IIt is difficult to comprehend the sheer horror of what happened in Canada’s church-run residential schools for more than a century: systematic, industrial-scale abuse and mistreatment, with an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children uprooted from their homes. The last school closed in 1996. Since then, thousands of people have testified about widespread physical and sexual abuse, forced labor with starvation rations, the eradication of their language and culture, and the diseases that have spread far and wide. Some witnesses even spoke of murders. The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report called it cultural genocide.
But it took the discovery of hundreds of children’s bodies to fully awaken Canada. Last week, 751 unidentified graves were found in a former school in the province of Saskatchewan, weeks after 215 were found in Kamloops, British Columbia. Murray Sinclair, who led the CVR, suggests that as many as 15,000 died – one in 10 students. Since the state funded more than 130 schools, and many more were run by churches, others believe the toll could be much higher.
The mistreatment and abuse of indigenous peoples did not end even after the closure of most residential schools; In the “Scoop of the Sixties,” children were captured and placed with mostly non-indigenous families or state institutions. These traumas resonate through the generations, with descendants pointing to mental health problems, substance abuse and high rates of separation of children from their families even now. The government has directly linked schools with the murders of indigenous women today, which a public investigation called genocide.
In its Sorry 2017 For the survivors, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that asking for forgiveness was not enough. However, only nine of the 94 TRC recommendations had been fully met in 2019. The Kamloops tombs were found only because the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation instigated a search. The government, having spent 14 years in a legal battle with pupils from daytime schools, suddenly said he has reached an agreement. Meanwhile, the Pope has talked about his “grief”, but did not apologize. The Catholic churches in Canada, which ran most of the institutions, promised to pay C $ 25 million (£ 15 million) to the survivors, but after a legal dispute. provided only C $ 4m.
A thorough investigation of the deaths has long been needed. The Church and the state must now publish documents in their entirety, without using privacy concerns as an excuse for mass redaction. Adequate funding of services for survivors and their descendants is critical, but insufficient. Although Mr. Trudeau spoke of a “dark and shameful chapter” in Canadian history, schools are best understood as part of an ongoing history of injustice. The eradication of indigenous culture was an intrinsic part of settler colonialism. The theft of children and land they were not separate efforts, but intimately related. Significant parts of Canada remain unclassified territory, never signed, while treaties for other lands were quickly broken. Just as schools cannot be understood as an isolated evil, repairing them requires a broader framework, in which the federal government makes it clear that it is not paying benevolently, but to begin to deal with a huge debt.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism