Canada confronts its past as it finds graves of Indigenous children

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The discovery of an anonymous grave containing the remains of more than 200 Indigenous children, including one possibly as young as 3 years old, rocked Canada. The burial site was found using ground-penetrating radar at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia.

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious institutions designed to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into white culture. A network of 130 residential schools was established across the country from the 1870s, and the last did not close until the mid-1990s. Schools were plagued by physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Why we wrote this

The discovery of the remains of more than 200 children in a former British Columbia school could highlight Canada’s abuse of Indigenous peoples in the same way that the murder of George Floyd did for police brutality against the Black Americans.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that Canada had committed “cultural genocide” by removing 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes. So far, 4,100 children have died in schools.

But even if the statistics were known, the current discovery has always been devastating. “We are a country meant to be the leader in human rights, equality and justice for all, and embracing diversity to the point where it is our motto,” said Angela White, Director executive of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society in British Columbia. . “And all of a sudden, that perception was shattered to the core.”

Toronto

The discovery of an anonymous grave containing the remains of more than 200 Indigenous children, including one possibly as young as 3 years old, rocked Canada. The burial site was found using ground-penetrating radar at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia. The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the preliminary discovery near the grounds of what was once the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church and was one of the largest in Canada.

What happened to these children?

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious institutions designed to address what was once called the “Indian problem,” by forcibly equating native children with white culture. In the 19th century, Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, was cited in historical documents saying: “Indian children should be removed as much as possible from parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in centrally trained industrial schools, where they will acquire the habits and ways of thinking of men. white. “A network of 130 residential schools was established across the country from the 1870s, and the last did not close until the mid-1990s.

Why we wrote this

The discovery of the remains of more than 200 children in a former British Columbia school could highlight Canada’s abuse of Indigenous peoples in the same way that the murder of George Floyd did for police brutality against the Black Americans.

For more than a century, the children of Canada’s Indigenous peoples – First Nations, Inuit and Métis – have been forcibly removed from their homes. Not only were children banned from speaking their language and forced to convert to Christianity, schools were also plagued with physical, emotional and sexual abuse – and in extreme cases, even death. Survivors have long said that many of their classmates simply vanished, their true fate unknown.

Were these kinds of graves a surprise?

They shouldn’t have been. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) concluded that Canada had committed “cultural genocide” by removing 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes, and the fourth volume of the report is titled “Missing Children and Unmarked Burials”. “. So far, 4,100 children have died, but many believe the number is higher.

But even though the statistics were known, the discovery was devastating, sparking vigils and commemorations across the country. For the survivors, it resurfaced tragic memories, many of which were erased, says Angela White, executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society in British Columbia.

It’s also shocking for the rest of Canada, she said. Just as the video of George Floyd’s murder catapulted society to better understand police brutality against black Americans, this finding provides proof of the genocidal policies of colonization. “We are a country supposed to be the leader in human rights, equality and justice for all, and to embrace diversity to the point where it is our motto,” said Ms. White. “And all of a sudden, that perception was shattered to the core.”

How is Canada responding?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who came to power with reconciliation with Indigenous groups as a key promise, called the discovery of the children’s bodies “a painful reminder of this dark and shameful chapter in our country’s history.”

But for many, it is not about the past, but about the current life of indigenous communities across the country. Residential schools may be closed, but their legacy continues to be felt, most directly in the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in foster care. “We live in a time when there are more indigenous children in [foster] care than ever in residential schools, ”says John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

Despite the flags at half mast and the outrage expressed by Canadian officials, many Indigenous communities criticize the government for lofty rhetoric that does not correspond to reality. For example, while the government granted $ 3.23 billion (Canadian; US $ 2.67 billion) in compensation for residential school survivors, she is also involved in a lengthy and costly proceeding fight against survivors from a former Ontario residential school.

With this most recent discovery, the government is under pressure to move faster on the 94 calls to action issued by the TRC. The government announced this week that it will distribute $ 27 million to help Indigenous communities locate the remains of other residential school victims.



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