“They told us we didn’t have souls.” (Elder Florence Sparvier, Knowledge Keeper, Cowessess First Nation)
“The only crime we ever committed as children was being born Indigenous.” (Chief Bobby Cameron, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations)
“Truth & Reconciliation begins with truth.” (Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau)
Content warning: this blog discusses the truth of the Indigenous residential schools in Canada and may be triggering.
What is news, currently, regarding the horrific treatment of Indigenous children within the residential schools in Canada is not news to Indigenous people nor their allies. However, it is news to those who previously, for whatever reason, were intent on keeping this truth buried – along with all the innocent children buried in unmarked graves. Now, finally, the truth is being brought to light of the horrific experiences of residential school children who survived. The truth is, as stated by Professor Niigan James Sinclair (U of Manitoba) that “residential schools were places of extermination.”
Yes, it is not hyperbole to say that the residential schools were basically concentration camps and survivors have been telling us this and often they were not believed. I listened to some of the survivors on CTV news tell their stories. Children were sexually molested, raped, physically abused, emotionally, mentally and spiritually abused. These children had been ripped away from their family and homes and communities and were stripped of their culture, language, and forced to assimilate to erase their identity. Close to 200 schools operated in Canada. These children were given rancid food, they were always hungry, denied proper medical care, and were punished/tortured for things such as having seizures and vomiting up the disgusting food they were forced to eat. Some had to dig graves for other children to be put into.
The trauma of the past continues to echo today, as survivors have to deal with the consequences of the residential school system which include addiction, suicide, homelessness, higher rates of incarceration and other effects of the horrors they experienced and witnessed. Each succeeding generation has had to bear the pain and trauma which triggers incredible anguish.
What is Canada being shown to be? The truth is – Canada is a country built on a foundation of genocide. There are calls for Canada to be prosecuted at the International Crimes Court. Whether it is our personal past or our collective past – the path to healing must begin with the truth. Chief Cadmus Delorme, Cowessess First Nation, says: “The Pope needs to apologize. It is one step of many needed.” The Chief also says: “We have faith that the Catholic Church will turn over the records.” PM Trudeau agrees that the Pope needs to apologize and goes a step further saying that he needs to apologize “on Canadian soil.”
We are now beginning to learn big parts of Canadian history that were hithertofore swept under the carpets and not taught in our education system. My mother, a British WW11 survivor, who died 40 years ago today, used to say that she was never aware of the atrocities of the British Empire until she left England and learned outside the country things she was never told about her own country. These things we are learning now in Canada – most of us were not told these things about our country. Since Indigenous Canadians are continuing to suffer through the ongoing violence committed against them, perhaps world pressure will help to unveil the deep issue of racism in our country. The world is watching. As Pam Palmater, Mi’knaw Lawyer & Chair in Indigenous Governance, Ryerson University, says: ” Canada is literally being exposed to the world.” True.
Prime Minister Trudeau is correct when he says that no words can correct the terrible wrongs. That is also true. However, Canada has received a wake-up call that we knew was coming and some Indigenous survivors I have listened to this past week feel that this is a turning point toward finally getting some genuine heartfelt help. Chief Delorme says: “The world is listening. Reconciliation prevails after truth is accepted. We need Canada and the world to stand beside us.”
How do we help? We acknowledge the truth that Canada is a country founded on genocide. We do not deny this any longer. While thoughts and prayers are powerful and always well received according to some Indigenous people I have listened to – they want action! My first action was to sign the LeadNow petition. https://you.leadnow.ca/petitions/kamloops-indian-residential-school-215-bodies- found-call-for-urgent-action. They are getting closer to the goal of 30, 000 signatures. Help the way it is asked for. Often we who have good intentions offer the help we think is needed but without asking what is actually wanted. Helping is helping in the way requested – not forcing our own version of what we think is needed. We must truly listen.
Clearly as this summer and autumn goes by we will be shocked by more and more revelations as more and more graves are uncovered. If you need help the number of the National Indian Residential School crisis line is 1-866-925-4419 and is staffed 24 hours daily.
Love & Light, Monica