Author’s warning: this article includes content that may be distressing to some readers.
I would like to begin by congratulating all the 2021 high school grads on their graduation. Even though this year was a difficult school year with schools moving to remote learning, a lot of time away from your peers, and celebrations being cancelled, you persevered! I know that you will go on to do great things and should be proud of yourselves. And while we celebrate the achievements of the students today, it is important for us to pause and recognize the impacts of Canada’s previous residential school system.
Canada was recently rocked by the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Soon after, it was announced that there were a further 104 unmarked child graves at the Brandon Residential School Site here in Manitoba, while many other discoveries announced soon after. For many Indigenous peoples, however, the “discovery” of these graves was not a surprise. Indigenous communities have known about the atrocities that were committed at residential schools for years, with many community members having witnessed them firsthand during their time at these institutions. For decades, community members spoke of these mass graves, but it was not until they began taking it into their own hands to uncover them that people believed them.
Estimates of how many children died at residential schools are unknown and until the proper research is done, we will not know for sure. What we do know for sure is that these graves represent just one aspect of Canada’s genocide of Indigenous peoples. It should be incumbent upon all governments to take action to unearth what happened at Canada’s residential schools, such as providing funding to locate graves, doing comprehensive forensic investigations to determine family and community origins and the repatriation of remains when deemed appropriate by the community.
This investigation should include residential schools in Northern Manitoba such as the Churchill Residential School, the Cross Lake Residential School, Guy Hill Residential School, and Norway House Residential School, so that our communities can get the closure they deserve. The effects of colonialism and residential schools are still felt today through generational trauma, addictions and more.
The revelation of these graves should mark a turning point in our country. We need to do all we can to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and provide supports for residential school survivors. No longer can our government turn a blind eye to its history of colonialism and genocide.
If you have any other questions, comments or concerns, feel free to reach out by phone at 204-687-3246 or email Tom.Lindsey@yourmanitoba.ca.