The history of residential schools has been identified as having long lasting and intergenerational effects on the physical and mental well-being of Indigenous populations in Canada. Our objective was to identify the extent and range of research on residential school attendance on specific health outcomes and the populations affected.
A scoping review of the empirical peer-reviewed literature was conducted, following the methodological framework of Arksey and O’Malley (2005). For this review, nine databases were used: Bibliography of Native North Americans, Canadian Health Research Collection, CINAHL, Google Scholar, Indigenous Studies Portal, PubMed, Scopus, Statistics Canada, and Web of Science. Citations that did not focus on health and residential school among a Canadian Indigenous population were excluded. Papers were coded using the following categories: Indigenous identity group, geography, age-sex, residential school attendance, and health status.
Sixty-one articles were selected for inclusion in the review. Most focused on the impacts of residential schooling among First Nations, but some included Métis and Inuit. Physical health outcomes linked to residential schooling included poorer general and self-rated health, increased rates of chronic and infectious diseases. Effects on mental and emotional well-being included mental distress, depression, addictive behaviours and substance mis-use, stress, and suicidal behaviours.
The empirical literature can be seen as further documenting the negative health effects of residential schooling, both among former residential school attendees and subsequent generations. Future empirical research should focus on developing a clearer understanding of the aetiology of these effects, and particularly on identifying the characteristics that lead people and communities to be resilient to them.