215 Children – What Can We Do?

Remains of 215 Kamloops Residential School Children Found.

In May 2021, a ground-penetrating radar survey ordered by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation uncovered the remains of 215 children. Some were as young as 3 years old.  Most of us understand this is only the tip of the iceberg. We are all grieving, but Indigenous communities are devastated. Many Residential School survivors are experiencing renewed trauma and unfathomable pain and loss.

As Settlers Please Be Mindful & Respectful

  • In general, do not centre yourself in conversations with Indigenous Peoples or communites.
  • Do not ask Residential School survivors or their communities or family members to bear the burden of honouring your guilt.
  • Do not make this about your grief (or lack thereof).
  • Do not speak over Indigenous community members or survivors.
  • Remember it is not up to settlers to decide how these children (and others) should be memorialized.
  • Do not ask members of Indigenous communities to do your work for you. Be respectful of their time and energy.
  • Do not expect others to temper their feelings and responses for you.
  • Do not ask for information or proof of this or other atrocities.
  • Educate yourself. I will provide some info and links here, but Google is also a wonderful tool.
  • See How to Be A Genuine Ally below

Bryson the Gaytive – Simple Steps to Change Our Country

Bryson has generously posted a helpful list for those who want to make a difference moving forward. For those who don’t Twitter, here is a link to Bryson’s thread.

Am I A Settler?

Note: If the terms ‘Settler’, or ‘Settler Colonialism offend you, please do the work to find out what they mean, whether this includes you or not, and what your responsibilities as a settler are in reconciliation. These terms are not meant to be perjorative.

Settler colonialism is a distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty. 

Settler Colonialism – Global Social Theory

More on this to follow

About Kamloops Residential School

Remains of the 215 children were found on Thursday, May 27, 2021. The story started making the news over the weekend, but did not make front page mainstream news Canada wide until late Sunday and Monday, May 31.

The Kamloops Residential School survey was ordered (and paid for) by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. In 2009, the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) requested a paltry $1.5 million in funding to search for unmarked graves in Canadian Residential Schools, but that funding was denied by Ottawa.

There are many heartbreaking stories being shared by Residential School survivors. Some by those who had attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. One woman witnessed the bodies of small children and babies being thrown in the incinerator. Children also died trying to make their way home. Their remains are lost.

The ‘official number’ of deaths that had been attributed to Kamloops Indian Residential School prior to this gruesome discovery was either 36 or 51 depending on the source. We may never know the actual number. 

According to the TRC, the number of Indigenous children across the country identified by name, as well as unnamed in death records, is about 4,200. The actual number could be higher than 6,000. It is estimated that 150,000 Indigenous children were removed from their homes and forced to attend residential schools in Canada. The first schools opened in the 1880s (prior to that there were ‘Mission Schools’) and the last residential school didn’t close until 1996.

Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, chief of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation called the discovery of the mass grave an “unthinkable loss.” She made it clear, however, that although these deaths were undocumented, the community “had knowledge” of them.

This Is Not Old History

Canadians all need to stop trying to place the blame solely on either the church, or any one (or other) government. The damages realized by colonialism are our collective responsibility and these racial policies continue today. We all own this. 

Some Fast Facts:

  • Many residential school workers transitioned into provincial child welfare services after schools were closed.
  • The Sixties Scoop – policies were enacted by provincial child welfare authorities from the mid 1950’s-1980’s. Thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families, placed in foster homes, and adopted out to white families from across Canada and the US.
  • This legacy of removing Indigenous children from their homes and communities continues today with what is known as the Millennium Scoop.
  • 48% of all children in foster care are Indigenous, despite making up 7% of Canadian children.
  • There are 3 times more Indigenous children in the child welfare system as there were at the height of residential schools
  • Recently in BC, it has come to light that Indigenous girls as young as 10 have been forced to have IUDs inserted. This has happened in the past decade.
  • In Canada, over 1000 Indigenous women were sterilized between 1966 and 1976. The forced sterilization of Indigenous women continued in Canada until (at least) 2018. In 2018, the UN Committee Against Torture recognized that “forced or coerced sterilization of Indigenous women and girls dating back to the 1970s and including recent cases” in Canada is a form of torture.
  • More than 30% of prisoners in federal custody are indigenous, while making up only 5% of the Canadian population.
  • Indigenous women, now account for 42% of the female inmate population in Canada.
  • Canada’s own definition of genocide in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act says genocide is “an act or omission committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an identifiable group of persons.”

