“The residential school story is far from finished,” historian John S. Milloy prophetically announced in one of the first published analyses of the history of the Indian residential school system in Canada. Since the publication of Milloy’s book in 1999, residential schools have become one of the most important topics in the field of Indigenous studies. In this volume, however, we do not examine this history per se but instead focus on how it is being revisited, reframed, broadcast, and received by a variety of Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors in the wake of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in Canada. Do memories of residential schools, as they are now re-articulated, have the capacity to transform social relationships between Canadian society and Indigenous peoples? Can they put an end to the domination and inequality that has long characterized these relationships? Have these memories “stripped white supremacy of its legitimacy,” as suggested in the comment above by former grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine?
Beginning in 1876, the Canadian government sought to educate Indigenous children and assimilate them into mainstream Canadian society by promoting, and then requiring, their attendance at church-run schools. By separating children from their parents and communities, denigrating Indigenous ways of living and thinking, and practising punitive forms of discipline, the schools aimed to eradicate Indigenous languages and cultures. Although some children had positive experiences with caring teachers and good education, the system was chronically underfunded, mismanaged, inadequately staffed, and rife with disease, malnutrition, neglect, and death. It is estimated that of the approximately 150,000 children who attended these institutions, at least 4,000 died and that many more of them were victims of physical or sexual abuse. Those who were not subject to extreme violence still suffered from severe loneliness, fear, and cultural oppression. The last residential school closed in 1996.