by Fiona Joy Green
Emotions overwhelm me as I grapple with the horrendous news of the undocumented remains of 215 Indigenous children as young as three years of age at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC on the traditional lands of the Secwépemc. The Kamloops school, once the largest in Canada’s Indian Residential School system, was operated by the Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969, and taken over as a day school by the federal government until it closed in 1978. The 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission accounts for the harsh mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools, where at least 3,200 children died amid abuse and neglect.
Finding the unreported remains of the 215 children is another tragic example of the ongoing and long-term effects of colonialism on Turtle Island. It is evidence of the long-standing, continuous and current colonial genocidal practice of separating Indigenous children physically and emotionally from their birth families. This foundational policy and practice began with the residential school system in the late 1800s, and shifted to the large-scale removal or “scooping” of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families of birth through the 1960s, and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across Canada and the United States. It’s evident in the practice of issuing birth alerts to hospital staff and removing newborns without parental consent by social workers that has only recently been prohibited across Canada in the past year, and continues daily by placing Indigenous children in foster care (according to Census 2016, 52.2% of children in foster care were Indigenous yet account for only 7.7% of the child population)
Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “We are looking for how we can support Indigenous communities in their grief and in their request for answers,” and the federal government infused over $33 million into developing and maintaining a registry of residential school deaths and to maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries in the 2019 budget, the Federal Government continues to fight residential school survivors in court and is pushing back against the CHRT order that the government compensate $40,000 to each First Nations child who had been discriminated against by the government’s child welfare system for being taken from their families or “unnecessarily separated from their homes” or denied welfare services. Compensation was also ordered to the estates of some of the children “who died because of their discrimination.”
Enough is enough!! Only meaningful and systemic change will come when Canada, its governing bodies, and all of its settler citizens take responsibility for the colonial past and move to real reconciliation.
Retired Justice/Senator Murray Sinclair who Chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC 2009-15) notes that apologizing and removing racist individuals will not change a racist system “that is functioning based upon policies, priorities and decisions that direct how things are to be done, that come from a time when racism was very blatant.” Reconciliation is a ‘constant conversation,’ and relationship that needs changing as issues arise. Each one of us has to do better, in our own thinking, behaviour and relationships. We must hold ourselves and others accountable for settler and white supremacist attitudes, behaviours and advantages.
If you are a settler reading this and are wondering about how you can support and act in solidarity with reconciliation in Canada, take a look at this list from @gaytivefrommikmaki.
You can find the full Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action here: http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf