Time never stops. It waits for no one regardless of what tales of woe befall us.
But it felt like everyone in Canada paused in May of 2021 upon hearing that the graves of 215 children were discovered by radar on the grounds of the former Indian residential school in Kamloops.
It was a revelation that many Indigenous elders had feared for a long time; a heart-wrenching moment that rippled through everyone, begging the question: why? And soon after, more unmarked graves of children would be found elsewhere in B.C., shattering our souls and casting a pall over the Canadian government and the Catholic Church that operated these schools under the guise of education – teachings that included physical and mental abuse . . . and in the words of some, genocide. (Note: Deniers are still calling for proof confirming that there are actual human remains in these graves.)
It was a dark and tragic history shrouded in much shame that immediately renewed calls for “truth and reconciliation,” which is now recognized as a statutory holiday every September 30 to honour the children who never returned home, and those who survived these dreaded schools of yesteryear.
It’s hard to believe there were 140 federally run residential schools in Canada that operated between 1867 and 1996. It’s hard to believe that Indigenous children were taken from their homes and families and placed in these institutions.
People need to know the truth of what went on in these schools where teachers of Christianity subjugated the children to rid them of their culture. Speak to any Elder who sat in one of these classrooms to discover for yourself how they were treated, how they weren’t allowed to speak their language or practice their traditions. Their identities were erased like lessons on a chalkboard.
And what of reconciliation? What does it really mean moving forward? And how does a country reconcile something like this? More than words. More than apologies which are of no use now. It’s the ongoing recognition of Indigenous rights, treaties, land claims and compensation settlements. It is following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action (CTA) to implement the healing process to ensure these abuses never happen again. It’s a huge task.
Some of the CTAs include reducing the number of Indigenous children in care, creating post-secondary degree and diploma programs in Indigenous languages, providing sustainable funding for existing and new Indigenous healing centres, requiring all law students to take a course in Aboriginal law, better addressing the needs of offenders with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), and providing realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Indigenous offenders.
After years of racism, discrimination and colonialism, Canada is obligated to complete every one of these CTAs to right past injustices that have marginalized Indigenous Peoples and their amazing culture.
Lyonel Doherty, editor