With the news of children being found in unmarked graves around residential schools throughout Canada, we have an opportunity to truly understand and reflect upon our legacy of colonization. This includes residential schools that were designed to “kill the indian in the child” and assimilate us, as it was believed that we were in the way of advancing the economic agenda of Canada. Residential schools were seen as one way to eliminate what the Canadian government defined as the “indian problem”. It is a system that enforced the violent kidnapping of our children for no other reason but for being who we are as Indigenous peoples in all our beauty, resiliency, brilliance, and strength.
I often wonder how parents felt when their children were taken away each year, leaving our communities silent. There was no laughter, play, or storytelling. I can’t imagine how our ancestors must have felt with the deafening silence that overtook our communities. When they took away our children, they stole our joy.
We still feel that pain today, whether we are residential school warriors or impacted family members who continue to have to work through intergenerational grief and loss. It is this legacy of cultural, social, spiritual and emotional loss that continues to reverberate through the spirits of many individuals today. What occurred in the residential schools is clearly genocide as defined in Aricle II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which states:
“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
If we are going to move forward in this country in a way that rights the wrongs of our past, then we must acknowledge the impact of Canada’s colonial history and ongoing neo-colonial agenda. This includes recognizing our continuing genocide against Indigenous peoples as evidenced in the current child welfare system, as well as in the genocidal violence noted in the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. We also need to acknowledge and immediately end the ongoing and violent dispossession of lands from Indigenous peoples in the pursuit of aggressive resource extraction. It is time to stop speaking about Indigenous rights only when it is consistent with the economic agenda of the day.
I believe that we can and know how to do better. We must all work together to implement the 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, respond and act upon the 231 Calls to Justice from the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, and uphold the minimum human rights standards articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We must all commit to action as a way to honour the lives of the children who never made it home from residential schools.
In closing, I extend my love, warmth, and support to all residential school warriors, impacted family members, walkers traveling far distances to honour the children, including residential school Warrior Viv Ketchum, residential school Warrior Geraldine (Gramma) Shingoose, and residential school Warrior/tuberculosis sanatorium Survivor Chickadee Richard, and all individuals who work so hard everyday to strive for a better world for all.
This is our opportunity to move forward together towards justice. On July 1st, let's make that our path forward.