Content Warning: This post contains disturbing information.
Support is available, including:
- Indian Residential School Survivors Society Toll-Free Line: 1-800-721-0066
- 24hr National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
- KUU-US Crisis Line: 1-800-588-8717
- Tsow-Tun-Le Lum: 1-866-925-4419
When I was a little kid, my parents never worried that the police would come and take me away and make me go to a school where I would be abused, told my family and community and culture were lesser than human, that I was lesser than human, and where I might die and be buried in a mass grave. When my parents were born, their parents didn’t have to worry about that happening to them either. I didn’t grow up with stories of relatives who were taken away to such schools and then never returned, with no information about what happened to them. When my niece and nephew were born, my sister didn’t have to worry that social workers might show up and take them away. In my family, if someone had described those situations, we would have thought that it sounded like something that came from a dystopian novel. But for indigenous families and communities, those are true stories from the past and the present.
When I heard about the discovery of 215 children who were discovered in a mass grave at the site of the former Kamloops Indian residential school, I was saddened, but not surprised. Six of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action relate to missing children and burial information. Indigenous communities know that there were many children who were taken to these schools and never came home and they were never given information about what happened to them. And those with the power to do something about it – those with the school records to help identify the children, those who perpetrated these crimes, did nothing. Can you imagine? If you are white like me, I bet the answer is “no, I can’t imagine that.”
215 children. 215 children stolen from their families and communities. 215 children whose lives were stolen from them. 215 children that never got to grow up. 215 children killed through abuse and neglect who never even got so much as a respectful burial and whose families never got to know what happened tot hem. And that’s only the beginning. There are more than 130 former residential schools from coast to coast and the Kamloops Indian Residential School was, sadly, not an anomaly. It was the norm. The Indian residential schools were set up to destroy their connection to their culture and community, to “kill the Indian in the child.”
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has been working for many years to get to this point. They raised the funds to have a ground penetrating radar specialist examine the grounds. Why should a community that had this horror inflicted upon them have to pay for this work? Why isn’t the Canadian government and the churches that ran the residential schools paying for this work to do be done at all site?
And the atrocities aren’t just in the past. Even after residential schools closed (the last of week only closed in 1996), the effects of the trauma inflicted on Indigenous communities and people didn’t go away. And we’ve never stopped inflicting trauma – instead of taking away children and putting them in residential schools, we take them away via the “child welfare” system. We inflict harm on Indigenous people and communities through systemic racism in the healthcare system, through the Indian Act, through chronically underfunding on reserve schools, through not even providing clean water in many First Nations communities.
The time to act is long past due. Here are just a few places to start:
- Non-Indigenous people — here’s what you can do, right now
- 7 free ways to make a difference
- 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls