The remains of 215 stolen Indigenous children were uncovered at the site of a former Kamloops Indian Residential School on May 27.
To say this is an atrocity does not even begin to cover it. Here, we mourn the loss of young lives that had no say in whether they wanted to be part of a system that tore them away from everything they knew, loved and were loved by.
The most heartbreaking part is we know this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uncovering the full truth of the residential school system and its effects on Inuit, Indigenous and Metis survivors, their families and families of those who did not survive.
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated president Aluki Kotierk stated June 2: “The evidence of remains in Kamloops is not news to Indigenous Peoples and is not an isolated incident. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report has several unimplemented Calls to Action including with respect to missing children and burials. As Inuit, we share this history. Residential schools and day schools left violent legacies that need answers and redress.”
At least 3,200 deaths took place at residential schools, and that is a conservative estimate – it doesn’t count any of the “orphanages,” or deaths at sanatoriums or “Indian hospitals.”
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation maintains a website that memorializes children that never returned home. It presently has 4,118 names on its registry.
Volume 4 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s official report states: “These examples point to a larger picture: many students who went to residential school never returned. They were lost to their families. They died at rates that were far higher than those experienced by the general school-aged population. Their parents were often uninformed of their sickness and death. They were buried away from their families in long-neglected graves. No one took care to count how many died or to record where they were buried.”
In 2009, the TRC requested $1.5 million to investigate grave sites across Canada; however, the request was denied by the government of Canada.
To deny that request points to a larger, more insidious problem with our federal government’s reaction to the lived experiences of Indigenous Peoples.
The underfunding of Indigenous needs is a chronic issue in this country, whether it’s fighting for clean water, housing, food security, or for adequate reparations relating to harms caused by a government that gave its all to “remove the Indian from the child.”
This is not just our past. This is Canada’s shameful present, and the sooner the federal government accepts this and starts taking more expedient steps to meaningful reparations, the sooner real healing can begin.
If this sort of discovery had occurred anywhere else in the world, the federal government would be decrying the appalling, unfathomable treatment of these children – “these beautiful souls, taken, disregarded and dishonoured by a system meant to break them,” as Premier Joe Savikataaq said.
Reports are not enough. Saying sorry and lowering flags is not enough.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett stated: “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission included Calls To Action 72-76 to ensure Canada worked with Indigenous communities to locate their missing loved ones and the unmarked burial places in a culturally informed way.
“After decades of work, Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation has found 215 of their missing children. Much more work remains as we collectively walk the path of reconciliation.”
Nothing short of uncovering all places where children were buried without the knowledge of their families – and making sure their remains are given the respect they deserve – will be enough. Perhaps that will give every person affected by this attempted genocide a path to closure, if that can ever truly be within the grips of people so tragically wronged.