This is Not News

A re-post from Shelagh Rogers (Facebook, June 6, 2021), who helped facilitate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada in 2015.

When we learned about the 215 Indigenous children buried on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School while in the care of Catholic clergy who ran the school, the Prime Minister shared this tweet:

“The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you.”

I want to parse the tweet out a little.

May I start with “The news”? I don’t understand how could this be news when a whole volume of the TRC report (V.4, 266 pages) is dedicated to children who did not come home? That volume is titled “Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials”. Have you read it, Prime Minister? It’s been out for 5 and 1/2 years. Is it required reading for all your ministers? I was there in December of 2015 when the full 6 volume TRC report was presented to you, Prime Minister. I was in the company of fellow TRC honorary witnesses from Coast Salish territory, Andrea Walsh and Chief Bobby Joseph.

With hundreds of others, we watched as Theland Kicknosway, then 12 years old, drummed us in to that room where the report would be unveiled. We heard TRC Chair Murray Sinclair turn to young Theland and say “Keep your head high. You symbolize what could have been.” (Theland has kept his head high. This summer, he will embark on his 7th Run/Bike through parts of Turtle Island to raise awareness for MMIWG2S).You saw the two empty chairs on the platform which symbolized the children who never came home from residential school. After making a territorial acknowledgement to the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg and Pikwàkanagàn First Nations for welcoming us, those two chairs were the first things Murray Sinclair addressed.

You heard Chief Wilton Littlechild, a lifelong athlete, say that “sports allowed me to escape the pain and suffering of residential schools.”

And you heard Dr. Marie Wilson share these devastating facts from Volume 4 of The Final Report. From my notes, she said that in 1/3 of these deaths, the government and the schools did not record the name of the student who died; in 1/4 of these deaths the governmnent and the schools did not record the gender of the student who died; that in 1/2 of these deaths, the government and the schools did not record the cause of death. To those missing children Dr. Wilson said “Much work lies ahead on the path to reconciliation including the reclamation of your names and the reconsecration of your resting places.

“You were in the presence of one of the Survivor Advisors to the Commissioners, the late John Banksland, proudly wearing his Inuvialuit parka cover “as a symbol not to be ashamed of who you are”. And he said to you, Prime Minister, to remember “this country is of people, not paper”.

You heard another Survivor Advisor, Eugene Arcand, when he said “No one can say, unless you live under a rock or in a cave that you don’t know about this any more.”

This is not news. And this is not a dark chapter (though you are right, it IS shameful). Not a dark chapter…after witnessing hundreds of Survivor statements (the commissioners heard thousands) I would say it’s pretty well the whole book. Calling it history distances the tragedy. It is present. It is alive. And beyond distressing. It’s devastating.

I remember you, Prime Minister, saying that day in December 2015, and I wrote this in my notes: “Our goal… is to lift this burden from your shoulders, from those of your families and communities. It is to accept fully our responsibilities and our failing as a government and as a country.” Let’s lift the burden. Stop going to court when Indigenous people want documents pertaining to their lives. Stop fighting them. Set the truth free. Let it see sunlight. Answer the Calls to Action. Live up to past promises. Let’s stop failing Survivors and their families.

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