215 Children + Thousands More – What Can We Do?

Remains of 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. The number of graves will total in the thousands. We are all grieving, but Indigenous communities are devastated. Many Residential School survivors are experiencing renewed trauma and unfathomable pain and loss.

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. Many of these survivors have never shared their stories with anyone (including their own family members) prior to this. Some of these memories are shared by those who had attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School specifically. One woman witnessed the bodies of infants being thrown into the school 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. Although, 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.

Kamloops Indian Residential School on the lands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation

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.


Many More Unmarked Graves in Canada

Ground-penetrating radar surveys have already been completed, currently underway or will be forthcoming at former residential schools in Canada. First Nations are still in the preliminary stages of this work. Even at the sites where graves have been confirmed, the research is ongoing. Many more graves will be located in the months to come. The remains of many children who died attempting to escape will never be found. The US will be conducting surveys as well, and I will include their numbers here as they are confirmed.

To date, the following sites have found unmarked and undocumented graves:

GravesFirst NationInstitutionLocation
300+Métis & Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę FNSacred Heart IRSFort Providence, N.W.T.
215Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc FNKamloops IRSKamloops, BC
104Sioux Valley Dakota FNBrandon IRSBrandon, MB
38+FNs & Métis in SK, AB & MBRegina IRSRegina, SK
35Muskowekwan FNMuskowekwan IRSLestock, SK
?Red Pheasant, Sweetgrass,
Thunderchild, Moosomin FN
Thunderchild IRSDelmas, SK
74+Ahtahkakoop, Mistawasis,
Nêhiyawak, Saulteaux FN
Battleford Industrial SchoolNorth Battleford, SK
751Cowessess FNMarieval IRSQu’Appelle Valley, SK
182Ktunaxa FNSt. Eugene’s IRSCranbrook, BC
160Penelakut FNKuper Island Industrial schoolPenelakut Island, BC
72Siksika & TsuuT’ina FNDunbow Industrial SchoolCalgary, AB
16Mi’kmaq FNShubenacadie IRSShubenacadie, NS

1947 Graves to Date

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 or your grief.
  • 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.
  • Never 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 these or other atrocities.
  • Educate yourself. I will provide some info and links here, but Google is also a wonderful tool.
  • For more info on allyship, see How to Be A Genuine Ally.

Note: If the terms ‘settler’ and/or ‘colonial’ either trigger you or confuse you, please learn more. These labels are not meant to be pejorative or demeaning. You can start with some basic terminology here.


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.

Is This Genocide?

Definition of Genocide (From the UN Convention on Genocide)

Genocide is “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such”:

1. Killing members of the group ✔️

2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group ✔️

3. Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part ✔️

4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group ✔️

5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group ✔️

Note: 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.”


What Can We Do?

Shoes on Steps – photo by Ian Lefebvre, Vancouver Art Gallery

Educating Ourselves

It’s important to mourn the deaths of these children, as well as the continuing generational trauma. But it is critical as outsiders not to burden grieving communities further. Listen to survivors. Even when it becomes uncomfortable. Which it will. 

To truly honour these lost lives and understand our part in colonization, 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. There are no excuses when this information is available to all of us.

The terminology can be confusing when beginning this research. I have added some basic definitions here.

1. The Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery was the framework Spain, Portugal, and England used for the colonization of many lands. It was the international law that gave license to explorers to claim vacant land (terra nullius) in the name of their sovereign. Vacant land was basically land unpopulated by Christians.

2. The Treaties

Treaties are negotiated agreements that define the rights, responsibilities and relationships between Indigenous groups and federal and provincial governments. The treaty system was a means by which the Crown gained sovereignty, without military intervention, over the west in order to open it up for settlers.

  • Read 10 Treaty Facts from Indigenous Corporate Training
  • Learn about the treaty of the land on which you reside. Victor Temprano and the team at Native-Land.ca has designed a beautiful and resource rich map of Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages.
215 Children Artblog Native Land.ca
Go to Native-Land.ca

3. The Indian Act

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

“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

4. Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

If you only read one TRC Document, please let it be the 94 Calls To Action. “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.”

