MS Risk Blog

 The lost children of Canada’s residential schools  

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During recent months Canada has had the focus of a large-scale discovery of indigenous children’s remains near many school grounds. The government funded boarding schools of which these bodies were discovered were part of a policy to attempt to assimilate indigenous children to European culture and practices, and to erase the culture they once upheld. With more and more unmarked grave sites being found, it has led to a dramatic response by the Canadian people with mass protesting and the tearing down of prominent British Royal statues.

Around 130 residential schools of forced assimilation were operated in Canada between 1874 and 1996, with 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children taken from their families and placed within these schools. Many parents were threatened with charges leading to imprisonment if they were not to comply, and therefore were forced to abandon their native cultures and speak English or French as well as convert to Christianity.

Many of the schools have poor heating and unsanitary facilities as well as a lack of medical staff, leading to the loss of life of many children by disease of neglect. Those were also subject to harsh and severe punishments leading some to run away due to physical and sexual abuse.

The first discovery of remains was back in May, in which the remains of 215 students at Canada’s largest residential school were found. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir announced that the remains of 215 children had been found near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia (BC). Later in June, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced that it had found a further 751 unmarked graves in a similar discovery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, operated up until 1996 under the Catholic Church.

The public reaction since has been extreme featuring large scale protests and demonstrations across the country. On Canada Day, usually, a day of celebration of Canada’s founding by British colonies, a prominent statue of Queen Victoria was torn down by protesters in Manitoba’s capital Winnipeg on Thursday; as well as a smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth close by. Many called for celebrations to be cancelled as many municipalities across Canada called off their events. As well as this, several Catholic churches have been burned down in indigenous communities in western Canada, with St Ann’s Church and the Copaka Church being burned within an hour of each other in British Columbia.

Since 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau has promised to implement recommendations surrounding the missing children. In 2017 Trudeau asked Pope Frances to apologise for the Churches role in the schools but has so far declined with calls again renewed asking for an apology to be made. Also, in 2019 there were plans to commit C$33.8m over 3 years to develop a school student death register, but the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has said it has only received a small amount of the money.

With the unfortunate likelihood that more burial grounds are to be discovered soon, frustration and anger towards these events are yet to dissipate. Indigenous leaders have pressed the government to investigate all 130 former schools to find additional graves. Despite evidence and work being done on this situation for several years, Canadians are now grappling with the recent revelations of something that should have been widely known long ago.