Residential Schools

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Ahousaht First Nation receive $75,000 donation to search the grounds of residential schools

Eddie’s Story

My name is Eddy Charlie and I am a survivor of the Kuper Island Residential School.

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Tk’emlups presentation on residential school findings

Canada’s government needs to face up to its role in Indigenous children’s deaths

Cindy Blackstock and Pamela Palmater

Testimony: Romeo Saganash

Jessica O’Neill – June 28, 2021

As a Canadian and a historian, I’m going to explain some of the key facts you need to know about the Residential School graves making international headlines.
A French translation is here:

I see lots of comments from people around the world who either a) think this is an overstated and politicised ‘woke Liberal’ story or b) had zero idea about this part of Canadian history. Some are wondering why there’s talk of ‘cancelling Canada Day.’ So, let’s talk about it.

I want to start by saying that for Indigenous people, this topic is incredibly distressing. The gaslighting in comment sections is equally disturbing. If you are Indigenous and are struggling with this news, you can call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419. If you are Indigenous and think I have misrepresented any of the following information, please let me know.

For the rest of us, let me explain a few things. Canadian and unsure about the history of Residential Schools? Non-Canadian and not sure what’s going on? This is for you.

In Canada, the term Indigenous comprises First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. 1876’s Indian Act gave the Federal Government full control over most aspects of Indigenous life. Much of the Indian Act is still in place today.

Residential Schools were a government-mandated policy officially enacted in 1880 with the passage of the Residential Schools Act. (However, French missionaries’ efforts to isolate and ‘educate’ First Nations children date back to the late 18th century.)

These schools were designed to ‘kill the Indian in the child.” Laws dictated that families must send Indigenous children as young as four to these boarding schools. There were no exceptions. RCMP officers forcibly removed children from families who would not comply.

The schools were often in isolated areas or on islands, as otherwise, children would constantly try to escape and go back to their families. If geographically possible, parents would camp near schools to catch a glimpse of their children and would be driven away by RCMP under threat of violence.

The schools were operated by churches. Approximately 50% were Catholic, and the remainder were Protestant denominations, including Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, United, and Baptist. Children were not allowed to speak their language or practice any of their cultural traditions under threat of beating. Religion was used as just one form of abuse.

The schools were overcrowded and often unheated. Children were underfed due to budgetary constraints, and also as a form of both control and punishment. Sexual assault was sickeningly commonplace and often doled out as punishment. Many otherwise healthy children wasted away from depression and homesickness. Some drowned trying to swim home. Others froze to death as they tried to walk home.

In 1907, the Department of Indian Affairs’ ‘Bryce Report’ documented a 40-60% mortality rate at these institutions, mainly from tuberculosis. The same report showed that 90 – 100% of children suffered severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Despite this information, the schools remained open for another 90 years.

Again – this is all documented fact. None of this is up for debate. Even the most right-wing Canadian understands this as fact.

The graveyards we are finding are filled with unmarked graves. Some include mass graves, in which more than one body was buried at the same time. This is not new information. Residential School survivors have been telling us they’re there for generations.

From 2008 – 2015, Canada engaged in one of the largest Truth and Reconciliation Commission processes ever undertaken. It concluded with 94 calls to action, most of which have not been actioned, further eroding Indigenous people’s trust in Canada. Many rightfully believe that the TRC was lip service.

Call to Action 75 states: “We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of Calls to Action| 9 appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.”

See, they were telling us those graves were there. I learned about Residential School cemeteries in the early ’00s in journal articles. The information has been readily available. No one was listening.

On May 27, 2021, the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc Nation hired the services of a ground-penetrating radar team and confirmed what was already known. The remains of 215 children lay beneath the soil. “We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” stated Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir. “Some were as young as three years old.”

On June 4, 104 potential graves were discovered by the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation at Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba. Of these, 78 may be accounted for (but that does not mean that those children were not also abused and/or died of preventable disease). Chief Jennifer Bone says, “We must honour the memory of the children that never made it home by holding the Government of Canada, Churches and all responsible parties accountable for their inhumane actions.”

