … in carrying out our plans of teaching the young!" 1668British ketch Nonsuch drops anchor off Waskaganish coast. James Bay (JB) Cree find it. Cree-British fur trade begins. Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) is formed. 1755Founding of British Indian Department (BID), a wing of British Army. Without command power, it needs Indigenous Nation consent for any projects. 1756-1763Seven Years' War. Britain and France, competing on four continents for colonial lands and resources, both rely on Indigenous military alliances. Needing more, Britain sends missionaries among Nations. At end, Britain claims Canada. King George III issues Royal Proclamation that Nations are self-governing, and "should not be molested or disturbed" in their lands, and, except for regions "ceded to, or purchased by" British Crown, own the land. 1775-1783Britain, at war with Americans, again relies on Indigenous allies.
1800 to 1900
1812 - 1815Britain, once again at war with Americans, again relies on Indigenous allies. 1823US Supreme Court Justice Marshall rules that the Discovery Doctrine "gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands." 1830Wars ended, Indigenous alliances no longer urgent. BID comes under civilian government control.

Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for British colonies, displaces 1763 Royal Proclamation for "more enlightened" path of "encouraging … the progress of religious knowledge and education generally amongst the Indian tribes."
1831Mohawk Institute, first Indian Residential School (IRS), Anglican (ANG), begins taking Indigenous students. 1838Mount Elgin, first Methodist IRS, opens. 1852BID asks Nations to approve individual land ownership because Nation land ownership fosters "idleness." Nations reject the request – but embrace and allocate treaty payments for formal education. 1857 - 1858Two reports (Bagot and Head Commissions) lead to Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in the Province (1857), which redefines "civilization" formerly defined by self-sufficient communities, as assimilated individuals. 1861Coqualeetza, first Presbyterian IRS, opens. 1867Confederation gives Government of Canada (GC) power to legislate for "Indians, and lands reserved for the Indians." 1868Federal oversight of IRS begins. GC backs 57 Indigenous-attended schools. Two, Mount Elgin and Mohawk Institute, are IRS. 1871Numbered treaties begin. As requested by Nations, Treaty One "agrees to a school on each reserve … whenever the Indians … should desire it." Treaties Two-Eleven (1871-1921) have similar education clauses. 1873Shingwauk IRS (ANG) opens, burns down six days later. Rebuilt. 1876 - 1884Under Indian Acts (1876, 1880) and Indian Advancement Act (1884), Indigenous self-government ends. GC now controls Nation elections, Nation resources, Nation funds, individual status and travel, etc. Some cultural traditions criminalized. 187917-year-old Duncan Campbell Scott becomes BID copy clerk.

Nicholas Flood Davin finds American day schools failed because of "influence of the wigwam." Recommends Industrial boarding schools, where students spend half-days doing labour, half-days learning trades. Expecting high costs and Indigenous "great attendant distress," he recommends a four-school maximum and Church affiliation.

Disregarding treaties, BID adopts new education model:
a) Separate children from families ("the old unimprovable people");
b) Use colonial curriculum to replace Indigenous culture;
c) Integrate students into colonial society.
Only a) succeeds. Teaching quality is too low for b) to succeed or for c) to be considered.
1880BID becomes Department of Indian Affairs (DIA). 1880 - 1885Nations in the West protest CP Railway construction across their land. GC builds IRS strategically so "Indians regard … [their children] as hostages" and will "hesitate" to resist. 1884 - 1923Industrial Schools era.

Churches force rapid IRS expansion, building IRS quickly and cheaply without DIA knowledge, hiring illiterate teachers, then demanding payment from GC. While DIA opens 8 Industrial Schools, Churches open 59 more IRS without DIA permission.

DIA complains about paying for unapproved IRS, about "being forced" by Churches "going wild," but prevents no further IRS- building. Instead, DIA budgets much less than Churches ask, too little for qualified teachers or for child welfare.

Many reports of malnutrition, neglect. Churches blame low per capita (PC) rates (funds per student).

For more PC money, Churches bribe families, kidnap children, and routinely admit visibly sick contagious children. They make revenue through student labour and sell farm goods raised by students who go hungry. They pressure DIA to make IRS mandatory.

Church denominations cannot pay for IRS they have, but compete for more.

Pre-1915, half the children in IRS die, mostly from preventable infectious diseases but also from abuse, neglect, dehydration, exposure, suicide, fire, drowning, etc.

