The term residential schools refer to an in-depth establishment founded by the Canadian government and administered by churches that had the nominal objective of teaching Indigenous children but also the more damaging and equally explicit objectives of indoctrinating them into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living and assimilating them into mainstream white Canadian society. The residential establishment officially operated from the 1880s into the closing decades of the 20th century. The system forcibly separated children from their families for extended periods of time and forbade them to acknowledge their Indigenous heritage and culture or to talk their languages. Children were severely punished if these, among other strict rules, were broken. Former students of residential schools have spoken of horrendous abuse at the hands of residential school staff: physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological. Residential schools provided Indigenous students with inappropriate education, often only up to lower grades, focusing mainly on prayer and labor in agriculture, light industry like woodworking, and domestic work like laundry and sewing.
Residential schools systematically undermined Indigenous, First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures across Canada and disrupted families for generations, severing the ties through which Indigenous culture is taught and sustained and contributing to a general loss of language and culture. Because they were far from their families, many students grew up without experiencing a nurturing family life and the knowledge and skills to lift their own families.