First Nation Indigenous across the land are enraged. For years the original peoples have been saying that their humanity was crushed under the auspices of “educating or Christianizing them” in residential schools. The discovery of two hundred and fifteen children in a mass grave close to Kamloops Residential School has unleashed anger, bitterness and a profound collective grief that stretches across this land.
When the discovery of bodies of children became national news, a triggering reaction reverberated through First Nation Indigenous individuals, families and communities. Residential or day school survivors had acid applied to their visible unhealed wounds. The families or intergenerational victims also reacted as their parents, grandparents or siblings began falling. Rage was quickly followed by grief, despair and breakdowns of otherwise functioning adults.
Non First Nations are reeling from this discovery. As a result of this gruesome discovery… Canada has come under fire. For the non-First Nation Canadians, there is sorrow and for some, there is skepticism which is really thinly disguised racism. It is as though they are hearing about the residential schools for the very first time. How could there be two hundred plus children, some as young as three years old, buried for years without discovery?
This is not a new occurrence or a bad nightmare. This is First Nation Indigenous reality. First Nations have been repeating that they or their ancestors were subjected to horrific circumstances in residential schools. The countering argument has always been that “it was not so bad” or that the children needed discipline and order to be fully functioning Canadians in brave new world, or if anything had happened, it was so long ago, that it is necessary for the First Nation Indigenous to “get over it”. How can children as young as three be taken for disciplining or assisting with building a “new” country?
Indigenous systems were purposefully targeted. Canada intended to break apart the family and clans by forcibly taking children with the assistance of the RCMP. Archival records show the “leaders” of the day agreed that to break the spirit of the Indians, it was necessary to break the children as the adults could not be retrained to think like “Canadians”. To this day, some of our people cannot speak about this or will not speak about this. This definition of genocide contained in the Vienna convention has the phrasing that genocide occurs … “when a specific group of people are targeted – where kids are taken and where female children can be sterilized”. The First Nation people were targeted. The kids were removed from their families. Female children were sterilized.
The discovery at Kamloops is more disturbing because it came on the heels of an active court action. Kamloops residential school day students (day scholars) took the federal government to court because they did not receive settlement for loss of language and culture. The day students were overlooked because they were not housed at the school so they had been in an ongoing fight with Canada for nine years. Upon this recent discovery of the bodies of First Nation children, Canada has suddenly found room in their collective conscience to acquiesce to the (Gottfriedson) Kamloops day scholar class action with individual awards of $10,000 for loss of language and culture that occurred while attending Kamloops residential school.
Canada has been also fighting the St. Anne’s residential school survivors. It has been documented that at this school, students were subjected to electric chair treatments. Canada fought the St. Anne’s students in the Independent Assessment Process – denying claims while holding the information. In December of 2020, Minister of Justice, David Lametti was attempting to destroy records that would prove the St. Anne’s survivors’ claims.
Why would a government, that “talks” reconciliation, want to destroy records of abuse that might help Indigenous student survivors find closure? Why?
Noted Canadians who “made Canada” are also under fire. Statue heads are toppling including that of John A. MacDonald and other architects who knowingly advocated to “kill the Indian in the child”. Mainstream Canadians are aghast and their rose coloured view of surveying this state’s history are finally coming off. Canada is a state that was achieved with the deaths of First Nations. Canada is a state that put families on reserves, then took the children while implementing a pass system that made it impossible for parents to leave the reserve. Children were subjected to prison like conditions – underfed, malnourished, preyed upon by sexual predators and subjected to various nutrition or other experiments such as the use of the electric chair. This is not a futuristic novel or a movie, this is Canadian history. The shocking part is that this has never been taught to most Canadians.
Most Canadians are sympathetic but there are always the holdouts who do not want to believe that some wrong doing occurred. There have been op-eds and articles stating that the Indigenous were prone to “tuberculosis” and that accounts for the deaths. They fail to articulate that the students were often housed in unsafe circumstances without medical attention, therefore their deaths were encouraged not prevented. Dr. Peter Bryce was hired to report on the residential school system by Indian Affairs. Dr. Bryce raised the red flag that these children were living in horrific conditions, in one school there was a sixty percent mortality rate from tuberculosis.
Dr. Bryce did not receive acknowledgment or accolades for this information, instead he was vilified for his honesty by the Canadian powers at the time. If the toppling of MacDonald, Ryerson, Grandin, Langevin or striking of their names is so offensive and seen as “rewriting history”, why not leave the names up along with their complicit actions to annihilate the First Peoples of this land. But If MacDonald’s statue remains standing, Dr. Bryce should scare off against him. Then history has both faces.
It is only because of the sacrifice of two hundred and fifteen little souls that Canadians are finally beginning to understand the crimes against humanity that were made in the name of “nation building”. Their lives bring meaning and purpose to the things we endure now. Thank you.