A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986


402 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88755-646-9
DDC 371.829'97091




Reviewed by J.R. Miller

J.R. Miller is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan,
the author of Skyscrapers Hide in the Heavens: A History of Indian-White
Relations in Canada, and co-editor of the Canadian Historical Review.


Trent University historian John Milloy conducted the research for his
volume on the Canadian government and residential schools for First
Nations children under the auspices of the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples. In this capacity, he was able to examine many Indian
Affairs records that other investigators have never seen. The result is
a compelling, damning portrait of a federal government that never took
the trouble to ensure that custodial educational programs for Native
children were adequately financed, appropriately staffed, or
sufficiently inspected.

A National Crime traces the schooling story chronologically, noting the
way in which government and Christian churches interacted to provide
schooling that was minimal in both academic and vocational instruction,
and deficient in child care. Not surprisingly, the account is
overwhelmingly reliant on government archival and published sources,
with denominational church records playing only a tiny role, and
aboriginal oral recollections none at all. Although understandable given
the book’s focus on the role of the federal government, and
considering the vastness of church records and the many difficulties in
collecting oral history evidence, this research foundation results in
only a partial portrait. Milloy does an excellent job of exposing and
indicting government policies and practices, although his account is
less enlightening on what the Christian missionaries who ran the schools
thought they were accomplishing, or on how Native students and their
families experienced the schools.

Well—if incompletely—researched and clearly and powerfully written,
A National Crime is a welcome addition to the literature on Canadian
government assimilation programs directed at First Nations communities
from the late 19th century until the 1980s.


Milloy, John S., “A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30993.