From the late 1800s to the 1980s, more than 100,000 First Nations children in Canada attended residential schools (Llewellyn, 2008, p. 258).2 To attend these schools, children were taken away from their families and communities. At the schools, the children suffered from emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse (Steckley & Cummins, 2001, p. 191). The worst abuses were often used as punishment for speaking their indigenous languages (Petten, 2007, p. 22). The imposition of residential schools on First Nations children has led to significant loss of indigenous languages, and this language loss has led to further cultural losses for traditional First Nations cultures in Canada.
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One far-reaching result of the residential school system is the loss of indigenous languages in Canada. A major cause of this loss was the removal of children from their families and language communities. Petten (2007) reported that, having been removed from their families at an early age, children lost the opportunity to continue to develop their mother tongues (p. 22). At the schools, only English or French were used. Furthermore, children were punished and abused for using their indigenous languages. Survivors of residential schools report priests and nuns punching, slapping, verbally abusing (Knockwood, 1992, p. 99), and sticking pins in the tongues (Steckley & Cummins, 2001, p. 193) of very young children for speaking their mother tongues. In the face of this abuse, many children quickly lost the ability to speak their indigenous languages. A long-term result of residential schools is a significant reduction in the numbers of speakers of indigenous languages. According to the 2001 Canada Census, only 24% of people who identified themselves as aboriginal said they could communicate in an aboriginal language