Engage for Change

Narratives of ‘Response to Learning about Indigenous Residential School Systems’ in Canada

Narratives of ‘Response to Learning about Indigenous Residential School Systems’ in CanadaPinterest
Photo Source: The Critical Thinking Consortium (https://tc2.ca/sourcedocs/uploads/images/Icons/Residential-schools-topic.jpg)

This blog post brings to light some of the common narratives that emerge when discussing reconciliation and Indigenous history with non-Indigenous Canadians. These ‘poems’ represent real examples of comments that have been made to the [Indigenous] author* over a series of six years. These comments have emerged in academic institutions, workshops, and casually in discussion.

For Indigenous peoples, these comments may bring up uncomfortable feelings and may act as a ‘trigger.’ Unfortunately, these are the types of comments that many Indigenous peoples hear regularly.

These ‘poems’ are being shared to spread awareness of two types of common narratives: 1) “I feel so guilty,” and, 2) “You should get over it.”

When reading the poems, take a deep breath… They will provide insights into the types of comments that Indigenous peoples hear on a regular basis from non-Indigenous peoples when they first learn about residential schools and the history of colonialism in Canada.


*Disclaimer: These poems do not represent the views of the Author, and do not represent the views of the City of Kingston. These poems represent a collection of real comments that were shared with the author over a period of six years. The author wishes to remain anonymous and has agreed to share these poems with the Engage for Change Blog.



Response #1 - “Now that I know about Indigenous residential schools, I feel so guilty”


I am so sorry.

I had no idea this happened in Canada.

How did I not know about this?

I didn’t learn about this in school.

I thought Canada was such a great country until I learned about this.


We stole your land.

We took away your children.

We belittled and degraded your families.

We forced our belief systems on you.

We made it illegal for you to practice your culture or speak your language.


I am so sorry.

I had no idea this happened.

I feel so guilty.


This poem represents the guilt that is felt by many non-Indigenous Canadians when they learn about the history of residential schools. If you are non-Indigenous and feel a deep sense of guilt after learning about Canada’s ‘dark past,’ you are not alone. This is a very common reaction. In some situations, the author has seen non-Indigenous peoples respond with a deep sense of guilt, with tears in their eyes.

The ‘positive’ side is that after learning about this history, you can contribute to reconciliation by collaborating and working with Indigenous peoples to make things better, in urban centres and in Indigenous communities. The key is to make sure that any projects/initiatives are Indigenous-led. Being a friend and ally can make a huge difference in making a positive impact in Indigenous communities today.



Response #2 - “You should get over it”


Residential schools were such a long time ago.

You should get over it.

Stop dwelling on the past.

We conquered your people.

It wasn’t fair, but it happened.  


Treaties? They are outdated.

You should rip them up

            Because they are no longer relevant.


You should feel lucky.

Because Europeans brought modern technology.

Don’t you like your car? Your computer? Your iPhone?

We brought that.

Without us, you would still be in the dark ages.


You should get over it.


If reserves are so bad,

            Why don’t you leave?

You could live in the cities

            With us.

Things are better here.


Forget about hunting and fishing.

Forget about your culture.

We are in modern times now.

Your culture was in the past.


Assimilation is the answer.

Be like us,

            And, we’ll never bother you again.  


This poem represents some of the racism that is experienced by Indigenous peoples today. Some of the lines in this poem do not represent what has been spoken out loud, but what has been implied. It is important to understand positionality and privilege; especially acknowledging that the ‘western world’ today is very euro-centric. The author of this blog post does not wish to suggest that all ‘western culture’ is negative; there are a lot of beautiful elements that have come from European and western culture. However, it is important to acknowledge that Indigenous peoples are the ‘original peoples’ of what we now know as Canada. And, it is important to acknowledge that Indigenous cultures are still alive and vibrant today. Indigenous cultures are not static or in the past, they are present and have a lot of rich cultural knowledge and traditions. Treaties are not outdated. We are all treaty peoples. Learn about the history of Canada; especially in the area where you live. Learn about your responsibilities as a treaty person.