“How I Survived”

Students at Lapointe Hall (Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę/Fort Simpson) playing pool, 1967.
Credit: NWT Archives/Sacred Heart Parish (Fort Simpson) fonds/N-1992-255: 0132 

“How I Survived”: Recreation at Northern Residential Schools is a project initiated by the NWT Recreation and Parks Association (NWTRPA) and Gwichyà Gwich’in historian Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser, Department of History & Classics at the University of Alberta. The project is guided by an advisory committee that includes former Grollier Hall student and CBC journalist Paul Andrew (Shúhtaot’ı̨nę); elite cross-country skier and former residential school survivor Dr. Sharon Anne Firth (Teetł’it Gwich’in); long-time teacher Lorna Storr from Aklavik; and NWTRPA Board member Kyla LeSage (Vuntut Gwitchin and Anishinaabeg).

Following the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2015, the NWTRPA made a commitment to advance reconciliation by working in the spirit of the TRC. Reconciliation is one of our strategic priorities. The University of Alberta is a leading research-intensive Canadian university that is led by their strategic plan, For the Public Good. A part of this plan includes “listening, collecting, and collaborating with key partners across all sectors of society” with the goal of disseminating research to all levels of community.

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

The goal of this project is to produce a travelling exhibit and website. The content for the exhibit and website will mostly come from interviews with residential school, hostel, and Indian day school survivors. We are planning to interview approximately twelve survivors about their experiences of recreation while at school. We are approaching people of different cultural backgrounds from different regions who attended different residential schools in the NWT. We are also working to have a balance of women and men, and people of different ages. In addition to interviewing survivors, we are reviewing historical documents including photographs and reports from residential schools, hostels, and Indian day schools across the territory.

The interviews and historical research will help us to understand how recreation was a part of the residential school, hostel, and Indian day school experience, as well as the significance of recreation for residential school, hostel, and Indian day school students. We understand recreation to include a variety of creative, physical, social, and intellectual activities including, but not limited to, music, the arts, sports, games, crafts, reading, and Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

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

This project will provide residential school survivors (and others) with an opportunity to share their stories of survival and spirit with the public. The exhibit and website will celebrate the strength and resilience of survivors of residential schools, hostels, and Indian day schools.

We hope this project will provide a new way of understanding the history and legacy of residential schooling in the North and inspire forward-looking dialogue.

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

This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada.

For more information about this project, please contact the project manager, Jess Dunkin, at jdunkin@nwtrpa.org or 867-669-8375.

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