Note: We originally published this lesson plan on November 24, 2021. In the article upon which the lesson was based, Patrick White and Eric Reguly reported on a promised visit to Canada by Pope Francis – a visit he has now confirmed he will make. The visit responds to a 2015 recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which called for an apology for the  “Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.” The Catholic Church operated 60% of all residential schools established by the federal government, beginning in 1831.

Getting Started

Introduction to the article (perhaps by having everyone read it)

This past year, Canadians watched in horror at the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of residential schools across Canada. To date, approximately 6,000 unrecorded deaths have been uncovered among the children who were confined to these schools, and according to the oral history of their people, many Indigenous leaders claim that there could be as many as 20,000 in all.

There is no way to soften or downplay the harm done to these children and their families by residential schools, so students may well find this lesson disturbing. When teaching it, you will need to be especially sensitive to any Indigenous students under your care; and you should keep discussions civil and fact-based.

NOTE: If you have a program of Indigenous studies as part of your curriculum, you can determine how much of what follows may be redundant or complementary to your existing course of studies.

Subject Area(s) covered

Social studies, Indigenous studies, current events

New Terms to explain

Reconciliation, residential school, assimilation, compensation, intergenerational, trauma

Materials Needed

Access to the article and the Internet:

Study and Discussion Activity

Key things students can learn from this lesson

  • Why residential schools were created, by whom, for whom and run by whom;
  • What students experienced at residential schools;
  • The reasons behind the truth and reconciliation process.

Action (here’s how we’ll do it)

The lesson itself is straightforward. Have students read the article individually, asking them to note any questions that it raises for them. When they’ve finished, engage them in a discussion about the article. Probe them with these questions and prompts:

  • How did this article make you feel, and why?
  • What did you learn from reading this article? What surprised you, if anything?
  • Do any of you know anyone who attended a residential school, or whose parents did so?
  • Are there any Indigenous people living near our community? If so, what is their nation?

Next assign the following writing assignment to be completed individually for homework.


Complete the following worksheet, using the article provided, as well as this website (Note: Other sources for this information exist. Choose another, if you prefer, but ensure its information is complete and fair):

  • When and where was the oldest “continual operating” residential school started? Who attended, and from which Indigenous group?
  • Who ran the schools, other than churches? What percentage of schools did each of four different churches operate as of 1930?
  • What was the significance of two Acts in 1867 and 1876 respectively, relative to Indigenous schooling?
  • Were students permitted to speak their own languages? Wear traditional clothing? Celebrate their Indigenous culture? Keep their own names? Visit with their families?
  • How was Ochankuga’he (Daniel Kennedy) taken to school in 1886? Describe any parts of his experience you may have found disturbing.
  • Review the daily routine at a typical residential school, starting at 5:30 AM. How would you feel if this were you, in this situation?
  • What kinds of abuse were some children subjected to? How does knowing this make you feel?
  • Do you think you would enjoy the meals, as listed, in a typical residential school?
  • Watch the video on intergenerational trauma.
  • Which prime minister was the first to apologize for the federal government’s role in the residential school program? What else did he offer at that time?
  • Watch the video on the names of children who died in residential schools.
  • Finally, write a paragraph on how you feel about what you’ve learned. List any questions all or any of this raises for you, and be prepared to present these to your teacher and/or to ask them in class. As well, state whether you agree that the Pope should apologize for the Church’s role in the abuse at these schools. Give reasons for your position.

Consolidation of Learning

  • When returning their graded assignments, revisit the discussion you used to initiate the lesson, above, and note differences in the way students feel and think about the issues.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria

Students can:

  • Explain the reasons residential schools were created, by whom, and who operated them;
  • Describe what students experienced at residential schools;
  • List some of the harms of the system, and some ways these are being addressed today.

Confirming Activities

  • Students report on the latest news about searches for more unmarked graves at residential school sites.

Helpful Internet Searches