Apology to Indigenous Peoples for the use of Girl Guide programming by Indian Residential Schools
June 1, 2021
Trigger warning: This email includes details about residential schools which could be upsetting. If you are a residential school survivor in need of support, please call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419.
Girl Guides of Canada (GGC) is offering an apology to Indigenous girls and women in Guiding and Indigenous communities for the use of Girl Guide programming by Indian Residential Schools (IRS). This apology is an important action towards reconciliation and Guiding’s journey to actively create a space where Indigenous girls and women feel they belong, and that their culture is honoured, respected and celebrated in a way that works for them. We will continue to put Indigenous girls at the centre of our efforts to create safe and inclusive spaces for them.
To help us find the right path forward, we created a National Indigenous Advisory Circle, Indigenous girls and women in Girl Guides playing a key role as we work to ensure our organization is a safe and welcoming space. We have been sharing Guiding’s truths with them and they are courageously sharing their experiences with us so that we can address our truths and the issues faced by Indigenous girls and women in Guiding. Their bravery and courage, speaking up and speaking out, and sharing of their experiences and ideas has been essential in bringing Girl Guides to this point.
As an organization, we have been on a truth-finding journey to understand our history at residential schools. The truth we found is that Girl Guides programming was used by Indian Residential Schools. Residential schools are one of the most painful legacies perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in Canada.
We acknowledge our apology comes at a challenging time for all First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples, with the remains of 215 children found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops. We join in mourning for all children forced to attend residential schools. Far too many children were lost, far too many families feel the pain that has lasted for generations. The decision to proceed with our apology event was done with careful consultation to ensure we were prioritizing truth, accountability and honouring the voices of Indigenous girls and women supporting us in this work.
What were residential schools?
Residential schools for Indigenous people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Indigenous children.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents' wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there are an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social inequities that continue to exist. The history of residential schools and the legacy of its impacts is very painful for Canada’s Indigenous communities.
- Source: Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Why is Girl Guides of Canada issuing an apology for the use of Girl Guide programming by residential schools?
It appears there was a focus on bringing in components such as after school activities that would support the Government of Canada’s intention for re-socialization of Indigenous girls. The Girl Guide program was one of those components used by residential schools. Residential schools are one of the most painful legacies that were perpetrated against Indigenous children during that time. GGC must acknowledge and apologize for the use of Girl Guide programming by residential schools – it is the right thing to do.
This apology is an important step in Guiding’s ongoing journey towards creating a more inclusive culture, serving Indigenous girls and women, and removing barriers for belonging. Without a sincere apology, there cannot be reconciliation.
How will Girl Guides share their apology?
On June 1, 2021 Girl Guides of Canada will offer an apology for the use of Girl Guide programming by Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The apology will be shared at a virtual event and will be witnessed by invited leaders of Indigenous communities and members of GGC’s National Indigenous Advisory Circle – girls and women in Guiding who also provided input in the planning of the apology event and the wording of the apology itself. Also attending will be members of the GGC’s Board of Directors, Provincial Commissioners of GGC’s provincial councils, and members of the National Youth Council.
The event will open with ceremony lead by Grandmother Kathy Brant in the Haudenosaunee tradition, and Kimberly Debassige will be our event host. Girl Guides of Canada’s apology will be offered by the CEO and Chair of the Board of Directors of GGC.
The event will honour and centre the voices of members of GGC’s National Indigenous Advisory Circle, featuring videos of the members speaking to what the apology means to them and what their experiences have been as changemakers who have played an important role in this process.
What is known about the use of Girl Guide programming by residential schools?
Girl Guides of Canada (GGC) has undergone a truth-finding journey to understand our history at residential schools and take the necessary actions towards to reconciling the past.
Girl Guides was one of several recreational programs offered to students by residential schools. From 1910-1970, GGC programming was used by 34 residential schools in BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, QC, YT, NWT. GGC did not offer unique programming for residential schools or have any policy specific to residential schools. We did not find evidence of any physical or sexual abuse disclosed at residential schools as related to participation in Girl Guide programming nor that GGC had administrative knowledge of the abusive treatment of Indigenous girl members at residential schools. It is critical we speak to the intentional use by residential schools of non-Indigenous programming, including the Girl Guide program, as it is one of the most painful legacies that were perpetrated against Indigenous children.
These truths are based on research conducted in the Girl Guides of Canada national archives, as well as searching through records held by the Government of Canada and the archives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Fact-finding was also conducted by an Indigenous consultant working with GGC.
How is Girl Guides honouring and prioritizing the voices of Indigenous girls and women in Guiding in this process?
Over the past few years, Girl Guides of Canada has spent time listening to and learning from Indigenous girls and women about their personal and family histories and their experiences with Guiding. We have been on a journey to seek truths not just about our past, but also about how Indigenous girls and women experience Guiding today, and what they would like to see for future Girl Guide members. We want to thank these members who have generously shared their wisdom, insights and ideas to help us make GGC a more welcoming and inclusive place for all girls, including and especially Indigenous members.
