Indigenous Schools

NOTE: Sometimes learning about history can be hard. If you are sensitive to sad things, check in with an adult before completing this block. If you are Indigenous, this block may be especially difficult. The Hope For Wellness chat is available for any Indigenous person who needs someone to talk to about their feelings.

This learning block represents one week’s work. Aim to watch at least one video and choose at least one activity or project to complete.

There are several videos to choose from about the history of Indigneous schools in Canada. The first is better for younger kids. The second one will appeal to older kids. Feel free to choose one or both.

High school students or any student who wants to dig deeper, continue your study with one of the advanced learning projects located at the end of this learning block!

Timeline of Residential Schools

Now choose an Activity

Take Part in Orange Shirt Day

Phyllis Webstad was only six years old when she went to a residential school. She was excited to go at first, and was proud of her new orange shirt. Listen to Phyllis tell her story in the first video, then watch the other videos to see how Orange Shirt Day is recognized across Canada to remember the children who went through the residential school system.

You can participate in Orange Shirt Day too. Check out the projects below.

Orange Shirt Day Pin Project

In this project, you will use felt to make an Orange Shirt Day pin that can be worn anytime to help bring awareness to the history of residential schools in Canada.

You will need:
– a drawing of a t-shirt shape in the size you want your pin to be (this will be your template)
– scissors
– orange felt
– stiff fabric (or cardstock)
– pen

– pin backing
– thread
– needle

Remember to document your project for your portfolio!

Orange Heart Project

In this project, you will make an orange heart and reflect on the meaning of Orange Shirt Day. Watch the video above to see examples from other kids.

You will need:
– orange construction paper (or white paper coloured orange)
– scissors

– marker

Step 1: Fold your paper in half. Draw half a heart, with the “middle” of your heart along the folded edge of the paper. Cut along your drawing and unfold. You should have a full heart shape.

Step 2:  Think about:
– What is Orange Shirt Day about?
– What does it make you think of?
– What does it make you feel?
– Why is it important?

Use your answers to help you decide what to write on your heart. You can choose just one word, or more.

Step 3: Write your words on the heart with marker. You may want to share your heart and why you chose those words with someone you know.

Remember to document your project for your portfolio!

Poetry and Song Project

In this project, you will learn about the legacy of Rita Joe, an important Mi’kmaw poet. One of Rita Joe’s most famous poems is recited in the video below. You can also see the words to the poem beneath the video.

I Lost My Talk by Rita Joe

I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.

You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.

Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.

So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.

– What do you think Rita Joe’s poem is about?
– How does it make you feel?
– How does it connect to what you have learned about Indigenous residential schools in Canada?
– What message do you think Rita Joe was communicating with this poem? Who was she writing it for?

Make a video or write a paragraph with your responses, and add it to your portfolio.

The Rita Joe Song Project

Inspired by Rita Joe’s work, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada asked Indigenous youth from five different communities to make a music video to show what “I Lost My Talk” means to them.

You can see those videos below. As you watch, pay attention to how the music and images make you feel.

Now that you have heard Indigenous voices, it’s your turn to respond. Write a poem, song, or rap about the history of residential schools and your reaction to it. Poems and songs often capture the experience or emotion of a moment. Think about how you can connect to the human element of the story in writing your poem.


  • The thoughts and feelings tied to an experience
  • The best kind of poem to express this
  • If you’re writing a song, consider the type of music you choose to add to the purpose of the poem
  • If you’re writing a rap, consider how the flow and cadence of the words and the syllabic percussion can add emphasis and connect the listener to the intent of poem

NOTE: If you are not Indigenous, please avoid using traditional Indigenous culture in your work (such as Indigenous drumming). Make it from YOUR perspective as someone learning about this part of history.

Upload it to your portfolio as a written piece, or record it as video.

Books About Indigenous Schooling

Click on a book to buy it from Amazon. Or, you can ask for them at your local library. 

Phyllis’s Orange Shirt Read Aloud

When We Were Alone Read Aloud by Author David Robertson

Advanced Projects

Choose at least one!


To complete this project, begin by watching one or both of the documentaries above. After watching the documentary, choose ONE of the following to complete:

1. Use PowerPoint or Google Slides to create a presentation demonstrating what you learned from the episode. Think through the 5W’s when deciding what information to include. Make sure that there is at least one slide addressing each of:

  • Who (Which people groups are discussed?)
  • What (What did they do? Think about the actions of different people and institutions: polititians, government workers, churches, priests and nuns, parents, children)
  • When (Timeline of events: You may want to review the Timeline video at the beginning of the block for help with this)
  • Where (Where did this happen?)
  • Why (Why did churches and government want to run these schools? Why did it matter then? Why does it matter now? Does this information have special meaning to Indigenous and settler people today? Does it change the way we understand ourselves or our history?)

Include your presentation in your portfolio. Write a description and then provide a link.

2. Design and paint a mural based on the legacy of abusive Indigenous schooling. Do the design work small scale, either on paper or digitally. Then, blow it up. You might do a “small” mural, on a roll of industrial sized paper, or a piece of plywood. Or, you might be able to find a space to take your mural larger than life, maybe using chalk on a driveway. 

When designing your mural think about:

  • The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of your subject: Do you want to represent a specific place or moment in residential schooling? Or use text to give a clear message? Is your piece about remembering the past or looking to the future?
  • The feeling you want to convey: strength, resilience, sorrow, shame, healing, fear?
  • The use of colour to convey emotion as well as theme
  • The style of your mural and what message that sends – Remember that it is not okay to copy the artistic style of an Indigenous group that you don’t belong to. Use your own personal style instead.
  • Write a short artistic brief explaining your subject and your choices

Include a description of your mural and photos in your portfolio.

3. Write an essay about the impacts of residential and day schooling on Indigenous people and communities. You may want to consider issues like:
– language loss
– loss of cultural knowledge
– loss of knowledge of the land and lifeskills
– disconnection from parents and other family members
– physical, emotional and sexual abuse
– indoctrination with religious teachings
– malnutrition and disease
– racist attitudes of the government, churches, and school staff, and the impact they had on students

Download and print this outline tool, from, to help you organize your essay. 

Do the research and fill in the notes of what you want to include in your outline. Then, write the essay. Be sure to use a tool like Grammerly to help improve and edit your writing.

Upload your essay to your portfolio.