The search to discover the truth about Indigenous children who never made it home from Indian Residential Schools in Canada continues. As more unmarked graves of their young relatives are discovered, First Nation communities are at the forefront of pushing for accountability and justice.
This article discusses triggering topics related to the Indian Residential School system which some readers may find distressing. For any Indigenous People directly impacted, useful support/crisis resources have been included at the end of this post.
Indian Residential Schools were a government-backed forced assimilation policy that mandated, with no exceptions, that First Nations families send their children from age 3 to be “educated” at these church-led boarding schools. During the mid-1800s to the 1990s, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children attended these “schools” in Canada — 60% of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church.
Often in extremely remote areas to prevent children from being able to easily runaway and find their families; these “schools” were explicitly designed to eliminate Indigenous culture from Canada. By targeting children, this intentional action was developed to ensure Indigeneity would not be passed on to future generations. The government and church, in no uncertain terms, were active overseers and participants of genocide.
Lack of funding often created extremely poor conditions at these schools; sparse food and heating, overcrowding that enabled persistent disease spread, little to no medical/health care. Not to mention the depression that came from the forced absence of familial love; and the beatings and sexual abuse used as punishment if the children tried to remain connected to their culture or dared to defy restrictive rules. Even the Bryce report back in 1907 found that the mortality rate was abnormally high and that 90-100% of children suffered severe emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Indigenous communities have been speaking about this for decades, knowing that the estimated 4,000 – 6,000 residential school deaths attributed to neglect, disease, abuse, suicide and murder is vastly misrepresented. In one month alone, from May 27th to the end of June this year; 1,252 remains were discovered in unmarked graves on the grounds of four former “schools” — 215 children at Kamloops, 104 at Brandon, 751 at Cowessess and 182 at Cranbrook. This follows the 253 unmarked graves found in previous years at three other locations. If this knowledge is new to you, let it sink in for a moment — 1,505 unmarked graves were found in just 7 of the 139 Indian Residential Schools in Canada so far.
[Update July 13th] 160+ unmarked graves discovered at former site of Kuper Island School, BC.
It’s now believed that the real total will likely be in excess of 15,000. This doesn’t include the numbers of missing children from the 350+ Native American Boarding Schools in the United States where they haven’t even begun searching the grounds of government/church residential schools.
There are approximately 80,000 Canadian survivors of these institutions alive today that deserve accountability and justice. Their families and communities that carry intergenerational trauma deserve healing. The children who didn’t get to become community members, language holders, ceremony keepers, parents and elders; they deserve coming home to a place of love, celebration and kindness. They deserve to know peace from now on.
As non-Indigenous allies, here’s how we can best support residential school survivors …
Celebrate, uphold and respect Indigenous success and joy. | Support Indigenous creatives, brands and initiatives so that your knowledge of them isn’t continuously trauma-based (which itself perpetuates harm). Start with:
- Nehiyaw Creative (@nehiyaw.creative on IG – artist based in Ontario)
- Notorious Cree (@notoriouscree on IG – traditional Hoop Dancer, activist & TikTok star)
- Urban Native Era (clothing brand and design)
- Chief Lady Bird (@chiefladybird on IG – artist based in Rama First Nation)
- Jana Schmieding (@janaunplgd on IG – comedian, actor, writer and star of Rutherford Falls, a must-watch tv show)
- Lehi ThunderVoice Eagle (artist and clothing/jewellery/hat designer)
- 12 Indigenous Beauty Brands To Support
Continue to educate yourself and your family and friends about the (ongoing) history of Indian Residential Schools. | Useful resources include:
- Watch the documentary film ‘We Were Children’
- Read & work through It’s Our Time: The Assembly of First Nations Education Toolkit
- Read through ‘Missing Children & Unmarked Burials’, Section 4 of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Join and amplify demands for meaningful action. | Follow and donate to Indigenous-led organizations that will help you navigate what action/s are appropriate to take:
- Indian Residential School Survivors Society
- The Orange Shirt Society
- The Indigenous Foundation
- Petitions To Sign
- If you’re in Canada, call the government to action by contacting your municipal, provincial and federal elected officials to collectively work towards ending discriminatory policies and laws that directly and/or disproportionately impact Indigenous communities.
For more ideas and information, you can read TNs previous post on this topic ‘Effective Allyship: What You Need To Know If You’re Learning About Indian Residential Schools For The First Time’
While numerous children died as a result of sickness and disease, it does not negate the cruel mistreatment carried out by the Canadian government, Roman Catholic Church (and other denominations). Allowing these diseases to run rampant was an example of one of their many abuses. They kept the children malnourished, un-cared for and in filthy conditions. They are the ones who subjected these children to a physical and mental state that left them unable to fight off illness and pain. They showed no kindness, even in death, by concealing the bodies of Indigenous children in unmarked graves. They are the ones that created, organized and maintained systemic, racial and cultural violence.
However, if we don’t stand up for real, Indigenous-led and approved truth and reconciliation; we are the ones allowing the roots of White supremacy and colonial lies/destruction to spread and continually disregard Indigenous voices. We have a choice, and I hope we all choose the right side of history — the one that works with First Nations and Native American People to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
Indian Residential School Survivors and Family Hotline: 1-866-925-4419
Crisis Services Canada: 1=833-456-4566 or text 45645