Real reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples includes self-education.

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

A 2020 Update on 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.”

5. 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.

6. The National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered 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. This 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. – National Inquiry website.

Download and/or read the MMIWG PDFs here:

7. 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. During this time period, 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

8. 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.She is Gitxsan First Nation. Blackstock is an activist for child welfare, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, as well as 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


Resources For Adults

Books

Films

In her award-winning documentary, director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril joins a new tech-savvy generation of Inuit as they campaign to challenge long-established perceptions of seal hunting.
In Tim Wolochatiuk’s We Were Children, the profound impact of the Canadian government’s residential school system is conveyed through the eyes of two children who were forced to face hardships beyond their years. (Warning: Disturbing content. Parental discretion strongly advised)
Indian Horse – An award winning adaptation of Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese’s novel (see Indian Horse in ‘Books’ above). Read some background and about the filming process in MACLEAN’S here.

Podcasts

  • Métis in Space:  Both Molly Swain and Chelsea Vowel sit down with a bottle of wine, a decolonialist attitude, and an exceptionally nerdy sci-fi movie or television episode
  • Red Man Laughing: by irreverent Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon. RML’s 5th season is dedicated to the theme of reconciliation
  • MEDIA INDIGENA: a weekly Indigenous current affairs roundtable hosted by Rick Harp. News from an Indigenous perspective.
  • Indigenous Land Rights and Reconciliation Podcast: CFRC 101.9 FM Kingston, Ontario – Queen’s University
  • Unreserved: CBC Radio’s space for the Indigenous community, culture, and conversation hosted by Rosanna Deerchild
  • Word Up podcast: hosted by Erin Buchmann, the Indigenous instructional coach at District School Board Ontario North East (DSB1)
  • Native Currents: a podcast hosted by Anishinaabe academic Steven Vanloffeld and Mi’kmaq lawyer and Glenn Wheeler. Includes critiques of the Canadian government and discussion of racist, colonialist systems that affect Indigenous people in Canada
  • The Henceforward: a podcast that started as part of a graduate course called Decolonization, Settler Colonialism and Antiblackness taught by Eve Tuck at the U of T
  • Indian & Cowboy: Indigenous podcast network. Some above titles and more.
  • This Land – Crooked Media: award winning documentary podcast. Host Rebecca Nagle reports on how the far right is using Native children to attack American Indian tribes and advance their agenda.

Educational Links & Further Reading…


Resources For Families & 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. YouTube also has films. Please purchase materials whenever you are able, and purchase from local and/or private sources.

Spirit Bear - 215 Children ArtBlog

Spirit Bear: Fishing For Knowledge, Catching Dreams

Follow Spirit Bear as he learns about traditional knowledge and Residential Schools before heading to Algonquin territory, where children teach him about Shannen’s Dream. Spirit Bear and his new friends won’t stop until Shannen’s Dream of “safe and comfy schools”.

Download Sprit Bear here.

See more (including learning guide) here.

Stolen Words – Melanie Florence

When a little girl comes home from school one day and asks her grandpa how to say something in his Cree language, he is sad that he cannot teach her. He tells her that his words were stolen from him when he was taken to live at a residential school as a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandpa find his language again.

Order Stolen Words here.


Films & Education


I Lost My Talk - 215 Children - Artblog

I Lost My Talk – Rita Joe

– From Song of Eskasoni. Copyright ©2007 by the Estate of Rita Joe.

I lost my talk.

The talk you took away.

When I was a little girl

At Shubenacadie school.

You snatched it away:

I speak like you, I think like you, I create like you

The scrambled ballad, about my word.

Two ways I talk Both ways I say,

Your way is more powerful.

So gently I offer my hand and ask,

Let me find my talk

So I can teach you about me.

