I can remember, back in February 2015, attending the healing and cleansing ceremony for the St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay on the traditional territory of the ’Namgis First Nation.
Up until that point, I had never fully grasped the history of the horrors of the residential school system in Canada. But when I saw the survivors of St. Michael’s approach the building after the ceremony, scream in rage and anguish as they hurled bricks through its windows, and collapse in tears at the end, it was at that point that I began to comprehend just what survivors have gone through and continue to experience to this day.
The discovery of unmarked and undocumented graves of 215 children at the Kamloops Residential School by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation this week has reopened wounds that have never healed. It has reignited discussion about the federal government’s continued failure to properly address this shameful episode of our country’s history and has highlighted its continued hypocrisy. It is a sure thing that more unmarked graves will be found in the future.
Make no mistake about it. This was forced assimilation and a genocide that was inflicted on an entire people. Indigenous people did not “send” their children to these schools. Children were forcibly ripped away from their families; they were forced to forget their language, culture, and history; they were neglected; they were abused, both sexually and physically; and they died, often with no notice given to families. Unmarked and undocumented graves were often the final resting place, a testament to how little value was placed on these children’s lives by both the federal government and the Catholic Church that ran the schools.
The Liberal government continues to use platitudes and symbolism in response, when it is quite clear that we are well past the time for action. After all, this is a government that has implemented only a fraction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, continues to fight a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on the systemic discrimination against Indigenous children, and continues to spend millions of dollars fighting residential school survivors in court.
As a country, we have stood on the world stage and called out other countries for human rights’ abuses under their governments. We have done this, knowing full well of the documented horrors that went on at Canada’s residential schools. And now we are beginning the process of finding the unmarked graves of all those children who never had the chance to grow up and live a fulfilling life surrounded by a loving family.
This moment in time must serve as the catalyst needed to finally force government action on our path of reconciliation.