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Photographs and Residential School Research

Students at Akaitcho Hall (Sǫ̀mba K’è_Yellowknife) playing hockey outside the residence, 1960-61 Credit_ NWT Archives_Akaitcho Hall collection_N-2000-002_ 0021

Guided by a committee of former students and intergenerational survivors, the NWT Recreation and Parks Association (NWTRPA) and University of Alberta are collaborating to develop a travelling exhibit and website about the role and experiences of recreation at residential schools, hostels, and federal day schools (also known as Indian day schools) in the Northwest Territories. “How I Survived”: Recreation at Northern Residential Schools is part of the NWTRPA’s commitment to advancing reconciliation by working in the spirit of the TRC.


There are very few written records documenting recreation at residential schools, hostels, and federal day schools in the NWT. To better understand the kinds of activities students undertook and what recreation meant for them, this project relies on oral interviews and photographs.

The research team is gathering photographs from schools across the territory. Most of the photographs we have found to date are held in institutional archives, like the NWT Archives or the Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada. Many of these photographs have been digitized and are available online.

Girl Guides at All Saints School (Aklavik), 1943. Credit: NWT Archives/Archibald Fleming fonds/N-1979-050

We recognize that students often did not consent to having their pictures taken while at school. Nor did they consent to having these photographs stored in institutional archives or digitized and then shared online. When members of the public pay to have these photographs reproduced, the subjects of the photographs do not receive any remuneration. Nor is their consent sought.

We are also aware of the potential emotional cost of circulating and viewing photographs from residential schools, hostels, and federal day schools. While some former students might appreciate the opportunity to see images of themselves or their friends, for others, these photographs may trigger painful memories.

This project, at its core, is meant to honour residential school, hostel, and federal day school survivors: to create a space for former students to tell their stories and to celebrate their spirit and creativity. To this end, we want to ensure our use of photographs in the exhibit and on the website is ethical, respecting the varied experiences of former students.

Halloween at the Fort Smith Federal Day School, 1953. Credit: NWT Archives©/Northwest Territories. Department of Education, Culture and Employment/G-1999-088.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will share photographs from our collections.

We are sharing these photographs for two reasons:

One, we would like to identify the subjects of the photographs. So many images from residential schools, hostels, and federal day schools do not include the names of the students who were photographed. In naming the students depicted in the photographs, we are countering the erasure of individual students.

Second, if there are photographs that former students would not like shared, we would like to know so that we can avoid using them in the final exhibit, or on the website.

These are just some of the steps that we are taking to ensure that our approach to this project is community-centred and respectful of the varied and complicated experiences of survivors of residential school, hostel, and federal day school. We welcome feedback on other ways that we might honour survivors. Please contact the project manager, Jess Dunkin, at or 867-669-8375.

If you are a survivor or intergenerational survivor of a residential school, hostel, or federal day school and are having a difficult time, you may find this wellness information of value.


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