DIA complains about Church treatment of children, sets instructional and diet standards. After many abuse reports, DIA rules corporal punishment should be rare, and never scar or injure. IRS disregard and abuse at will.

DIA does not enforce standards or address the continuing widespread problems.
1891Metlakatla, first Non-Denominational IRS, opens. 1898Another new education model is implemented: instead of joining colonial society, graduates go home to "elevate" their communities. Many grads are sick, infect home communities. Deaths skyrocket.
1900 to 1940s
1904Transition away from Industrial School model announced. 1906Protestant Churches agree it "might be a wise policy" to run fewer IRS but carry on as before.

Bishop Horden Hall IRS (ANG) in Moose Factory opens. St. Anne’s IRS (RC) in Fort Albany opens.
1907St. John's IRS (ANG) in Chapleau opens.

DC Scott's daughter dies of Scarlet Fever at boarding school in France.

Chief medical officer Peter Bryce's Report on the Indian Schools: appalling conditions, alarming death rates in 35 IRS. Official SH Blake says DIA is "within unpleasant nearness to the charge of manslaughter." DIA dismisses report. Report is leaked to the press. Church and DIA officials try to discredit Bryce. RC Church complains about "vexatious requirements by physicians … [making] unnecessary demands."..1909 Bryce reports on 13 more IRS with similar findings.

1911New DIA contracts require teachers to speak the language they teach. RC bishops oppose it. DIA doesn’t enforce. 1914World War I begins. Funds diverted from IRS.

Rather than addressing Bryce's report, DC Scott (now Deputy Superintendent General) pushes Bryce out of DIA and later eliminates medical inspector position altogether "for reasons of economy."
1918World War I ends. 1919Pressured by Churches, DC Scott finally concedes on paper and, under Indian Act (1920), makes IRS attendance compulsory for Indigenous children. Doesn't enforce. 1920DIA controls parents enough to know that children going home for summer will return. Summer vacations begin.

Alberni, first United Church of Canada IRS, opens.
1931Rapid IRS expansion continues after Industrial era, along with disease, malnutrition, abuse. At this point, maximum number of IRS (80) operating. 1932Because of the Depression, PC grants are cut.

DC Scott retires. Immediately Churches, Indian agents, RCMP begin aggressively enforcing IRS attendance. Scott blames his decisions on "the law which I did not originate, and which I never tried to amend."
1933St. Philip's IRS (ANG) opens in Fort George. 1934Austin Airways opens in Timmins. Eventually, it begins service to Eeyou Istchee. 1937Ste.-Therese-de-L'Enfant-Jesus IRS (RC) opens in tiny Fort George, in walking distance from St. Philip’s IRS. 1939World War II begins. Funds diverted from IRS. 1942Doctors Moore and Tisdall (Pablum inventor) begin medical experiments on Indigenous people. 1944DIA considers integration with students sleeping at home to "educate" parents. 1945World War II ends. 1947DC Scott dies: "I have never fought against anything nor worked for anything but just accepted and drifted from point to point."

Whitehorse Baptist, first (and only) Baptist IRS, opens.
1948 - 1952Dr. Pett, whose work informs Canada Food Guide, conducts nutrition, malnutrition, and vitamin experiments in six IRS. 1948Another new education model: shut down IRS; integrate Indigenous students into regular public day schools. Slowly, IRS begin closing. 1948As they phase out, IRS become "a sort of foster home" for children considered "Welfare problem[s]." St. John’s IRS in Chapleau closes.
1950s to 1990s
1950Korean War begins: funds again diverted from IRS. 1951Half-day system abandoned in most schools. Standard curriculum introduced.

Amendments in Indian Act (1951) give Provincial Governments control over Indigenous Child Welfare, making way for Sixties Scoop.
1953Korean War ends.

DIA: New rules limiting corporal punishment. Not enforced. Abuse continues.
1954DIA takes over hiring/paying teachers. Education quality immediately improves. 1957Reforms: PC grants end; DIA reimburses IRS "for actual expenditures within certain limitations."

