Royal Canadian Geographical Society
While residential schools were operated in Canada as early as the first half of the 17th century, the Gradual Civilization Act passed in 1857 and legislated the assimilation of Indigenous People to "no longer be deemed an Indian, but a regular British subject", using an oppressive education system. By 1920, legislation was passed to make residential school attendance compulsory for Indigenous children between the ages of 7 and 15. Children were forcibly taken from their families by priests, government Indian agents and police officers. Many Indigenous students suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse while attending these schools. The impact of this assimilative system on survivors resulted in the loss of their languages, cultures, identities, self-esteem, and in some cases their very lives, while directly attacking systems of knowledge, child rearing and health. Residential schools continue to have significant negative impacts, both direct and indirect, on generations of Indigenous People.
Together, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) and the Orange Shirt Society (OSS), are proud to announce the Paths to Reconciliation Project. Just as residential schools relied on education to assimilate Indigenous People, Paths to Reconciliation will use education to confront misunderstandings and misinformation about the impact and legacy of the residential school system. The seeds for Paths to Reconciliation project evolved from the collaborative work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit organizations and contributors while developing the best-selling Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada has been widely embraced by Indigenous People and resonates with thousands of Canadians who have become familiar with its educational resources.
The Orange Shirt Society (OSS) founded by Phyllis Webstad, herself a residential school survivor, is committed to raising awareness among all Canadians about the damaging effects of residential schools. The goal is to ensure this dark chapter of Canadian history is never repeated again. "The motivation behind Orange Shirt is to make a change to understand what Indigenous People went through at residential schools," says Webstad. "Life can be understood looking backward, but we must live together looking forward if reconciliation between our people is to happen."
Paths to Reconciliation launched on September 30: Orange Shirt Day. The initiative featured a cross-Canada tour to 24 schools that provides a first person account by Phyllis Webstad, followed by a series of Can Geo Education activities focused on residential school learning. Phyllis shared her own personal experience attending a residential school and its impact on her life in the context of the broader story of the thousands of residential school survivors. Students were provided Canadian Geographic Education's residential school resources developed with a network of Indigenous educators to provide deeper understandings and enhanced information. These tools included Canadian Geographic's Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada giant floor map with a new residential schools learning module that delves more deeply in to the Indian Residential School system. Additionally, a series of new tools will be created by Can Geo Education and Canadian Geographic, including maps, an interactive website and other media content.
For Charlene Bearhead, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Director of Reconciliation, this project provides next-level education tools and the environment in which to demonstrate the incredible power of dialogue and education in fuelling positive change. "This initiative provides an important opportunity to continue to honour and amplify the voice of Phyllis and all survivors," says Bearhead. "Paths to Reconciliation will take Canadians deeper down the path of truth seeking, and reconciliation, based on survivor guidance, coupled with the research expertise and support of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's track record and capacity for collaboratively creating dynamic, authentic and engaging educational materials."
The Paths to Reconciliation project is funded by the Government of Canada.
About the Orange Shirt Society
The Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization based in Williams Lake, B.C. where Orange Shirt Day (September 30) began in 2013. The Society has both Indigenous and non-Indigenous board members, and is dedicated to raising awareness of the harm to children, families and communities caused by the residential schools.
About The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society was founded in 1929 with the important mandate of making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world. The Society has, for 90 years, led the charge toward fostering a deeper appreciation of Canada's natural, cultural and social heritage. Its vision is to help Canadians chart a successful future by advancing a greater understanding of Canada's geography — the diverse human and physical landscape — as well as the changes affecting its people and the environment.
Social Media Links
CanGeo Education Twitter: @CanGeoEdu
CanGeo Insta: @CanGeoEdu
Royal Canadian Geographical Society Twitter: @RCGS.SGRC
Orange Shirt Society Facebook: @orangeshirtdayeverychildmatters
Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia Twitter: @irshdc