‘Forced to Work ‘Too Hard’: A Case Study of Forced Child Labour and Slavery in Manitoba’s Indian Residential Schools


  • Karlee Sapoznik Evans
  • Anne Lindsay
  • Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair


Residential Schools, Child Labour, Forced Labour, Manitoba


This brief article has highlighted the longstanding history and persistence of unfree student labour that was both foundational and integral to the IRS system. Rooted in the history of the schools, as of 1926 and 1930, these practices met the legal thresholds of slavery and forced labour established in international law. It is important that we do not lose sight of the recentness of this history and its enduring legacies. To this end, this case study of Manitoba Residential Schools contributes to addressing the incomplete record of the past, inserting this important facet of unfree, forced child and slave labour into broader understandings of the Residential School experience and the injustices experienced by Indigenous children at the hands of the churches that operated them and the Canadian government that oversaw them under the guise of educational training.


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Author Biographies

Karlee Sapoznik Evans

Dr. Karlee Sapoznik Evans is a longstanding social justice and human rights advocate and researcher. She was named one of CBC Manitoba's Future 40 under 40 and has served as part of reconciliation, anti-slavery, genocide prevention, social justice, and human rights projects across Canada, in Sierra Leone, Mali, Peru, Italy, England, Spain, Ukraine, Israel, and the United States. From 2014-2015, she led a team of researchers for Library and Archives Canada’s Document Disclosure Project for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Her research on historical and contemporary slavery, including human trafficking, helped inform Canada’s Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. From 2012-2016, she was a professor at l’Université de Saint-Boniface. Since 2016, she has worked as a civil servant, overseeing mixed-methods research and strategic policy in the best interests of children, youth, young adults, and families in Manitoba.

Anne Lindsay

Anne Lindsay (she/her)’s career has focused on archival primary source research, particularly in areas relating to settler interactions with Indigenous peoples, as well as fur trade-era history. A post-doctoral fellow at the University of Winnipeg under Dr. Mary Jane McCallum, she is currently working on a research guide for families whose loved ones went away to Indian Hospitals and Sanatoria, and never returned.  As well, she has worked and continues to work as a researcher for a number of Indigenous communities, including work focusing on the present implications for educational planning that stem from the colonial history of education in specific communities. In addition to this work, she has held positions in archives and research with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba and before that, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. She is also currently involved in local dialogues around identifying unmarked burials and tracing missing children as a part of honouring Indigenous histories of Residential Schooling in Canada.

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair is Anishinaabe (St. Peter’s/Little Peguis) and an Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba, currently acting as the Head of the Department of Indigenous Studies. He is an award-winning writer, editor and activist who was named one of Monocle Magazine‘s “Canada’s Top 20 Most Influential People” and he won the 2018 Canadian columnist of the year at the National Newspaper Awards for his bi-weekly columns in The Winnipeg Free Press. In 2019, Niigaan won Peace Educator of the Year from the Peace and Justice Studies Association based at Georgetown University in Washington, DC for his many roles as a public intellectual, including being a part of the "Power Panel" on CBC's Power & Politics and National Affairs panel on CBC's The Current. In his academic work, he is the co-editor of the award-winning Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water (Highwater Press, 2011), Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World Through Stories (Michigan State University Press, 2013) and The Winter We Danced: the Past, the Future and the Idle No More Movement (Arbeiter Ring Press, 2014).




How to Cite

Evans, K. S. ., Lindsay, A., & Sinclair, N. J. . (2023). ‘Forced to Work ‘Too Hard’: A Case Study of Forced Child Labour and Slavery in Manitoba’s Indian Residential Schools. At The Forks, 1(1). Retrieved from https://ojs.lib.umanitoba.ca/index.php/forks/article/view/921