DIA: New diet standards. Not enforced. Students still go hungry.
Late 1950s - late 1960sTo keep IRS running, Churches aggressively campaign against public school integration. 1958Northern Hostels renamed "Halls" to avoid confusion with "hospital," "hotel," and "hostile," and because "Hall" has "homelike connotation." 1960s - 1980sSixties Scoop: another pathway to the goal of eradicating Indigenous cultures. Without Indigenous consent, welfare agencies "scoop" thousands of Indigenous children from their homes, from IRS, from hospitals into the Welfare system to be adopted by Settlers. Children lose names, language, and all family and community ties. 1960GC quietly decriminalizes Indigenous traditions. Status Indians now able to vote. 1962DIA: New corporal punishment rules. Not enforced. Abuse continues.

Poplar Hill, the first Mennonite IRS, opens.
1963La Tuque IRS (ANG) opens. 1969DIA formally ends partnership with Churches, secularizing IRS. Inadequate funding means abuse and hunger continue.

DIA becomes Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND).
1970Mohawk Institute IRS closes.

Shingwauk IRS closes.

JH Wiebe, Medical Services Branch director, while "acutely aware" genocide claims have begun, expands birth control without informed consent among Indigenous people to "reduce the incidence of unwanted children, of child neglect, abandonment, desertion, welfare dependency and child abuse."
1971Without consulting the Cree in any way, the Province of Quebec announces massive James Bay Hydroelectric Project. Fight begins to protect Eeyou Istchee.

National Indian Brotherhood proposes Indian Control of Indian Education.
1972DIAND accepts National Indian Brotherhood's proposal. Education gradually moves under Indigenous control. 1975St. Philip's IRS closes. Fort George Hostels IRS opens.

James Bay-Northern Quebec Agreement, first modern-day treaty, signed.
1976St. Anne's IRS closes.

Bishop Horden Hall IRS closes.
1978Fort George Hostels IRS closes.

La Tuque IRS closes.
1981Ste.-Therese-de-L'Enfant-Jesus IRS closes. 1986United Church of Canada (which merged with the Methodist Church in 1925) apologizes for "impos[ing] our civilization." In 1998, apologizes specifically for "our church's involvement in the [IRS] system." Here begin decades of Churches minimizing and dodging responsibility for their participation in IRS. 1989 - 1990IRS abuse investigations. Ojibwe Chief Phil Fontaine speaks publicly about being abused at IRS. Many others follow. 1991Emphasizing naivete, good intentions, and larger imperialist "system," Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, one RC branch, apologize for their part in IRS. Later, when asked to share IRS records, they don't. 1992Through Aboriginal Rights Coalition, RC, ANG, and United Churches request acknowledgement that IRS responsibility is "shared with" GC. 1993ANG Church apologizes for its role in IRS, partly blaming "a system." Later apologies (2019, 2022) take fuller responsibility. 1994Presbyterian Church apologizes for its part, "with the encouragement and assistance" of GC, in IRS. 1995Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report calls for IRS public inquiry. 1997The last IRS, Kivialliq Hall in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, closes.
2000 to 2022
2006IRS Settlement Agreement is approved by legal counsels for IRS students, Churches, key Indigenous organizations, and GC. RC Church, the world’s largest non-governmental landowner, pays just a fraction. Treating other Churches differently, GC releases RC church from obligations. 2007GC establishes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 2008Stephen Harper apologizes on behalf of GC for IRS but obstructs access to key records and funds. Limits IRS definition so that many former students are excluded from settlements. 2010Mennonite Church Canada resolves to "recognize and confess . complicity" in IRS. Later, while emphasizing "the national plan" of assimilation, one Mennonite ministry (Living Hope Native Ministries) apologizes to students of one IRS for inflicting physical, emotional, and "soul" pain, and for "not properly screen[ing]" staff. 2016Emphasizing no "direct involve[ment]," (Americans founded the Baptist IRS), Canadian Baptists apologize. 2021215 unmarked child graves confirmed at Kamloops IRS. Ground- penetrating radar searches begin at other IRS, and reveal many more unmarked graves.

Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops apologizes for "participat[ing] in this system" and acknowledges abuses committed "by some of our Catholic community."
2022Pope Francis acknowledges "physical, verbal, psychological, and spiritual" but not sexual abuse. Apologizes for "evil committed by so many Christians" but not on behalf of RC Church. Doesn’t revoke Discovery Doctrine. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops uses event as fundraiser.

Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate IRS records are opened to National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation.

At time of writing, thousands of IRS records remain closed.