And most recently, as many as 751 unmarked graves were located near the former site of Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, associated with the Cowessess First Nation. Again, some of these may be accounted for. That does not diminish the horror. “This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations,” says Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations in Saskatchewan.

I’m not qualified to speak at length about the generational trauma that has ravaged Indigenous communities. Generations of people are struggling with substance abuse as a direct result of the Residential Schools Act, yet many other Canadians don’t cut them much slack.

Many of the homeless people in Western Canada’s tent cities are residential school survivors. There is also an ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women. Despite making up only 10% of the population, Indigenous children represent 52% of those currently in social services care.

For the non-Canadians reading this, you should know that open racism towards Indigenous people in Canada is common and often socially acceptable. (I know this goes against our international reputation.)

Finally, you will see people arguing that these graves are the result of sickness and disease, as if that’s somehow okay. You’ll even see some people arguing that the number of graves isn’t all that high, as life expectancy ‘was lower back then.’

Yes, tuberculosis and childhood diseases do account for many of these deaths. But these diseases were allowed to run rampant through filthy and overcrowded institutions. Little malnourished, homesick bodies couldn’t fend off the disease. So, they died alone, crying for their mothers.

And then they were buried in the place they hated most, with no record of their death. Some parents were never actually told what happened to their children. They just never came home.

To counter these bad-faith arguments about disease and ‘the number of graves not actually being that high’, we can again look to contemporary sources, such as The Bryce Report. 90 – 100% of children were abused. The schools had a documented mortality rate of 40 – 60%.

Of course, the childhood mortality rate in Canada in 1907 was high, around 25% – 30%. However, these figures include infant mortality, which is much higher, therefore skewing the data. A very conservative estimate puts the mortality rate from TB at Residential Schools (children aged 4 – 18) around three to four times higher than the general population.

Also, remember that these graves do not represent all of the children who died at Residential Schools. We have many oral reports of priests, nuns, and teachers incinerating bodies (especially of those beaten or abused to death) in furnaces, or disposing of them in other ways.

You need to know that these discoveries will continue. There were 139 residential schools in Canada, and nearly 150,000 children attended them over the course of 117+ years. But the graves are not the only horror. The true horror is the fact that we’ve known about all of this for generations, and that we allowed it to happen until 1997. The shame is the ‘schools’ themselves. The graves are just a physical record of what happened.

This is not about ‘left’ or ‘right.’ Nothing I have written here is disputed. These are facts. The Federal Government, RCMP, local police forces, the courts, and many churches worked together to systematically abuse and eradicate entire generations of kids.

If you feel bad, that’s normal. But sitting around feeling guilty helps no one, especially not Indigenous people. Instead, consistently challenge these comments about ‘short 19th-century life expectancies’ and ‘that’s not a mass grave.’ Challenge the people in your life who use racial slurs or anti-Indigenous rhetoric.

If you’re Canadian, write to your MP and demand that they action the 94 TRC Calls to Action. Share and amplify posts by Indigenous people, and include the Survivors’ hotline. Listen to what local Indigenous people are asking for, and then help in any way you can – that includes donating generously to Residential School survivors.…/how-to-support-survivors-of…

And at least for this year, consider skipping Canada Day ‘celebrations.’ But whether you celebrate or not is less important than insisting on systemic change, donating to survivors, and advocating for the 94 TRC Calls to Action.

The TRC Calls to Action

The Truth and Reconciliation Final Report

The Calls for Justice from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

History of the Schools:…/history…/background/

The Bryce Report…/2015/07/IRSR11-12-DE-1906-1910.pdf

Tk’emlúps Press Release…/05-May-27-2021-TteS-MEDIA-RELEASE…

Wikipedia Residential School Entry…/Canadian_Indian_residential…

Ashinabek Overview of Residential Schools…/An-Overview-of-the-IRS…

The TRC Index of Missing Children and Unmarked Burials…/01/English_Volume_4_Index_Revised.pdf…

Food used as punishment in Residential Schools…

Research on Indigenous Kids in Care – CTV article…/foster-care-replaced…

The Horrors of St. Anne’s – CBC article…/st-anne-residential…

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