Molly of Denali – CBC Kids

Molly of Denali – Grandpa’s Drum (CBC Kids)

Settlers, Colonizers & Other Terms

Am I A Settler?

If the terms “Settler” or “Settler Colonizer” offend you, please do the work to understand what they mean, whether or not you are included in this definition, and what your responsibilities may be as a settler and/or colonizer toward reconciliation. These terms are not meant to be pejorative or racist. A settler is a person who has migrated to an area and established a permanent residence there, often to colonize the area. Being a settler means that you are non-Indigenous and that you or your ancestors came and settled in a land that had been previously inhabited by Indigenous Peoples.

  1. Settler colonizers “come to stay”. Unlike colonial agents such as traders, soldiers, or governors, settler collectives intend to permanently occupy and assert sovereignty over indigenous lands.
  2. Settler colonial invasion is a structure, not an event. It persists in the ongoing elimination of indigenous populations, and the assertion of state sovereignty and juridical control over their lands and resources.
  3. Settler colonialism is enacted by a variety of means, ranging from violent depopulation to assimilation.
  4. It seeks its own end. Unlike other types of colonialism in which the goal is to maintain colonial structures and imbalances in power between colonizer and colonized, settler colonization trends towards the ending of colonial difference in the form of a supreme and unchallenged settler state and people.

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

Normalizing the Word Colonizer


Other Terminology

Indigenous Peoples

This term was chosen by Indigenous leaders in the 1970’s to identify and unite diverse communities and represent them in global political arenas. It is a collective noun for First Nations, Inuit and Metis and used in Canada. The term Indigenous is a relational word that highlights a peoples’ connection to traditional territories, as well as their experience of colonization. It is also acceptable to use First Peoples or First Nations in place of Indigenous Peoples. Note: Always capitalize these terms.

Inuit

Indigenous Peoples in northern Canada, living mainly in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, northern Quebec and Labrador. Ontario has a very small Inuit population. Inuit are not covered by the Indian Act.

Métis Peoples

People of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry. The Métis National Council adopted the following definition in 2002: “Métis means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry and (this is key) who is accepted by the Métis Nation.”

Native

When used as adjectives, Indigenous means born or engendered in, native to a land or region, especially before an intrusion, whereas Native means belonging to one by birth. Please note ‘Native’ is an outdated term in Canada.

Native is also noun with the meaning: a person who is native to a place.

Aboriginal Peoples

The collective noun used in the Constitution Act 1982 and includes the Indian (or First Nations), Inuit and Metis Peoples so legally it will always have a place at the terminology table. Note: this is a legal term, and best not used in general practice.

Indian

The term “Indian” is the legal identity of an Indigenous person who is registered under the Indian Act. Don’t use it otherwise.


Indigenous Voices on Twitter

Daanus on Twitter

An informative thread on how settlers can assess their response to the discovery of the residential institution graves.

Bryson Syliboy – Simple Steps to Change Our Country

Bryson has generously posted a helpful list for those who want to make a difference moving forward. Here is a link to what Bryson posted in his thread. Follow on Bryson on Twitter @ArnallLabrador.


What The Work of Racial Awareness Looks Like

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.”


Other Actions You Can Take

Donate Your Time and/or Money to Indigenous Causes

I will include links to projects you can follow, share and donate to here.

Follow #SettlerSaturday on Twitter

Every Saturday, Indigenous activists from Canada and the US will post links to help needed in Indigenous communities. This may range from housing, to resources, to money for rent, etc. Help here where you can.

Follow #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 hashtag. Remove the hashtag user’s name before you respond to avoid having a continual flood of insensitive racist responses in Indigenous mentions. Indigenous Twitter users (as well as allies) are using the hashtag because they need a break. After removing their name, add your response. 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.

Please do remember to use the guidelines for how to be an ally.

Thank you for making a difference.

For Rose Cropped - Kathryn Kaiser
For Rose (Cropped) – Kathryn Kaiser

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