Yesterday marked the third mass, unmarked grave found in association with Native residential “schools.”
For the uneducated, Native residential “schools” were a ploy by Canada’s early government to facilitate the “civilization” and Europeanization of Canada’s Native population. In existence in Canada from about 1880 through 1996 (yes! 1996!), these so-called schools were nothing short of concentration camps into which all Native children were shunted as a matter of law. This was a joint endeavour between “Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society.” The net result of this horrific practice was the cultural genocide of generations of Native people, and as recently discovered, the actual genocide of (among others) innocent Native children.
I hesitate to call these places schools. School is supposed to be a place of learning and enlightenment where people leave better off than when they arrived. I doubt there are many (if any) Indigenous people who would claim this describes their experience there. Those of us who knew of the existence of these institutions have long suspected there were many children who entered their doors never to exit. That statement is mind-boggling enough, but now that the sheer number that is the body count shaping Canada’s shame is coming to light, we, as Canadians, should be shocked, sickened, and mortified.
In the last month alone, the remains of 215 individuals in Kamloops, 751 in Saskachewan, and 182 in Cranbook, B.C. There were 130 of these places in operation in Canada over the approximately 100 years of their existence. Do the math: if we take an average of the three known mass graves thus far uncovered, we are looking at approximately 50,000 children slaughtered and buried in unmarked, mass graves. Disposed of in the same way as trash before organized garbage collection. This is not okay (to say the least).
Today is Canada Day, a celebration of Canada’s confederation on this day in 1867. Residential “schools” came into existence barely 10 years after that. Lighting fireworks at bar-b-ques in celebration of Canada as a country has been the way we’ve always celebrated, but not this year. Anyone lighting fireworks and cooking meat over an open flame in honour of Canada’s confederation this year should be ashamed. I will be marking this dark day in history by lighting a memorial candle in memory of all those who perished at the hands of our government. We should never forget the human toll paid so Canada could be established as a country. Do not celebrate the bloodshed and bodies felled; mourn them instead. Mark the existence of Canada Day, not with celebration but with sorrow, honouring those whose way of life and actual lives were unceremoniously taken so that we might live here.