June 9 2021
Grief and anger have swept over Canada. There’s no going back. We cannot unsee what we have seen or unlearn what we have learned about the horrors of life and death for so many Indigenous students at residential schools across Canada.
Since news came out that the unmarked graves of up to 215 Indigenous children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School in B.C., both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across the country are demanding action.
What we are seeing unfold now is a reckoning with the cultural genocide that took place through Canada’s 130 residential schools between 1831 and 1996. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are demanding more action from government.
The time for patience and waiting has passed. Many families have been looking for some kind of closure and justice for 40, 50 or even more years. They have shared their stories. They have done their part.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard those stories and tabled its report on the injustices of the residential school system – along with its 94 recommendations – six years ago this month. Most have not been fully implemented.
We know more unmarked graves exist at the sites of these former schools. It’s time to find them. The trauma of learning about Kamloops will be repeated, perhaps many times.
In a statement following the Kamloops discovery, former senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the TRC, said: “We know there are lots of sites similar to Kamloops that are going to come to light in the future. We need to begin to prepare ourselves for that.”
One of the actions that must happen is an increase in the mental health supports available to Indigenous families and communities going through this trauma.
The government talks a lot about healing. But there can be no healing without the truth and that means finding out what happened to the many Indigenous children who never made it home from these schools.
Healing also calls for an apology from the Catholic Church, for which Indigenous and families still wait. (Other churches who ran the schools have apologized.)
This past weekend, large crowds held protests in cities across Canada to call for action. Communities large and small, including in our own rural area, have created displays of children’s shoes in remembrance of these 215 children.
This kind of response means pressure for governments. Getting results means keeping that pressure up – and being ready to take that commitment to the ballot box.