If you have been paying attention to the news in Canada, you will be aware that the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves in the grounds of Kamloops residential school. And this week, 104 more were found in another residential school.
If you were paying attention to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) findings in 2015, you would have been aware that the TRC concluded that somewhere between 4000 and 6000 children died in residential schools, and that the survivors said that many graves were unmarked.
I recently saw a well-meaning comment on Instagram about the 215 children which seemed to be implying that they were the only ones and that they died all at the same time.
I think it is important to get the facts straight because:
- we don’t want to let Canada or the Catholic Church off the hook.
- we don’t want deniers (of whom there are many) to try to dismiss the evidence.
- getting the facts straight is more respectful to Indigenous people and residential school survivors.
So, some facts:
The 215 children in Kamloops and the 104 in Manitoba were just the tip of the iceberg. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (2015) estimated that somewhere between 4000 and 6000 children died.
The 215 children died at different times and of different causes. It wasn’t a mass grave.
They were punished for speaking their own languages. They died of malnutrition, abuse, tuberculosis, neglect, beatings, and some were suicides. Some were experimented on for nutritional experiments by the government.
The responsibility for this lies equally with the churches who ran the schools and the Canadian government.
The worst offender was the Catholic Church as there were more deaths in the schools they ran. The Catholic Church as a whole has never apologized (they claim because there are separate jurisdictions so the Pope can’t apologize for the actions of the church as a whole. Strange that when he’s infallible, that’s with the support of the whole church — but not when he should apologize.
All the other churches involved have apologized and paid some reparations.
The trauma didn’t end with the closure of residential schools. There are currently more Indigenous kids in foster care than ever went through the residential schools. Most were taken from their families because their families live in poverty which is imposed by the woefully inadequate services and funding provided to reserves by the federal government. The government which is currently fighting Indigenous Foster care survivors in court over payment of compensation for past inadequate funding. And separately fighting residential school survivors in court over compensation payments for one of the worst residential schools (St Anne’s).
The federal government owes Indigenous Peoples billions in compensation for stealing their lands, breaking the treaties which were meant to ensure fair use of the land, and 150+ years of genocidal policies. So don’t whine to me about taxpayer dollars being spent on Indigenous people.
Also the whole thing about “corrupt chiefs” is propaganda from the Department of Indigenous Affairs. Reserve budgets are extremely tightly controlled, so if a chief moved a bit of money from one budget like to another, that would count as “corruption”.
Many reserve lands have been polluted by run-off from mines and other industrial activities (for example, Attawapiskat and Grassy Narrows). I just read a post on Instagram from an Indigenous person whose mother died from industrial pollution.
There are ongoing disputes over Indigenous lands and resources and Indigenous people are rising up against these injustice.
In spite of all this, it’s important to note that there’s currently a resurgence of Indigenous language and culture, and resistance to colonialism is ongoing. There’s also solidarity between different Indigenous Peoples of the world.
When relaying information about Indigenous people, it’s important to emphasize the resilience, the resistance, and the resurgence (in part to counteract colonialist lies that Indigenous cultures are “dying”).
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports. A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.CBC News