Surviving Day School

Abuse, death and reconciliation

APTN News obtained documents from the federal government that, for the first time, uncover the mystery around what officials called day schools.


Of course the schools had little to do with education. They were set up to assimilate First Nation, Inuit and Métis children into Canadian society.


What hasn’t been known until now is the conditions at these 699 schools across the country, and how many died there.


This series answers some of those questions about a relatively unknown, dark chapter in Canadian history.

“That was the hardest
time of my life...
I couldn’t tell my mom."

200 students died at 46 day schools in Canada, federal documents reveal

The documents represent only 14 per cent of the 699 day schools established under the Indian Act.

So the actual number of student deaths could be much higher.

An estimated 200,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the country’s 699 day schools.

They suffered the same physical, sexual and emotional abuse as residential school students.

‘Use his constable’: Indian agents relied on police to get kids into day schools

Historical documents show that a federal inspector at the Hazelton Indian Day School in 1920 ordered the Indian agent for the area “to use his constable to put on pressure" to increase student attendance.

Day schools – often referred to as education centres and agencies in the documents – were run by non-Indigenous religious orders in partnership with the federal government.

Inspectors like the one at Hazelton were in charge until principals took over school administration in the 1960s.

"My father, when he heard a plane coming in, he told my older brother, he said, 'you go bring your sisters into the forest. I don't want you coming out until I tell you to come out.'"

Lack of staff, federal bureaucracy hurt day schools, students: Documents

A log school built in 1892 had neither the heat nor power to handle the frigid winter conditions of northern Manitoba.

Still, a school inspector seemed satisfied.

“The school has a flag, there is plenty of good wood. One of the Indians, three years ago, brought an organ for the use of the school. This, to me, is strong evidence that the Indians are gradually becoming interested in the education of their children.”

“It still comes back to me once in a while. And one of the band members says to me, ‘you’ll get over it.’

“No, you don’t get over stuff like that. It bounces around in there forever and ever.”