TW: MENTIONS OF DEATH, GENOCIDE, AND VIOLENCE
This past week, the world was shattered with the news of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops residential school site. The Chief, Kukpi7, Rosanne Casimir made the announcement, expressing gratitude for the support of the community, as well as a message to Prime Minister Trudeau, the media, and Canadians. The government’s response, especially Trudeau’s, has been considerably underwhelming, especially when you factor in the Truth and Reconciliation Act and the many calls to action over the past many years.
This news is sad, but not shocking for those who are aware of the residential school system and the continued effects it has had on Indigenous communities. Many have pointed out the fact that this is still a part of Canada’s present, not its history; the very last residential school closed its doors in 1996, only 25 years ago, so the effects these schools have on people is still causing direct harm today.
Residential Schools in Canada
It seems that the discussion about residential schools is one that so many Canadians are not familiar with. According to a survey done in 2020, over half of Canadians are unaware of the residential school system and never learned about them in school. This number differs between the generations, showing that the older generations have learned next to nothing about residential schools, while more young people have been better educated about them. Although many are aware of the existence of residential schools, many people often are unaware of the cultural genocide which took place within them.
These were not “schools” but sites of abuse, genocide, and assimilation into European culture. Rather than receiving a normal education, the girls were taught skills so they would be primed for domestic service, and the boys learned to farm, agriculture, and other forms of manual labor. The abuse that took place against these children was unprecedented, both at the hands of the church and the Canadian government.
Response from Canada’s Government
After the news of the mass grave in Kamloops, many politicians have spoken about the issue surrounding residential schools, but the response has been underwhelming. Justin Trudeau spoke about the issue as if it is one of the past, one that has not continued in other forms today. Trudeau has promised “concrete action”, but this promise doesn’t do much in the grand scheme of things considering his track record of empty promises when it comes to the Indigenous community. His promise to end all drinking water advisories by 2021 fell short, with over 70% of Indigenous water systems still at risk for contamination.
Jagmeet Singh has called for an emergency debate to further discuss the next steps to achieve reconciliation scheduled for June 1.
The Over-representation of Indigenous Children in Child Welfare
In Ontario, Indigenous children make up about 30% of the children in foster care, while only accounting for less than 5% of the total population in the province. This over-representation has been going on since the 1960s and prior even, during the “Sixties Scoop” when Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed with typically white middle-class families. This has been yet another attempt to acculturate Indigenous children, as they had no access to their language, culture, or traditions and were forced to learn those of the white people they were placed with. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the government had discriminated against Indigenous children on reserves through its funding and control over child welfare services. The government was also found to be relocating funds from housing, sanitation, and water over to child welfare, directly impacting the social programs in effect on these reserves.
The TRC has called upon the government to look into these cases for neglect and for better resources in order to keep Indigenous families together.
What do you know about Residential Schools?
The news has really showcased how everyone’s idea of residential schools is different. Some Canadians are convinced they did no harm, others are convinced somehow that they never existed in the first place. Residential schools were very real, and the damage they have caused continues to live on in the generations after.
It is important at this time to acknowledge the pain and mourning that the Indigenous community is experiencing. Rather than asking for Indigenous people to educate us about their history, about residential schools, and what we can do, there are resources we can use ourselves. It is not appropriate to expect Indigenous people to continue educating us about the issues they have faced in the past and the ones they face now because of the Canadian government’s actions against them.
Tk̓ emlúps te Secwépemc has asked Canadians to reacquaint themselves with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report. They have also pointed to Dr. Scott Hamilton’s report titled “Where are the Children Buried?”
Below is the official statement by Chief Kukpi7, Rosanne Casimir:
You can access the official mandate of truth by the TRC and Hamilton’s report here:
Below are some of the resources you can use to educate yourself and be a better ally to the Indigenous community, feel free to share these with friends and family and familiarize yourself with this knowledge.
The University of Alberta has been offering a free course that explores Indigenous history and the contemporary issues within Canada. You can access the course here:
If you are a residential school survivor or have been impacted by the residential school system and need support, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. Some further support resources can be found here: