(By Leyland Cecco – The Guardian – May 24, 2022) – Canada’s governor general has described the country’s residential schools as places of unimaginable cruelty, in a eulogy to honour the thousands of Indigenous children who died while attending the institutions.
“Today, we make ourselves heard across the country. Although it is hard, we are telling Canadians and the world about our wounds and pain,” Mary Simon, the Queen’s representative in Canada, told hundreds gathered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian residential school.
A year ago, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of nearly 200 possible unmarked graves on the grounds. The announcement sent shockwaves through the country, prompting the federal government to establish a national holiday and promise millions of dollars to other Indigenous nations launching their own investigations.
Simon, the country’s first Indigenous governor-general, toured the grounds of the former school on Monday to commemorate the traditional end of the mourning period for Le Estcwicwéy̓ – the missing children. Meeting with survivors and community members, Simon nonetheless recognized that many were still grieving.
“At this residential school and others like it across the country, churches and governments eradicated Indigenous languages and identity through corrupt policies. They took away our stories,” she said. “It’s unimaginable that a place of learning was so cruel. It’s inexcusable that people could commit these atrocities, or that people could stand silent as they were committed.”
Over more than a century, at least 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly converted to Christianity, given new names and prohibited from speaking their native languages. The last residential school closed in the 1990s.
The schools, run by both churches and the federal government, operated by coercion. Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A MacDonald, told the country’s parliament that an Indigenous child in his or her own community was “simply a savage who can read and write”.
In contrast to the welcome for Simon, the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, faced a chilly reception, with a heckling crowd following him around the grounds of the Pow Wow Arbour.Advertisement
“Canada is all Indian land,” a group chanted at him, loudly drumming as he met with attendees. “We don’t need your constitution.”
The prime minister said the discovery of unmarked graves had ushered a “difficult year” for Canadians.
“This is about remembering who we lost,” he said. “To those who are still filled with hurt and anger, I hear that.”
Trudeau had previously turned down an invitation from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to join them in observing Canada’s first-ever National Day of Truth and Reconciliation holiday in September. Instead, the prime minister spent time at a beach resort on Vancouver Island.
Kukpi7 (chief) Rosanne Casimir told the crowd that Trudeau “owned” his mistake and had apologized.
“He paid his regrets to our unmarked graves. I recognize that as a good start.”
She said discovery last year has led to blunt conversations across the country over Canada’s colonial legacy.
“The unmarked graves brought truth to the world, and the world stood with us in solidarity,” she said.
The discoveries have also brought a wave of contrition from institutions that were largely responsible for the abuses.
Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called the schools a “terrible crime” and apologized for the church’s role.
“I am sorry. I am more sorry than I could say. I’m ashamed. I am horrified,” he told survivors from James Smith Cree Nation.
His apology follows one from Pope Francis, who met Indigenous delegations in April and lamented the “deplorable” abuses generations of Indigenous peoples faced.
Francis is due to visit Canada over the summer, where he is expected to meet with Indigenous groups and once again apologize for the Catholic church’s role in the residential school system.
The federal government says it has already released nearly C$80m (US$62m) in funding to nations conducting their own investigations into unmarked graves, including a painstaking search on the grounds of the Mohawk Institute.
In her remarks, Simon acknowledged the discoveries over the last year were a reality long suspected by Indigenous communities whose loved ones never returned home .
“We mourn with you. We stand with you,” she said. “We believe you.”
Money to compensate young people harmed by Canada’s discriminatory child welfare system is expected to begin flowing to First Nations sometime next year, now that the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) have reached a final settlement agreement.
The canoe trip was “a wonderful way to actually see what my ancestors and the mountain people would have seen when they arrived on the Thames in the early 1780s,”
– Ian McCallum, a language educator for the Munsee-Delaware Nation
The Pope will be in Canada from July 24 to 29 with stops in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, and is expected to apologize in person for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.
“This decision, in our view, properly declined to intervene in the Executive Committee’s decision to suspend the National Chief, and does not support the claims that our actions were illegal or outside our authority,”
– Regional Chief Paul Prosper, spokesperson for the AFN.
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador says it’s disappointed to learn only 400 seats have been allocated to survivors of residential schools in Quebec as Pope Francis visits the province for mass later this month. The mass will be held near Quebec City at the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica on July 28, when the Pope is expected to apologize in person for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.
“I campaigned on health and healing. And was hoping that we would have unity, and mostly working with the community and the citizens. And accountability and transparency to the citizens. But health and healing mostly.”
– Maria Benoit, nthe new Haa Shaa du Hen