Educate Yourself & Your Children

It’s important to mourn these lives lost. Acknowledge them. Yes. But, it is also critical not to burden grieving communities, and to support them respectfully. Listen. Even when it becomes uncomfortable. Which it will. 

To truly honour these lost lives and countless others, we must sustain the hard work of reconciliation. This is our collective responsibility. One of the very first steps in this process is to educate ourselves and our future generations. We cannot wait for our governments to implement curriculum changes in our schools. But there are no excuses when this information is available to all of us. 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

Real reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples includes self-education.

Pam Palmater, University of Regina, Feb. 15, 2018

If you only read one TRC Document, please let it be this one. “In order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes the following calls to action.”

The 94 Calls To Action are listed here: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls To Action

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report – TRC Summary:

Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future – Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

TRC What We Have Learned: The Principles of Truth and Reconciliation

Calls to Action Accountability – A 2020 Status Update on Reconciliation – By Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby

“December 15, 2020, marks a full five years since the release of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It was a momentous day that saw residential school Survivors, their families, and representatives of the institutions responsible for overseeing the horrors of Canada’s Indian residential school system gather in Ottawa to chart a new path for the future guided by the Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.”

Calls to Action Accountability: A 2020 Status Updateon Reconciliation

The Indian Act

“It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habitating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is being geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

Duncan Campbell Scott (1910) Canadian Indian Affairs Department

We should have at least an understanding of the Indian Act. A good place to start may be with this piece by Bob Joseph, Gwawa’enuxw:

21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act

More on The Indian Act – from UBC’s First Nations and Indigenous Studies

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – UNDRIP

 After years of false starts the federal government has taken a tentative step towards implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by introducing Bill C-15. If passed into law, this bill will require the federal government to take measures to ensure the laws of Canada are consistent with the Declaration, and to prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration.

From the First Nations & Indigenous Studies Program at UBC – What is UNDRIP?

One take on how UNDRIP will or will not function in the spirit it was intended is here: A Cold Rain Falls: Canada’s Proposed UNDRIP Legislation – Bruce McIvor (2020)

Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)

The National Inquiry’s Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The two volume report calls for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country.

The Final Report is comprised of the truths of more than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers shared over two years of cross-country public hearings and evidence gathering. It delivers 231 individual Calls for Justice directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.

As documented in the Final Report, testimony from family members and survivors of violence spoke about a surrounding context marked by multigenerational and intergenerational trauma and marginalization in the form of poverty, insecure housing or homelessness and barriers to education, employment, health care and cultural support. Experts and Knowledge Keepers spoke to specific colonial and patriarchal policies that displaced women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminished their status in society, leaving them vulnerable to violence. – from the National Inquiry website.

Download and/or read the MMIWG PDFs here:

Volume 1a – Reclaiming Power and Place – The Final Report Of The National Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women And Girls

Volume 1b – Reclaiming Power and Place – The Final Report Of The National Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women And Girls

Sixties Scoop

The Sixties Scoop is the catch-all name for policies enacted by provincial child welfare authorities from the mid 1950’s-1980’s. Thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families, placed in foster homes, and adopted out to white families from across Canada and the US. Read More here:

The Sixties Scoop Explained – CBC Docs

The Millennium Scoop

The Millennium Scoop is a term used to describe the incredibly high rates of indigenous children in Canada’s social services. There are currently three times as many indigenous children in the child welfare system as there were at the height of residential schools. In other words, the racist, genocidal policies that considered indigenous parents incapable of caring for their children in the 1800s are still alive and well today.

CBC – First Nations Children Still Taken From Parents

Cindy Blackstock, at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations Child Welfare hearing. Cindy Blackstock is Gitxsan Nation. She is an activist for child welfare and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She is also a professor for the School of Social Work at McGill University. She has a BA, two Masters degrees (Management and Jurisprudence in Children’s Law and Policy) and a PhD in social work.

