The discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former Residential school on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., Canada is horrific and heartbreaking.
My heart goes out to our Indigenous communities and families in Kamloops and across Canada.
As I struggle to find the words that best convey my sadness, grief, anger and desire for meaningful action, I want to provide some important context that we, as non-Indigenous people, need to keep at the forefront of our minds – today, and every day in order to demand and create change.
The trauma and impact of residential schools on Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous communities is constant and pervasive. Non-Indigenous people may move on from this news and the emotions it has evoked, but Indigenous People and communities live with the intergenerational trauma and realities caused by the residential school system and the many other ways Indigenous people, cultures and ways of being have been (and continue to be) systematically targeted and destroyed.
White Supremacy and Systemic Racism
Residential schools are one of many tangible examples of white supremacy and systemic racism that Indigenous Peoples have experienced – and continue to experience.
Think about it: hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and communities (some moved to other parts of the country), stripped of their personal belongings, not allowed to speak their languages or practice their beliefs, separated from siblings, and forced to participate in Christian practices. Many were abused, and many died. More than we know.
All of this (and more) was designed to “assimilate”. What does that mean? It means that the underlying belief is that they weren’t good enough as they were, they had to be more like the Europeans that came and colonized this land, and their descendants.
That is what colonization is – the systematic destruction of cultures, people, and their history, based on the belief that those who are colonizing are better and know better.
Despite the Truth and Reconciliation report (in 2015!) and its recommendations, Indigenous Peoples in Canada continue to experience systemic racism, many inequities, and “third-world” conditions.
The impact of colonization, white supremacy and systemic racism as related to Indigenous people includes, for example:
- loss of history and ways of being/knowing
- loss of languages
- disconnection from culture
- fragmented families and communities
- intergenerational trauma
The continued manifestation of white supremacy and systemic racism as related to Indigenous People includes, for example:
- the Indian Act
- substandard housing
- lack of clean drinking water
- lack of sufficient educational funding
- lack of representation in positions of power (government and otherwise)
- lack of representation/accurate representation in media
- lack of acknowledgment of unceeded Indigenous territories
- the disregard for Indigenous Communities when it comes to the use of land (pipelines, mining, drilling, deforestation, etc)
You can read more and find links to information and resources in my past blog post, such as:
The impact of all of these examples (and many others) is a narrative that continues to uphold one way of being (whiteness, non-Indigenous) as “the way” and the right way, and the continued creation of the “Other” as less than/having less value.
Acknowledgment and Accountability
The narrative is upheld by the lack of teaching about Indigenous cultures and ways of being.
The narrative is upheld even further by lack of accurate teaching about the colonization of Canada, the history of this country since colonization (and the policies and practices inherent in that history, that continue), and about the role of government and the church in the genocide of Indigenous Peoples.
Acknowledgement and accountability are necessary components of healing.
As Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir is quoted as saying in this article:
“It’s all good and well to the federal government to make gestures of goodwill and support regarding the tragedy,” said Casimir. “There is an important ownership and accountability to both Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and all communities and families that are affected. And that needs to happen and take place.”
How will YOU contribute to change?
The many emotions we are feeling about this latest discovery and what it adds to the larger context of our country’s history and relationship with the Indigenous Peoples (who were here long before Canada was named) are all important. However, I hope they will be a galvanizing force for real change.
Change starts with awareness.
- Educate yourself about accurate Canadian history when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous People.
- Learn about Indigenous cultures, so you have a better appreciation for the impact of this history
- Educate yourself about the realities that Indigenous People and Communities face today – such as lack of clean drinking water, substandard housing, lack of educational funding – all issues that are under Federal Government control. (see links above)
- Read the Truth and Reconciliation report and the calls to action.
- Embark on a journey of participation in reconciliation (for example: 150 ways)
- Learn about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Share what you are learning with your family and friends
And then find meaningful ways to put your awareness into action.
(c) 2021 Annemarie Shrouder