Expert on Residential Schools Discusses Their Designation as Historic Sites


Prof. David MacDonald

With the federal government announcing the designation of two former residential schools as national historic sites, the University of Guelph has an expert who can offer comment.

Prof. David MacDonald, Department of Political Science, researches Indigenous politics in Canada, particularly Indian residential schools. In 2019, he published the book The Sleeping Giant Awakes: Genocide, Indian Residential Schools and the Challenge of Conciliation.

While studying the experiences of First Nations children and youth in residential schools, he interviewed numerous residential school survivors and government officials, and heard survivors share their experiences during Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada events, healing circles and conferences.

MacDonald has also studied the Sixties Scoop and the ongoing placement of Indigenous children into foster care.

He said designating Portage La Prairie Residential School in Manitoba and Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia as historic sites is “a good start,” but he hopes recognition will be extended to other former residential schools.

He also recently spoke about the toppling of statues of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, who many now consider one of the architects of the residential school system and who enacted policies to drive Indigenous peoples onto reserves.

“The reactions against his statues are not so much about trying to eliminate the memory of Macdonald but to react against the glorification of the first prime minister and to, in some ways, even ask for a more balanced history,” he told CBC Calgary.

“It’s not really, I guess, cancelling Macdonald as much as asking for a reasoned discussion that puts him within the context of his time and talks about the kinds of crimes that he did.”

MacDonald is available for interviews.


Prof. David MacDonald