GGC has recently formed a National Indigenous Advisory Circle – sharing the truths that we have found with them and asking them how they would like to see GGC address this past harm, and how to ensure we address colonial practices and anti-Indigenous racism in Guiding today. We will support the Advisory Circle so that they can play a key role in our ongoing actions to ensure we are a welcoming space for Indigenous girls and women.
What is the National Indigenous Advisory Circle?
Our National Indigenous Advisory Circle is a group of Indigenous girls and women in Girl Guides playing a key role as we work on ensuring Guiding is a safe and welcoming space for Indigenous girls and women. They are helping us find the right path forward and supporting us as we learn more about their experiences in Guiding and address issues faced by Indigenous girls and women. We know that Indigenous girls’ voices often go unheard in our society and it is our hope that in Guiding they find a place where they can feel like they really belong, that their voices matter as Indigenous women and girls. We’re looking forward to expanding the Advisory Circle’s mandate to include advising on programming, volunteer training and policies.
What actions is Girl Guides committing to beyond the apology?
Girl Guides is actively working to build our organization as one where Indigenous girls and women feel they belong, and that their culture is honoured, respected and celebrated in a way that works for them. We know that this has not always been the case. To help us find the right path forward with our Indigenous members, we are working with our National Indigenous Advisory Circle, who are supporting us to learn more about their experiences in Guiding and address issues faced by Indigenous girls and women.
As part of our ongoing journey, here are some of the actions we are committing to:
- Continue to forge reciprocal partnerships with Indigenous organizations for mutual benefit and learning.
- Continue to offer training for staff and members on decolonization and anti-Indigenous racism.
- In partnership with Indigenous organizations, weave the threads of Indigenous culture into GGC programming including programming on residential schools.
- Continue to listen to Indigenous girls and women on how we can ensure safer space and cultural wellbeing in Guiding.
- Develop partnerships and programs in order to recruit more Indigenous staff, adult and girl members.
- Broaden the National Indigenous Advisory Circle’s mandate to include advising on programming, training and policies.
- Respect Indigenous funding pools by not accessing funds that are often the only ones available to Indigenous communities, organizations and systems.
I’m an Indigenous girl or woman who has experienced harm due to the use of Girl Guide programming by residential schools or in my own Guiding experience. How can I get support?
We are extremely sorry and apologize for the experience you have had. Girl Guides had said that you will be accepted, respected and included, but we know that has not always been true. We are committed to listening to your experiences and taking action to ensure that other Indigenous girls and women do not have negative experiences in Guiding.
Supports are available for women who experienced harm due to the use of Girl Guide programming by IRS, as well as to Indigenous girls or women in Guiding today who are needing support in processing this information. Culturally-enriched and trauma and violence informed supports will be available for Indigenous members and past members who may come forward and disclose they have been harmed either at residential schools or otherwise in our programs or activities. Please reach out to email@example.com.
Throughout June there will be facilitated sharing circles for Indigenous girls and women. These will include a circle for any Indigenous girls and women wanting to debrief the apology and history of Girl Guides; and a circle for Indigenous girl members who want to build their community, connect with other Indigenous girls in Guiding, and learn more about the National Indigenous Advisory Circle. Call 1-877-564-6188 for more information.
For any girl members who may need help now please use the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, use their text service by texting CONNECT to 686868, or learn more about the supports available at https://kidshelpphone.ca/get-info/first-nations-inuit-and-metis.
If any residential school survivors need help, please contact The Indian Residential School Survivors Society hotline at 1-800-721-0066 or use The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line which is available 24-hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
I’m an Indigenous girl or woman in Guiding – how can I have my voice heard and share my experiences with GGC?
We are committed to creating spaces for our Indigenous members to engage further in this conversation. There will be opportunities to come together in circles led by Indigenous women and girls. We are also looking for people to join the National Indigenous Advisory Circle. If you identify as an Indigenous member of GGC, we want to hear from you – please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does this apology mean for me in my Girl Guide unit and district/community?
Reconciliation is the revitalization of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canadian society. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in this country. In order for that to happen units can:
- Learn about residential schools.
- Reflect on how Guiders, units and communities practice collective accountability.
- Learn about the land your unit meets on. Whose traditional territory do you meet on? Build awareness of the Treaties, comprehensive land claim agreements, self-government agreements or unneeded territories that exist in your area, and what they mean in the relationships in your area.
- Think about your traditions and practices in your unit. What might have been appropriated from Indigenous cultures?
- Learn about Indigenous history and culture in your community today. Is there a Friendship Centre in your district?
- Check out the GGC program platform in September for new programming you can do with your unit to learn more about residential schools and the role we all play in reconciliation.
I didn’t know about the use of Girl Guide programming by residential schools and I am struggling and feeling discomfort. What can I do?
As a GGC adult member, you have access to free high quality learning resources that are available to you. You can access the following resources to learn more.
Questions? Email: email@example.com
a or call 1-877-564-5188.