On May 27, 2021, I was living 10 minutes away from the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the lands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation (colonially named Kamloops, British Columbia), when the news broke. Remains of 215 children had been found in unmarked graves; children who were forcibly taken to what we would consider a boarding school, and never returned home. This was the first of over 1000 unmarked graves to follow across the country with estimates as high as 15,000-25,000 of possible children who died at Canadian Indian Residential Schools from 1831-1996 when the last one closed down (see links below for more).
Balls of emotion clumped together and lodged on my heart that day, a heaviness that pounds against my chest weekly when I take my son to his soccer practice at the Pronto soccer field right on the former residential school grounds. In the space between parking the car and walking him to the field, my feet fall heavier with every step. Once, I stepped out of my car to be greeted by a single child’s shoe and teddy bear propped again a tree on the embankment facing the Sun Rivers. Another symbolic commemoration left there to honour each of the 215 children along with many others left at the school’s entrance. I am immediately haunted with imaginings of children being abused and silenced as they slip into the river. I cannot help but also see the ancestral Black children who were forcibly brought to these colonized Americas to face all kinds of similar and different abuses and enslavement. As we walk, I worry that we are stepping on graves.
By the time we get to the field, I imagine the spirits of young indigenous children walking and skipping alongside us. In my wayward mind, their faces are not as carefree as you would expect children’s faces to be, but they are not sad either—at least not any longer. I imagine that they are breaking free. The world has heard their cries from their unmarked graves, and they are alive with us, guiding us to a Canada that faces truth, reconciles injustices, and continually builds an equity-centered present and future. On this inaugural National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we woke up to grey skies and rain showers.
It was as if the heavens joined with these ancestral children to cry and rain on us. I like to believe that they sent us showers of mourning and healing as well as showers of blessings, especially as the sun began to break through around 2:00pm, right as the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation raised an honor song and drummed for the children. Yes, it is a time of reckoning, but it is also a time of healing and breakthroughs.
As I search for the rainbow after the storms, I am continuing my learning journey, reflecting and searching for my ongoing contribution to an equity-centered Canada. As I did with #BlackLivesMatter resources, I am starting a list of Canadian Indigenous Resources I am finding useful and will keep adding to the list as I come across more.
Hand to Heart as I stand with my Indigenous Canadian friends and colleagues today.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Events
- Tk’emlúps marks National Truth and Reconciliation Day 2022
- LIVE from Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 2021: https://vimeo.com/619163950 (view from 3:10:17 for the moment of silence and #drumforteh children songs and closing prayers)
Quick Starts: Videos and New Articles
- Phyllis Webstad reflects on inspiring Orange Shirt Day and starting a movement
- Phyllis Webstad Orange Shirt Day Presentation (1.55mins YouTube Video)
- National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is 1 step on a long journey, says Murray Sinclair
- Murray Sinclair on the deaths of children in residential schools, and what must be done to help survivors
- Canadian encyclopedia: Residential Schools in Canada
- How many Indigenous children’s graves remain to be found in Canada?
- Why it’s difficult to put a number on how many children died at residential schools
- Factbox: Unmarked graves found at Canadian former residential school sites
- Transcript: Mumilaaq Qaqqaq: ‘It’s time to face the scale of justice’ (Farewell Address to House of Commons)
- Powerful speech delivered by NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq to House of Commons (10mins YouTube Video): “Mr. Speaker, every time I walk on to House of Common grounds, speak in these chambers, I’m reminded every step of the way I don’t belong here.”
- We know who we are: five generations of Métis resilience | Emerald UnRuh | TEDxSFU
Reports /Scholarly Publications & Resources:
- National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Reports
- National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Reports
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
- Indigenous Foundations (First Nations & Indigenous Studies @ UBC)
- Learn about National MMIWG2S Awareness Day — May 5 (SFU Library)
- A Common Hunger: Land Rights in Canada and South Africa
- Truth, Reconciliation, and ‘Double Settler Denial:’ Gendering the Canada-South Africa Analogy
- This Place Podcast: explores 150 years of Indigenous resistance and resilience
- Conference Board of Canada, Bright Future Podcast Episode 25: The Hon. Murray Sinclair on why we need truth for reconciliation
- Episode 011 – conversations with leaders – Mike Desjardins & Yabome Gilpin-Jackson – Decolonizing & Rebuilding
- SFU library: Orange Shirt Day Resources
- 48 books by Indigenous writers to read to understand residential schools
- The Room Magazine 44:4—Indigenous Brilliance
- Indigenous Canada – Free Course from University of Alberta
- Canadian History Through the Lens of Indigenous Women
- Native Women’s Association of Canada
- One Day’s Pay
- The Indian Residential School Survivors Society
- The Orange Shirt Day Society/Every Child Matters Society
- Legacy of Hope Society
- Reconciliation Canada
- British Columbia Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act)
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Indigenous Peoples