A Note from the Editor:
Newfoundland and Labrador’s museum The Rooms has enacted the Healing and Commemoration Collection, featuring interviews with residential school survivors of the province. The collection can be viewed online here. — Kaitlyn Woodley
By Anna Philpott:
Canada must take a hard look at its treatment of Indigenous peoples amidst the recent discovery of 215 native children’s bodies buried at the site of a residential school in British Columbia.
The residential school in question, otherwise referred to as the “Kamloops Indian Residential School,” was the largest of its kind. It is worth mentioning that the administrators of the school previously recorded only 51 of these murders in contrast to the 215 bodies discovered thus far, the youngest being identified as three years old.
This news first came to light as a First Nations government party, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, utilized a ground-penetrating radar to identify remains in what appeared to be a mass grave. Horrifyingly, just a few days ago, another burial site was discovered at the Brandon residential school in Manitoba alongside 104 more children, signifying that this discovery may be one of many.
In 1831, the first government-funded and church-operated residential school opened its doors with the sole intention of ethnic cleansing, i.e., separating Indigenous children from their homes, prohibiting them from speaking their native language and forcing them to convert to Christianity. The mortality rate for residential schools ranged from around 40-60%, with 90-100% of the population facing emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.
It should be noted that there were also instances where children were forced to bury the corpses of other children.
Presently, many government officials have spoken out about this finding; however, the public is voicing its concern that the event is being treated as an incident of the past rather than a stark reality check for the present.
In this sense, rather than writing it off as a dark chapter of Canada’s history, it is important to acknowledge that fighting the discrimination of Indigenous people is a battle that has yet to be won. In fact, the first half of said fight is acknowledging that these injustices are still present and material as it was 25 years ago when the last residential school closed its doors.
By Hayley Whelan:
These tragedies have occurred on our watch. Regardless of how many years have passed, the meaningless deaths of 215 children must not be forgotten. It is essential for us to observe the calls to action that have been requested by the Indigenous community as much as six years ago.
In 2015, the government of Canada released the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. This report includes many calls to action, several of which have not yet been acted upon by the government. Among the unfulfilled requests is an appeal for an official death registry for all deceased and missing residential school children. This request also calls for plot maps of residential cemeteries, which will show where the children are buried. The children’s families should be allowed commemoration ceremonies, markers, and relocation of the bodies should they wish it.
Further calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission request increased interest in the welfare of aboriginal children, including keeping them in culturally appropriate areas, close to their families when possible, and an increased focus and effort to thoroughly investigate all reports of potential neglect.
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador have decided to make a move to change our province’s coat of arms. Namely, the decision to remove the use of the word “savages” from the description of the coat of arms, as the term is not appropriate.
Some residential school survivors have spoken out with instructions on how we should proceed beyond lowering our flags in mourning. They say that the churches who orchestrated this violence toward residential school students must be held accountable to the fullest extent possible. We need to employ radar searches on the grounds of other residential schools across Canada and to work to reveal and accept the truths that survivors have been speaking out about for years. There are at least 130 of these residential schools across Canada and we should be searching each one for evidence of the same kind of mistreatment and tragic abuse that we are now certain occurred at Kamloops Indian Residential School.
There are opportunities for individuals to contribute as well. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) is dedicated to providing mental, physical and spiritual care to residential school survivors. They aim to provide access to culturally sensitive services and are governed by a board of directors made up of residential school survivors. If you want to donate, or otherwise support the IRSSS, you can do so on their website.
As Canadian citizens, it is our responsibility to ensure that these tragedies are never forgotten and that the heartbreaking history of residential schools in our country is never repeated.