Tomorrow, July 1, is Canada Day. It’s usual to celebrate with flags, beach time, and a family gathering to barbecue. Our cottage homeowners’ association usually has a children’s parade where children ride decorated bikes and scooters, people follow in their antique cars, and farmers bring tractors with hay wagons for rides.
We plan to enjoy all of those activities as we celebrate on Thursday.
Time for Reflection
However, our family will also take time for reflection about the injustices perpetrated by churches and the government on Indigenous people.
During the past weeks, newscasts have carried stories of ground-penetrating radar finding the remains of 215 children on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School. Canadians were horrified.
Last week there was more shock as we learned of another 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the Marieval Indian Residential School Cowessess Reserve near Broadview Saskatchewan.
These discoveries at just two Residential Schools create expectations that graves at other sites will be found in the coming weeks. Documentation of deaths was inadequate; records have been destroyed; many churches have not divulged records within their control.
Canada bears a historic scar for its treatment of Indigenous people especially its policy of forcible removal of young children from their families. Churches also bear responsibility as their priests, nuns, ministers and missionaries who carried out the atrocities.
Beginning in 1880 until 1997, Indigenous children were placed in Residential boarding Schools operated by churches. There were more than 130 such institutions across Canada.
Over the years, some 150,000 children often as young as 5 years were placed in these facilities that purportedly educated children although survivors describe requirements of physical labour including cleaning, cooking, and outdoor farming/gardening work.
The primary aim of this policy of removing children from their homes was assimilation; it has been described as cultural genocide. Children were robbed of love, language and culture. They experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Many died from violence. They lost their lives from severe abuse, disease, malnourishment or suicide. Often, families were never notified of deaths nor were bodies returned to home communities for burial according to traditions.
Like most Canadians, I never attended a so-called school that had a graveyard on its property. No parent would tolerate sending their children to a school where their classmates are buried outside the windows of the building. Yet, this happened. People had no choice.
I never learned about residential schools in Canadian history classes. Was this horrible chapter of the country’s history whitewashed to hide the truth of such cruelty? How many more graves will be found as searches continue on the sites of other residential schools?
I wonder why these institutions were called schools when they were jails for children. I can’t imagine how lonely and homesick the children felt. Nor can I imagine parental feelings after their children were snatched from them by RCMP or Indian agents. How do Indigenous people heal from the crimes committed? Some say it will take at least seven generations.
How do Canadians deal with grief and shame as these findings come to light? We can begin with a commitment to implement the 94 Calls to Action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canada launched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008 but most of its recommendations have not been implemented. I hope this becomes a key election issue for all governments, both federal and provincial. You can read the Commission’s findings and the 94 Calls to Action here. http://www.trc.ca/about-us/trc-findings.html
My hope is that all readers join me in celebrating Canada for all the positives this country represents while also reflecting on the injustices that have been committed in the name of good social policy. I’m confident that by understanding and acknowledging the past, all Canadians can find ways to move forward to build a country where pride in how we treat one another becomes ingrained in the country’s psyche.
With a toast to the flag, here is my commitment to celebration all this country represents while reflecting on the atrocities committed to innocent children and their families in the name of social policy and Christian faith.