More Thoughts on the Truths of the Residential School System and the Role of the University Community in Reconciliation

Dr. Florence Glanfield, Vice-Provost of Indigenous Programming & Research, shares her thoughts.


As an Indigenous person, my heart continues to be heavy as we approach the end of the month—a month dedicated to the celebration of the diversity of Indigenous peoples, their histories, languages, and cultures. While there have been aspects of celebrating, the month has also been a month of learning about the truths of the Residential School system. Today, we learned of the remains of 182 people outside of the former St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in southern BC; last week we learned the news that the remains of approximately 751 people, many of whom are believed to be Indigenous children, located at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan; at the beginning of June we were processing the news of the remains on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School; and, in between, we were reminded of the remains at the sites of other residential schools, such as the Brandon Residential School. This past month alone we’ve learned of the truths of approximately 1,150 primarily Indigenous children, within the Residential School system.

This news continues to deeply sadden, shock and jar university communities, the nation, and the world. There will be many more of these revelations—more and more remains of children will be located as Indigenous nations and their communities, across this place we now call Canada, embark upon the painful work of scanning burial sites for the children they knew never came home. 

As individuals, we need to continue to remember these children, their families, and their communities. We must also remember all First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities as they learn to live with these now public stories.

The loss of all children’s lives, and especially those that were forcibly taken away from their families by the residential school policies (that were in place till 1997), must be acknowledged and must be grieved. These government policies were intended to ‘erase’ the Indian from the child and to “get rid of the Indian problem”. This is the truth. This is the truth that all Canadians and universities must live with and acknowledge. 

I will refer back and paraphrase words from the Honourable Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC: education is key to walking on this journey of reconciliation. Universities are a part of the education system; all of the work that each of us does at a university must recognize, and take responsibility, for our collective work as educators. We not only formally educate people, we are also educators in our families, with our friends, and in our research. In all that we do, we must ask ourselves, “what actions will I take to ensure that racism, both overt and covert, are not part of my language and my practices or behaviours?” and “what actions will I take to ensure that racism, both overt and covert, are not part of the institution’s languages and practices or behaviours?”

So, whether you light a candle, say prayers, or remember in a different way, know that in your remembering you need to search for your action; to search for the steps you will take to be a part of the reconciliation journey. 

Some of you might say, “but this is not my history - my history is different.” I think the Honourable Sinclair once again offered insights with the following words, “if you feel connected to the future of this country, and if you feel responsible for the future, then you need to care about reconciliation, for the sake of the future of this country.”

I believe in my heart, that each of us who work at a university are called to work within an educational system because we feel connected to and care about the future of the country we now call Canada and future generations. Therefore we, non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples together, must then care about reconciliation. This means that we each have a responsibility, we must educate ourselves, and others that we influence through our work, teaching, scholarly activities, family, and friends about reconciliation. If you are not an Indigenous person then this work needs to be done with humility and, where possible, in relationship with Indigenous peoples. 

The words of Cowessess First Nation Chief Delorme in this CBC interview and the words of the first Tanzanian president, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyere, offer me hope in the journey of reconciliation, “It can be done, play your part." 

Dr. Florence Glanfield is the Vice-Provost (Indigenous Programming & Research) at the U of A. 

For those needing support: 

University of Alberta Campus wellness services for faculty, staff, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows

University of Alberta Campus wellness services for undergraduate students

Indian Residential School Survivors 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

Additional Health Support Information from

Emotional, cultural and professional support services are also available to Survivors and their families through the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program. Services can be accessed on an individual, family or group basis.

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador: 1-866-414-8111

Quebec: 1-877-583-2965

Ontario: 1-888-301-6426

Manitoba: 1-866-818-3505

Saskatchewan: 1-866-250-1529

Alberta: 1-888-495-6588

British Columbia: 1-877-477-0775

Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut: 1-800-464-8106