On May 27th, 2021 the world would be reminded of the shameful history that Canada bears as a result of the 150,000 First Nations children that were required to attend federally funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. The children were torn from their families, and forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died. While this may be a reminder for some, it is the re-opening of wounds for most First Nations here in Canada,
So when the unmarked graves containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered on the grounds of a former residential school in the interior of southern British Columbia, a disdain for my colonizer ancestors flooded my veins. It’s comparable to feeling like you come from a long line of murderers, and somehow you turned out fine-That’s the Colonial Guilt setting in.
The Kamloops school (shown in the picture above) operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978. That’s the year I was born, so we aren’t talking about a time in history.
The Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963. The Commission identified about 3,200 confirmed deaths at schools but noted the schools did not record the cause of death in almost half of them. Some died of tuberculosis. The Commission also said the government wanted to keep costs down so adequate regulations were never established.
I catch myself asking the question “How were these lives just erased so easily,” but I already know the answer which just isn’t enough to settle the hurt in my heart for Canada’s First Nations families. I’ve been trying to unpackage the emotions attached to the heartache I have for these children and their families who lost them. I feel shame and disgust, but also an sense of disappointment in myself that I continue to feel shock in response to the atrocities towards Canada’s First Nations People.
It would be in 2008 that the Canadian government apologized in Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.
From there the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was officially established on June 1, 2008 with the purpose of documenting the history and lasting impacts of the Canadian Indian residential school system on Indigenous, students and their families. It provided residential school survivors an opportunity to share their experiences during public and private meetings held across the country. The TRC emphasizes that it has a priority of displaying the impacts of the residential schools to the Canadians who have been kept in the dark from these matters.
In June 2015, the TRC released an Executive Summary of its findings along with 94 “calls to action” regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. The Commission officially concluded in December 2015 with the publication of a multi-volume final report that concluded the school system amounted to cultural genocide.
So perhaps your asking the same question I’m asking myself- How do I participate in Reconciliation? First lets look at what this means in the simplest terms by defining Reconciliation. It is the process of developing a respectful relationship between Indigenous and settler (i.e. non-Indigenous) people across Canada. It’s about working together to overcome the devastating effects of colonization. With reconciliation, it’s important to acknowledge harmful policies and practices (e.g. residential schools, loss of lands, inequitable access to essential services, prohibition of cultural traditions and languages, etc.) and define positive ways to move forward together.
So hopefully by now whether this is the first time you are learning about this or you are wondering how do you get involved in making an impactful change? How is it that you can get involved in reconciliation?
I would suggest that you first do your homework about privilege and the lens you are approaching this with. A person’s good intentions can compound trauma but also impose power imbalances that are counterproductive to healing. It is my intention to humbly share some of the resources I came across as to not bombard or dissuade anyone from a heavy topic that can be emotionally overwhelming. So I wanted to create a series of writing, information and guides that can be tackled as you see fit.
If you are ready, Here is Step 1- Indigenous Rights Activism: So You Want To Be an Ally