Reconciliation means not saying sorry twice: How inequities in Federal Government child welfare funding, and benefit, on reserves drives First Nations children into foster care. Cindy Blackstock PhD Feb 15, 2011

Books & Films (Ongoing List)

A Mind Spread Out On The Ground. – A bold and profound meditation on trauma, legacy, oppression and racism in North America from award-winning Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40749239-a-mind-spread-out-on-the-ground

I Place You Into The Fire – Poems by Rebecca Thomas https://nimbus.ca/store/i-place-you-into-the-fire.html

A whole list of Fiction and Non Fiction Books on Canada’s Residential Schools listed here. Both Adult and Children. Goodreads Residential Schools

b’Angry Inuk’, b’Alethea’ b’Arnaquq-Baril’, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

b’We Were Children’, b’Tim’ b’Wolochatiuk’, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Resources For Children

There are so many great resources to help your children and grand children understand residential schools. Check out these links, and find your own. The NFB (National Film Board) is an excellent resource for films as well.

Other Useful Links

Another excellent resource is Whose Land Is It Anyway? A manual for decolonization – Edited by Peter McFarlane and Nicole Schabus (2017).  Download or Read the PDF here: Whose Land Is It Anyway?

A plethora of resources on Dr Pamela Pamater’s website here: https://pampalmater.com/resources/

Lesson Planning Websites & Open Resources from Lakehead University Website: Lakehead University Library Guides

Take a free course on Indigenous Canada. U of A is offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Faculty of Native Studies that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada. Learn more here.

What It Looks Like to ‘Do The Hard Work’ of Racial Awareness

Kristopher Marks wrote this heartfelt thread on his own journey of racism and toxic masculinity in the trades in Canada. In his own words: “Thank you for reading this thread. Mental health in the workplace – especially in the trades – is a deeply important issue. Men in the trades are 35% more at-risk of suicide. Racism, misogyny, and homophobia are issues that we still need to address in “blue-collar” cultures.”

How To Be A Genuine Ally

1. Listen to and follow the community

Find out who the traditional owners and Elders are of the land you are on. When doing long-term work on Indigenous rights, build strong relationships within the community and make sure everything is Indigenous-led.

2. Centre the stories around community

A big part of your involvement is to amplify the voices of Indigenous communities, don’t make it about yourself. You should directly share these messages with your networks in their words without alteration.

3. Know the historical and cultural context

Knowing the history and being culturally competent is vital. The issues the community face come from hundreds of years of ongoing trauma and discrimination. It is not the responsibility of the community to educate you.

4. Never show up empty-handed

Showing up in support is great but offer to lend a hand as well. Use your labour, resources and skills to help out. What additional value can you bring the community?

5. Always seek consent and permission

Consent is a continuous process, not a one-time request. Seek permission before taking part in community events, particularly around cultural and spiritual events. They’ll usually be labeled something like ‘all community and allies welcome’.

6. Be responsible for yourself

Be aware of what resources you’re taking away from communities through your presence. Ensure you’ve given back to the community more than you’ve taken away.

7. Know when to step back

Be aware of what space you are taking up. Always remember that you are there as a guest in a supportive role. There will be times when the community need to act alone, respect their boundaries.

8. Saviours are not needed, solidarity is

Solidarity is only meaningful if it is substantive and not merely performative. This means showing up to support the community with your presence alone should be the baseline, not the end game.

9. Be mindful of others’ time and energy

Indigenous people often have to be advocates on a wide range of issues that affect them and their community first-hand. They don’t have the choice to switch off from being involved and can be spread thin in many directions.

10. Do no harm to the community

The community should be better off, or the same, because of your presence, not worse. Follow all of these suggestions and keep reflecting on your behaviour and you’re on your way to doing your part in bringing down an unjust system.

Other Actions You Can Take

Donate Your Time and/or Money to Indigenous Causes

#settlercollector on Twitter

If you use twitter, and are able to psych yourself up for some helpful education and possibly the occasional verbal skirmish, please help. Indigenous activists and/or users will use the hashtag when they need assistance.

How it works: search the #settlercollector tag. IMPORTANT: Remove the hashtag user’s name before you respond. The last thing we want to do is have a continual flood of insensitive racist responses in their mentions. Indigenous Twitter users (as well as allies) are using the hashtag because they need a break. After removing their name, respond to these usually uneducated and often racist responses.

Please do remember to use the guidelines for how to be an ally. Be respectful. Make sure you are not speaking either for Indigenous communities, nor speaking over them. Keep in mind, that although there are many instances when the correct information is badly needed, there are as many times when it will be imperative to report and block the offending accounts.

Thank you so much for making a difference.

For Rose - Kathryn Kaiser - Residential Schools
For Rose – Kathryn Kaiser

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