The Four Worlds International Institute

Patterns of Abuse in Canadian Aboriginal Residential Schools

The patterns of abuse in Canadian Aboriginal Residential Schools, researched and documented by the Four Worlds International Institute for Human and Community development and other Aboriginal research groups in Canada and the United States,  include the following:

Physical Abuses

Sexual assault, including forced sexual intercourse between men and women in authority and girls and boys in their charge;

Forced oral-genital or masturbatory contact between men or women in authority and girls and/or boys in their charge;

Sexual touching by men or women in authority of girls and/or boys in their charge;

Performing private pseudo-official inspections of the genitalia of girls and boys;

Arranging or inducing abortions in female children impregnated by men in authority;

Sticking needles through the tongues of children, often leaving them in place for extended periods of time;

Inserting needles into other regions of children's anatomy;

Burning or scalding children;

Beating children into unconsciousness;

Beating children to the point of drawing blood;

Beating children to the point of inflicting serious permanent or semi-permanent injuries, including broken arms, broken legs, broken ribs, fractured skulls, shattered eardrums, and the like;

Using electrical shock devices on physically restrained children;

Forcing sick children to eat their own vomit;

Unprotected exposure (as punishment) to the natural elements (snow, rain and darkness), occasionally prolonged to the point of inducing life-threatening conditions (e.g., frostbite, pneumonia);

Withholding medical attention from individuals suffering the effect of physical abuse;

Shaving children's heads (as punishment);

Psychological-Emotional Abuses 

  • Administration of beatings to naked or partially naked children before their fellow students and/or institutional officials;
  • Public, individually directed verbal abuse, belittling and threatening;
  • Racism;
  • Performing public strip searches and genital inspections of children;
  • The forced removal of children from their homes families and people;
  • Cutting children's hair or shaving their heads (as policy);
  • Withholding presents, letters and other personal property of children;
  • Locking children in closets, sometimes for extended periods (as punishment);
  • Segregation of the sexes;
  • Proscription of the use of Aboriginal languages;
  • Proscrption of aboriginal religious or spiritual practices;.
  • Eliminating any avenue by which to bring grievances, inform parents or notify external authorities of abuses;
  • Forced labor;
  • Long-term isolated confinement

Enforcing Unsuitable Living Conditions

Starvation (as punishment);

Inadequate nutrition (e.g., nutrition levels below that of needed for normal growth and subsistence);

Providing food unfit for human consumption;

Exploiting child labor;

Forced labor under unsafe working conditions;

Inadequate medical services, sometimes leading to children's deaths; 

Omissions of Action 

Church Inaction

 Failure to bring local incidents of abuse to the attention of higher church authorities;


Failure to bring local incidents of abuse to the attention of federal and appropriate provincial governmental authorities;

Failure to protect children under their care from the sexual predations and physical and emotional abuse of older children also attending Residential school;

 Failure to remove known sex offenders from positions of supervision and control of children;

 Acquiescence to federal funding levels below those the churches themselves believed necessary for operation;

             Starvation (as a cost-cuffing measure);

            Neglect of their educational mandate; 

Governmental Inaction

 Failure to adequately inspect or otherwise maintain effective supervision of institutions into which their legal wards had been placed;

Failure to fund church schools at levels sufficient for maintaining the physical health of their legal wards

 Failure to live up to the spirit of treaties signed promising education for Aboriginal Peoples;

 Collaboration with church officials in covering up the criminal behavior of officials, both governmental and ecclesiastical;

 Removal or relocation of internal personnel critical of Residential school conditions. 

Excerpts from: The Circle Game,1994    

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