3 Tips for Asking Indigenous People About Residential Schools

3 Tips for Asking Indigenous People About Residential Schools

If you’re a non-Indigenous person, it can sometimes be tricky or even scary to ask an Indigenous person questions about a topic you feel they might be able to help you with or shed some light on.

That’s why we wanted to give you a few tips for asking about a sensitive topic: Residential Schools.

If you're hearing more and more lately about Residential Schools and want to start asking your Indigenous friends, family, or colleagues questions about them… then you need to know how to respectfully ask these kinds of questions.

Conversations about topics like Residential Schools can be challenging. That’s why it’s best to be prepared by following these 3 simple steps.

Step #1 Do your own research first

It is not the responsibility of any Indigenous person to educate you -- especially when so many resources like books, videos, podcasts, and movies exist that explain the history of Residential Schools.

While conversations can be a powerful tool, make sure you’re not putting the pressure or responsibility on your Indigenous friend or relatives to teach you about this part of history. It’s important for you to learn on your own, too!

Do your own research before asking questions, as this will help you obtain a baseline understanding of Residential Schools.

From there, you can have a more informed conversation and you can be sure that you and any Indigenous person you speak with will at least be on the same page about the basics.

Step #2 Understand what you are asking

Please be aware that by asking an Indigenous person to share their knowledge about and experience with Residential Schools, you are possibly triggering and upsetting them.


This is an understandably difficult topic for all Indigenous people and should be treated as such.

Recognize that by asking questions, you are asking that person for a lot of honesty, vulnerability, and even asking them to share their pain.

Be mindful that no one HAS to share any information or answer any questions you have unless they are completely comfortable doing so.

Be aware of and OK with the fact that you might be told “no” or that the person might not agree to have the conversation with you at all. That’s OK.

Always lead with kindness, understanding, and empathy when you ask people to share their experiences with you -- especially surrounding this topic.


Step #3 Determine your questions beforehand

One of the very best ways you can demonstrate your respect and empathy for the situation is by coming prepared. That not only means doing your own research beforehand, but even determining your questions beforehand.

Because this is a very emotional and sensitive conversation that you need to approach from a mindful place, try having your questions ready in advance. That way, you’ll be prepared for any possible response -- even no response.

This will allow you to navigate the conversation calmly and responsibly, making it easier for everyone involved.

Following these three tips can truly help you have a more successful conversation with any Indigenous person -- and ensure that you are doing your fair share of the hard work. Following these guidelines demonstrates that you are committed to an open conversation and that you are respectful of the lived experience of the person you are talking to.

As always, the most important thing you can do is be kind and understanding.

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