Today is June 29. On this date I usually change my profile picture on Facebook to a Canadian flag, or a photo of a maple leaf and leave it up until July 5 because that brackets both Canada Day, July 1 and Independence Day in the US, July 4. But not this year.
I’m still a proud Canadian, but this doesn’t seem like the year to celebrate this country. Here are three numbers to help explain why: 215 – 104 – 751. If you’re among my followers and readers from other countries you might not grasp the meaning of these numbers, but if you’re Canadian, I’m quite certain you understand at least the first and last of these.
For those who for various reasons – COVID 19 takes up much of most newscasts – aren’t aware, those three sets of numbers represent the numbers of unmarked graves recently located by various means, including ground penetrating radar, at the sites of now defunct residential schools.
215, Kamloops B C at a school run by the Roman Catholic Church.
104, southwestern Manitoba. None of the news articles I can locate mention which church ran this school. This didn’t seem to receive the same amount of national coverage as the other two.
751, southeastern Saskatchewan at a school run by the Roman Catholic Church.
Following is an abridged definition and history of the residential school system from The Canadian Encyclopaedia:
Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Although the first residential facilities were established in New France, the term usually refers to schools established after 1880. Residential schools were created by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society. However, the schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples.
… residential schools became part of government and church policy from the 1830s on, with the creation of Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic institutions in Upper Canada (Ontario). The oldest continually operating residential school in Canada was the Mohawk Institute in what is now Brantford, Ontario. This began as a day school for Six Nations boys, but in 1831 it started to accept boarding students.
Survivors of these schools speak of harsh conditions: forbidden to speak their native languages upon threat of punishment; the boys forcibly having their hair cut, and physical and sexual abuse. A survivor from the Kamloops school, in an interview, said that if a child suddenly vanished overnight, it was assumed they had simply run away, and the schools would encourage that assumption. The overall aim of these schools, in the words of one survivor interviewed, was “to take the Indian out of the child”.
The Roman Catholic order than ran the Kamloops school has announced they will provide whatever documentation they still have to aid in the identification of these 215 poor unfortunate children. I’ve not read or heard of any such offers regarding the Manitoba and Saskatchewan sites. Both the Ontario and federal government have announced they will make funds available to help in the search for unmarked graves and identification of the remains.
I realize that now, in 2021,society’s attitudes have changed greatly since these schools were introduced, but I can think of nothing at any time in history, not just the history of Canada but the history of the world, to justify such treatment of children.
I can’t say if the news of these discoveries in Canada had any bearing on it, but Deb Haaland, the American Secretary of the Interior this past week announced an investigation into the American version of residential schools. I’d like to be optimistic, but I fear that investigation will reveal similar events in the US.
As a result of these sad and tragic announcements, many cities and towns are cancelling their planned Canada Day celebrations. They too find it hard to celebrate this nation’s birthday.
We as a nation have failed these children and I personally don’t think we have anything to celebrate this year. Maybe next year.