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Image Source: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

When the news came out about the remains of 215 children being found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C many people were shocked. It’s tragic that 215 children’s lives were taken away much too soon. This is genocide, plain and simple.

But how many times when something this tragic becomes news will non-Indigenous people continue to be shocked? In the age of technology where information (such as the TRC reports) is at the tips of our fingers, where we have Indigenous people working tirelessly in the media, in academia, making documentary films, and authoring educational books, how can so many people still be shocked and not know this is how Canada operates? At some point, it’s willful ignorance. Sometimes I have to ask myself: are people purposely ignoring Indigenous voices because they don’t want to acknowledge that they benefit from past actions that led to tragedies like this?

As an Indigenous person, the Canada I grew up in did very little to acknowledge the fact that Indigenous people were even here, while ‘hating’ on them at the same time. I grew up with settler people telling me, “Indians” are “lazy, are always complaining, and get special privileges.” I’d get told things like, “weren’t you all just killing each other off before we came along? You guys didn’t even have technology! Savages! Squaw! Get over it, people have always been conquered! You should be grateful for colonialism, it’s brought a lot of good to this world.” Then gaslighting with, “we do so much and give so much to YOU people! I don’t believe that the Canadian government has the ability to do this! These are all lies! Do you have proof [that we’re racist]?”

Setter people: Saying sorry is not enough and remaining in a state of shock without action is not acceptable. When I read the news about the remains of 215 innocent children found hidden in a mass grave, I was not shocked. I was saddened and angry that so many young and innocent lives were taken for the sake of advancing white supremacy. I was saddened and angry that this still happens today, however in the rebranded forms of the 60’s and Millenium Scoops, which result in the ongoing overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system. The racist colonial beliefs that justified the systematic implementation of residential schools are still embedded in Canadian society today. We need only look at the stories of Tina Fontaine and thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; the murders of Indigenous youth such as Colten Boushie and the high school students in Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers; as well as the mistreatment of Indigenous people by the police and within the healthcare system. There are just too many examples to list. I was also saddened that I wasn’t shocked by the news.

Map of Residential School
Map of residential school locations where experts suspect more mass graves will be found. | Image source: TRC archives

I’m tired of people- especially settlers- being shocked when the mass tragedies of colonialism are exposed. Many people around the world incorrectly believe that Canada is a progressive state filled with people who are nice and polite to each other. Justin Trudeau called the residential school era, “a dark chapter in Canadian history.” It’s not a dark chapter though -the whole book is dark. From the founding of “so-called Canada” to today, the whole point of Canadian politics was and still is to erase Indigenous people and our rights in order to exploit our lands while doing so with the colonial facade of “doing the right thing” and being “nice and polite.” Lowering flags to half-mast is only a symbolic gesture that must translate into action.

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was investigating what happened in these residential schools the Canadian government fought tooth and nail in court to keep important residential school records that identified abusers away from the investigation. In 2014, the TRC won the fight in court to release the school documents but much information was redacted by government officials. While the TRC did a thorough job with their investigation, the depths of the atrocities committed in these schools were not fully revealed because of government actions like this. Canada doesn’t want the world to know how badly they treat Indigenous people, much less innocent Indigenous children.

Since the beginning of Canada, the government worked hard to extinguish Indigenous people and their cultures and the work they did was upheld and supported by their settler constituents. The fear, hate, and dismissive attitudes towards Indigenous people by the founding settlers of Canada resulted in the lost lives of so many innocent Indigenous children, including the 215 children who never returned home from Kamloops Indian Residential School. As we all know there are more mass graves to be exposed near most if not all residential schools and a funded thorough investigation without government or church interference must occur so that all children who were taken can be brought home and justice served.

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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