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“Past” - Meals at Residential Schools: Historical Photo Analysis and Comparison

Analyzing historical photographs (from the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation Archives) about meals in residential schools (based on the knowledge that each youth was granted about $20/youth for a whole year worth of food (the equivalent of $25/month per youth today) in comparison to meals that we might have grown up with to better understand some of the injustices youth in residential schools faced.

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  • Where will you hold your analysis and discussion? 
  • Where will you find Historical Photographs of Residential School Mealtimes? How will the photographs be shared with the Section? (Be sure to acknowledge if any images are copyrighted) 
  • How will you record your thoughts on Residential School meals and familiar meal ingredients (ex. Recording by drawing the ingredients or the portions of food onto a posterboard) 


  • Ask the youth how much they figure they spend on food on average per day and multiply that by 31 days for a month (or 365 days for a year). 
  • Separate youth into two groups to represent youth meals in Residential Schools and average youth meals that we might have today.   
  • Provide each group with materials to record their food ingredient thoughts explaining each item by approximate cost. 
  • Have each group share and explain. Taking a look at the ingredients from the average meal, for impact, remove the equivalent quantity that would be received if in Residential Schools (ex. If pancakes are shown, cut the pancakes into sections to demonstrate what the comparable amount would be removing what wouldn’t be able to be served at $25/person per month – it may be only one single pancake cut up and shared by the youth.) 


  • Discuss the differences in the meals (cost, quality, fresh vs canned, nutritional value, balance, variety, taste, etc.) 
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know before about the experiences of youth meals in residential schools? Does it feel fair to you?  
  • How did you feel before, during and after this activity?


Optional: model building materials 

  • 1-3 Historic photographs of mealtimes at Residential Schools to analyze 
  • A way to record or share brainstormed ingredients (modelling clay in different colours, poster boards to draw/build on, markers, two dishes poster board, timekeeper, discussion moderator)

Keep it Simple

Instead of each youth drawing their own ingredients list, analyze the photographs and turn this into a discussion. 

Take it Further

Instead of drawing the meal ingredients, provide building materials such as: 

Modelling clay (creating respective meals on actual dishes) 

Grocery store flyer food images to cut out and glue