Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ordered all federal buildings in Canada to lower their flags after Chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc announced the discovery of 215 bodies at Kamloops Indian Residential School. The uncovering of the mass grave shed light on the issues faced by indigenous communities, as well as the intergenerational trauma they have endured. Officials are working to determine the timings of death since most of them were never documented. However, it has been established that some of the children were as young as three years old. Chief Rosanna Casimir called it “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented” by the school. The inability of the school administrators to keep track of such a large number of casualties illustrated their lack of concern towards the lives of the innocent children.
Residential schools were compulsory boarding schools run by the government of Canada and religious authorities in the 1870s, with Kamloops Indian Residential school being the biggest one running in the Canadian system. They were established to strip children of their indigenous culture and ‘kill the Indian in the child.’ The system was established through the medium of a boarding school in order to target people at a young age since they are easier to mold and influence. The government found the practice to be acceptable since they considered it to be a method of taking care of the indigenous population and providing them with the tools they need to do well in the future. Children were forcibly removed from their homes, separated from their families, and prohibited from speaking their native languages, all to assimilate indigenous children in white Canadian society.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada stated that the government should be held responsible for committing ‘cultural genocide.’ Children were subjected to various kinds of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse along with other horrific forms of mistreatment. In its entirety, approximately 150,000 children attended the schools. Additionally, around 4,000 children died attending and hundreds went missing. Although the residential schools officially closed in 1978, the amount of time government officials took to intervene is astonishing, and people remain unsatisfied with the government’s response now.
The Prime Minister tweeted that the discovery of the remains was a “painful reminder of a shameful chapter of our country’s history”. However, a tweet is not enough, and many have called for the government to properly acknowledge their historical wrongdoings and address the ongoing issues exclusively faced by the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people. Indigenous people continue to struggle to access vital resources such as clean drinking water and carry on fighting court cases against those still trying to steal their land.
Majority of the residential schools were established by the Roman Catholic Church which is why the Pope has been repeatedly asked to issue a formal apology to the survivors and families affected by the regime. However, as recent as 2020, Pope Francis refused to provide an apology, even though Justin Trudeau personally requested him to do so.
The apology from the head of the Catholic Church was one of the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which were published as a guideline for government actions towards reconciliation. Unfortunately, the recommendations, sometimes referred to as the ‘call to action,’ has been severely neglected. In fact, the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous led research centre, claimed that as of December 2020, only 8 of the recommendations have been implemented. This had led a lot of people to realize that Canada continues to fail the survivors and families affected by the residential schools, regardless of how much they claim to care. New Democratic Party Parliament member Charlie Angus said, “there is so much grief and trauma from the horrific news of the 215 childrens’ bodies being found,” adding on that he was pleased that Justin Trudeau ordered to lower flags, though “this is just the beginning. We need answers. We need accountability.”
To implement meaningful change and provide support to the indigenous people, the government of Canada needs to prioritize the recommendations set by the Reconciliation Commission rather than treating it as an optional agenda or just advice. Giving importance to each one of the recommendations is a great way to address indigenous issues since they have been compiled and approved by indigenous people themselves. In addition, more funding needs to be funnelled into assistance programs which exclusively help the indigenous, to provide them a more direct form of aid. Only if the recommendations are given the proper amount of attention, and the funding towards indigenous based aid increases, can traumatized families finally get to heal.
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