Sunday, June 20

The discovery of massive nameless graves in Canada has made indigenous peoples wonder: how many more? | Cindy Blackstock and Pamela Palmater


LLast month, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found the remains of 215 children who had been buried in unidentified graves at the site of a former Indian residential school in British Columbia. Residential schools, which operated in Canada from 1883 to 1996, were government-funded and church-run institutions that alienated indigenous children from their families, with the goal of “[killing] the Indian in the child ”.

This was not just a metaphor. The site of the unmarked graves that were discovered was one of many believed to exist in or near more than 100 residential schools across Canada. These tombs were often visible from the windows of schools. Some children were even forced to bury their own classmates.

While the federal government of Canada sent its condolences, it continued to dilute its commitment to reconciliation. It is currently in the litigation process for avoid paying compensation to survivors of residential schools and First Nations children. The long-awaited government response to an investigation into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, fueled by the vastly disproportionate rates of violence they suffer, which in itself amounts to “Canadian genocide,” was seen as fair. a plan to make a plan.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which operated from 2008 to 2015, heard testimony from thousands of survivors from residential schools, families and staff about widespread physical and sexual abuse; hunger and abandonment; medical experimentation; torture and death. In its final report, the CVR issued 94 calls to action, calling on local and central governments, along with churches, to publish documents on the deaths of children in these schools and to make resources available to help locate all the graves. It was never acted upon, so Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc had to raise funds to find the children. The latest discovery was made using ground penetrating radar.

Residential schools were designed by the federal government and operated by churches as part of the government’s “final solution to the Indian problem”- to quote a government official from 1907. The CVR documented at least 6,000 deaths in these schools but, given the lack of access to church and government documents, he claimed the true figure was likely much higher. In 1907, Dr. Peter Bryce, Canada’s medical director, had raised the alarm, stating that the mortality rate in residential schools was 8,000 per 100,000, bringing the total number of deaths closer to 12,000. We won’t know until governments and churches fully release their documents. Neither governments nor churches can argue that they did not know. The media at the time reported that “Indian boys and girls are dying like flies.”

The Catholic Church was responsible for operating about 60% of the Indian residential schools in Canada. Therefore, you have a significant number of documents and have chosen not to disclose all of them. The federal government also purged more than 15 tons of documentsincluding 200,000 Indigenous Affairs documents, between 1936 and 1944. Even today, the federal government is withholding thousands of unredacted documents from the St Anne Residential School Survivors – records that, according to survivors, prove their allegations of abuse.

The residential school survivors participated in the TRC to save their grandchildren from the systemic discrimination and abuse they experienced. However, the sad reality is that there are three more times First Nations children in foster care today than in the heyday of residential schools, and the Canadian government has had a direct role in making that tragedy happen. A federal government document shows that between 1989 and 2012, First Nations children spent more than 66 million nights away from their families. The federal government does not fund public services for First Nations children, frustrating recovery from the multigenerational trauma that is the legacy of residential schools.

The government adopted all of the CVR’s calls to action in 2015 with significant public support, however, as media coverage waned, so did the state’s enthusiasm for implementation. News of the 215 children put the TRC back on the front page, drawing attention to how few calls to action are being made.

Elsewhere, obstructionism and litigation reign. The Canadian Court of Human Rights ordered the federal government to stop providing unequal public services to First Nations children in 2016, but chose not to do so, prompting the court to issue 19 more orders to pressure Canada to comply. On June 14, the Canadian government will once again take First Nations children to court. Canada wants to deny the children (and these are still children) $ 40,000 each in compensation.

Additionally, indigenous women experts, advocates, grassroots groups and organizations denounce Canada’s continuing failures to take substantive action to address its laws, policies and practices that have created and sustained high rates of discrimination based on race and sex, including children in care. excessive incarceration, homelessness and violence.

Canadian representatives will deliver flowery speeches on reconciliation with indigenous peoples, while keeping us in conditions that, to quote a lawyer who reviewed schools in 1907, are in “uncomfortable proximity to the involuntary manslaughter charge.” We need the international community to pressure Canada to end these historical and current injustices. You can, but so far you have chosen not to.

  • Cindy Blackstock, a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Care Society and a professor at McGill University. Pamela Palmater, a member of Ugpi’ganjig (Eel River Bar First Nation), is a professor and chair of indigenous governance at Ryerson University.


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