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“…and a small voice whispers, ‘They found us.'” – Time to face the shameful past of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools

June 2021

Earlier this month, Canadians were shocked to learn of the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children who were buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia.

While Indigenous people have spoken for years about these unmarked and largely forgotten (at least by non-Indigenous Canadians) cemeteries at former residential schools across Canada, until now, these were only unconfirmed stories. Well, now the undeniable truth has hit Canadians right between the eyes, along with a punch to the gut for not paying attention earlier.

As if those punches in the wake of Kamloops weren’t enough, the Cowesses First Nation, 100 miles east of Regina, Saskatchewan, announced that as many as 751 unmarked graves have been found on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School, which closed in 1997.

In what I consider a very generous act, Cowesses First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme went to great lengths in a press conference to stress that what had been found was “…not a mass grave, but unmarked graves where headstones had been removed.” In the wake of the discovery of the graves in Kamloops, many in the media were stating that the bodies had been found in a mass grave, which implies bodies dumped in an open pit and covered over. What was discovered in Kamloops were also unmarked graves, not a mass grave.

I hope that I’m not the only one who’s tired of hearing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s breathy, dramatic and vacuous rhetoric that, “…And together, we must acknowledge this truth, learn from our past, and walk the shared path of reconciliation, so we can build a better future.”

It’s time to the federal government to finally implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and demonstrate through action that they actually care about the welfare of our First Nations brothers and sisters.

Scrapping the racist Indian Act, first passed in 1876 by the government of Liberal Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, would also be a good idea as well.

We should also make educational programs discussing the history of the residential schools in our high schools a mandatory part of the curriculum, if they aren’t already in place.

When I was in high school in the 1980s, there were no lessons on the residential schools, some of which were still in operation at the time, and not much else about the mistreatment of Canada’s Indigenous people. The major things that we did learn was that they were sent to live on reservations, for their own good, and that Louis Riel was a traitor to Canada, and was hanged by Sir John A. Macdonald for leading two rebellions in Manitoba.

There were once as many as 139 Indian Residential Schools in Canada. The unmarked graves at Kamloops and the Cowesses First Nation are just the beginning. There will without a doubt be more unmarked graves found at the sites of the other 137 former schools.

The anger and shame we are feeling is just the beginning.

Also read: Barrie Memorial grows for victims of Kamloops residential school – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

Sources: Mount Elgin Indian Residential School – Wikipedia, Shingwauk Indian Residential School – Wikipedia, Wawanosh Home once stood here – Sault Ste. Marie News (sootoday.com), Marieval Indian Residential School – Wikipedia, Cowessess First Nation says 751 unmarked graves found near former Sask. residential school | CTV News.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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