Understanding the Legacy of Residential Schools

Darline Pomeroy

What is so important for today’s educator’s to know is that residential schools affected the whole community. It is Canadian history, everyone’s burden. Many people have long-lasting scars from being in those schools, and you see it when you’re around your own community or towns. There are those who are not well, who are consumed by alcohol and drugs. There is that whole ripple effect that happened. People did not know how to parent because they never got that in residential school; the basic needs of being nurtured and of nurturing weren’t there. There are many things that occurred in those schools that people are not aware of. Both students and families became suspicious and distrustful, and even today it takes a while for me to gain trust in people. Would you trust a government or school that subjected you to all of that abuse? Probably not!

The government apology didn’t do too much for me. It seemed insincere, too little, too late. The Truth and Reconciliation process might bring some closure for some people. For some families it is too late.


What teachers can do

How should we teach First Nations students? Be real. Be respectful. Children quickly interpret body language and facial expression. Teachers need to be receptive and to bring out the “shine” of each student. As an educator and most importantly an Anishinaabe, I believe that it is very important for students to know about their own history, their own teachings, their own language and culture. It is important to empower them with that knowledge so they can become the best they can be. We are told by our Elders to share our knowledge, share our own stories, in the hope that it will have a positive impact on others. I believe that there is good in everybody and that everyone has a special gift, and that as teachers we have that responsibility to continue to work at getting the students to share their gift with everyone.

Teachers should make an effort to educate themselves about the First Nations peoples and to make information readily available about residential schools. We need to continue to integrate the history and customs of First Nations people into what we do. There should be a link between language and culture for First Nations students, as they are inseparable. Look and listen. That is what Anishinaabe people are told and it is still good advice. That is how I survived tough situations.


Residential Schools in Canada


collage of book covers

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a series of recommendations about education relating to First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) students.

Stock photo of men and women sitting at table

Workplace violence is a major hazard in our schools.