On July 1st the holiday known as Canada Day ,will be celebrating 153 years of the Constitution Act that was formed in 1867 and after the festivities were cancelled around the country last year due to the pandemic, everyone is more eager than ever to get out and party.
However, the cruel and horrible history that Canada has when it comes to the treatment towards First Nations people has always been an issue brought up time and time again and recently, with the discovery at one of the Kamloops residential schools, it has been brought full force to the centre and this time, it should not be silenced.
On Thursday, May 27, 2021, 215 children remains were found at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The school, which closed in 1978 housed 500 children and was the largest in the residential system. It has been reported that these deaths were undocumented deaths and some were as young as 3 years old.
These residential schools which in 2008 were called “cultural genocide” stripped the First Nations of their heritage, language and lifestyle.
To summarize in short, the history that this country has of the treatment of the First Nations people is not ancient, in fact, the last residential school in Canada didn’t close until 1996.
The residential schools were opened and operated for more than 160 years and were built and opened as a solution for the perceived “threat” by the Indigenous people to the forming structure of the nation of Canada. They copied school structures of that in the US and British colonies which were large boarding style schools to convert huge amounts of Indigenous people and poor children into Protestants and Catholics and turn them into good industrious workers. They chose this model in order to enforce the adoption of European traditions, languages and lifestyles by First Nations, Metis and Inuit children.
The early schools were largely underfunded, insufficient and mismanaged. Along with abuse, starvation, and terrible treatment, children were starting to disappear from these schools. They would die from neglect, abuse, diseases or try to run away and a lot of times it would take weeks or months for the parents to get notice that their child had died and there are still many families who are still waiting for answers.
There have been accounts of children being locked in the school basement for days, being forced to wear soiled underwear on their head for hours, and being forced to eat their own vomit. Staff used metal fashioned whips for corporal punishment. There were reports of a handmade electric chair being fashioned to punish children , mostly for the amusement of the staff. These electrocutions were often done in front of the other children.
Survivors of this horrific time have been coming forward since 1960s and a lot of the general public never heard about these schools and if they did hear a story about what happened at the schools, they were not believed.
It has taken several years for Canadians to finally believe these stories and through the late 1980s and 1990s many groups joined forces to bring lawsuits against churches and government institutions that were associated with these schools.
What also needs to be recognized is that the current state of the First Nations health across Canada is a direct result of the residential schools and aggressive assimilation of Canada policies.
It isn't a secret that the First Nations people have a bad reputation in Canada. They are often considered poor, uneducated with drinking and/or drug addictions. The reserves they live in throughout Canada are known for being shabby, unhygenic communites and this is because of the extremely low funding from the government that has left the inhabitants of the reserves a lot of the time with little to no clean drinking water, crowded and unsafe housing.
This has been something that all students were taught in school in Canada, and people were aware of our hideous past and yet celebrations raged on year after year, because while Canada does have a lot of positive things to it, the big black marks about it didn’t seem to outweigh it.
The findings at this school shoves the reality in our face that these people, these children, were disposed of and forgotten about. Two hundred and fifteen kids never returned home and their parents and loved ones had to spend so many years of their lives wondering what had happened to their babies. If these children were rich white kids that had gone missing the search wouldn’t have stopped until they were found.
We have a long way to go in Canada when it comes to healing the past. At this one school there was 215 but there are still tons more kids unaccounted for that disappeared while attending these schools throughout the country. Although the past can never be taken back, and the internal and external scars will forever be present, I believe, as a country we can do more to help and not turn a blind eye. The discovery of these remains just goes to show that there is one huge reason why we should not celebrate this year, it would be a slap in the face to the people who have endured hell and to the people who have lost loved ones to this abuse.
This year let’s refuse to stand by while Canada’s violent history is celebrated.
There are lots of ways to donate to the First Nations community at:
For more information on the history of Canada and First Nations as well as the history of the residential schools, check out the links below.