Before discussing the current situation of Aboriginal youth, it is important to understand the historical factors, which have played a large part in shaping this reality. Many of the issues facing youth, families and communities have a direct correlation to the legacy of intergenerational effects from the Residential School experience. In addition, other social, political and governmental policies designed to assimilate Aboriginal people into Canadian society such as the banning of cultural and spiritual practices, the "sixties scoop", and adoptions of Aboriginal children by non-Aboriginal parents have contributed to the disruption of as many as 500 distinct First Nations and Métis communities across Canada. Many communities are engaged in a process of individual and community healing. A re-kindling of cultural practices, spiritual knowledge and the re-emergence of traditional family and community "structures" have contributed to increased self-awareness, pride, and healing in communities.
The origins of the Residential School system predate Confederation. The Federal Government began to play a role in the development and administration of this school system as early as 1874, mainly to meet its obligation, under the Indian Act, to provide an education to Aboriginal people, as well as to assist with their integration into the broader Canadian society. The term "Residential Schools" generally refers to a variety of institutions, which have existed over time, including: industrial schools, boarding schools, student residences, hostels, billets and residential schools. These schools were located in every province and territory, except New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. At any one time, there were more than 100 such schools in operation. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 children attended these schools over the years in which they were in operation. (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 1999)
The Government operated nearly every school in partnership with various religious organizations until April 1, 1969, when the Government assumed full responsibility for the school system. Most residential schools ceased to operate by the mid-1970s, with only seven remaining open through the 1980s. The last federally run residential school in Canada closed in Saskatchewan in 1996 (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 1999). In looking at the issues facing Aboriginal youth in 2001, the legacy of a century of genocidal experiences must be acknowledged. Each youth, family and community is at its own point of healing. The historical injustices faced by parents and grandparents affect all members of a family or community, both directly and indirectly. This effect is lessened with every generation of healing. Throughout this study, Aboriginal youth have told us what they need to assist in their healing. Now it's time to listen.