Residential Schools in Canada, and Why It Matters in Health

Indigenous Canadians face more risks to health and mental health compared to non-Indigenous Canadians, and some of the risk factors are related to the long-term health impacts of Indian Residential Schools. CFHI now offers training on this topic, as a component of cultural competence. Learn about the training ››

Residential Schools in Canada, and Why they Matter in Health

Residential Schools and their impacts matter.

From the early 1830s to 1996 when the last Indian Residential School closed, thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend residential schools. Required by the federal Indian Act, this was an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children into the newly dominant settler culture. These children suffered loss of family and community, may have been disciplined for using their own language, and were taught that their cultures and knowledge systems were inferior to the settler culture, or evil. Children learned that authority may not act in their best interest. Some were abused physically and sexually. Children and families endured repeated traumas of the mind, body, emotion and spirit – risk factors for health and mental health.

Why is this important to non-Indigenous Canadians working in the health system?

It matters because survivors of Indian Residential Schools face much higher risk factors of poverty, homelessness, chronic disease, mental health challenges and substance abuse.

It matters because it continues to affect First Nations, Inuit and Métis families – people from vibrant cultures who are vital contributors to Canadian society.

It matters because it happened here in Canada, a country considered to be a world leader in human rights and public health.

It matters because some Indigenous communities and people continue to suffer levels of poverty, illness and low literacy comparable to those living in developing nations.

It matters because some Indigenous Canadians continue to experience social exclusion and racism when reaching out for help in health and mental health systems.

It matters because we share this land. We may not be responsible for what happens in the past, but we all benefit from what Indigenous had to give up. We are responsible for our knowledge and actions today and in the future.

It matters because First Nations, Inuit and Métis Canadians are our neighbours, and they have asked us to join in discussions that contribute to reconciliation.

— Adapted from the Legacy of Hope Foundation


For more information: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 


Indigenous Cultural Competence Course

Following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, CFHI is excited to offer a new learning opportunity in Indigenous Cultural Competence. Indigenous Canadians endure higher risks to health across the social determinants of wellbeing, including challenges in mental health. We help teams and organizations learn more about how history - including residential schools - can affect health outcomes today, as well as trust in health systems. We support teams and organizations to strengthen individual and organizational cultural competence, and consider ways to reduce racism for Indigenous in health and mental health systems. We believe cultural competence and capacity of health systems is a necessary step towards reconciliation, and to close the gap in Indigenous health outcomes.

CFHI offers a one-day and two-day in-person course to groups and organizations upon request, on a cost-recovery basis. Please contact CFHI for more information.