I am writing this with the understanding that you will be reading this on the eve of Canada Day, and I hope it encourages you to make this a better country, to stand up for social justice, to stand vigilant in protecting your democracy, and to hold your governments and institutions to account, and to remember that Indigenous Peoples were originally partners in the founding of this nation.
The end of National Indigenous History month on June 30 precedes the celebration of Canada Day, which this year, will be darkened for many.
The province of Ontario has provided $10 million to aid in the search for unmarked graves containing the bodies of Indigenous children.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, there were 18 Indian Residential Schools in Ontario. The last residential school closed in 1991. Some of the sites where the schools were located since then have been repurposed, abandoned, or destroyed.
First Nation communities across the province are beginning the work to search for the bodies of children who never returned from these schools. There were 139 such schools in Canada.
The provincial government of Saskatchewan has pledged $2 million to search for unmarked graves, the province of Alberta created an $8 million fund. It was the province of BC that provided the funding resources for the work to uncover the secret children’s graves in Kamloops in May. It was done in spite of the federal government’s denial of requested funds to do this work.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission requested $1.5 million in funding to search for unmarked graves in 2009, but that funding was denied by the federal government.
The latest discovery of 751 children’s bodies in unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan by the Cowessess First Nation is the second in what is expected to be many forthcoming discoveries as the work continues to research and uncover what was hidden from the nation.
It should be chilling to learn that governments and institutions could perpetrate such horrors in a free and democratic country, and work so hard to hide the evidence.
We may have to hear this story 130 more times, as sites at each of the schools are searched for thousands of children’s bodies. As the list grows, even though we know what is coming, it doesn’t make it any easier to know, and it doesn’t hurt us all any less.
The Prime Minister’s primary response to this was to acknowledge his shock and grief and demand that the Catholic church accept responsibility, and that the Pope offer an apology.
The fact that the federal government denied the support needed to uncover the truth is not lost on Indigenous Peoples, especially in this era of Truth and Reconciliation. It was only after provinces stepped up that Ottawa pledged $27-milllion to help communities locate and identify those lost.
It took a nation-wide push from people who are outraged at this injustice to get this government to finally act, despite the knowledge that the Department of Indigenous Services (Indian Affairs) had for decades.
In recent news, the Prime Minister criticized the human rights violations in China’s systemic abuse against ethnic Muslim Uyghurs. China responded by criticizing Canada’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples.
In international circles, Canada has lost any moral authority to criticize other countries on human rights. How far we have come from our shining days as an example of peacemaking and diplomacy.
In 1957, Canadian diplomat and soon to be Prime Minister Lester Pearson received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis, setting Canada onto the world stage as leaders, who would show the world the way to peace. In 1965, Canada unveiled its new Maple Leaf flag to thousands of cheers.
How far we have strayed from our path of peace, diplomacy and social justice.
Today we live in a country that is digging up the hidden bodies of children. We live in a country where the state is today, denying the human rights of children, and our government is fighting in the courts to continue that denial.
You may hear the pleas from Indigenous leaders that this abuse continues even today under federal policy. They need your help to stop it.
When Justin Trudeau was elected, he announced that there was no relationship more important to him than Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Despite his claims, his actions have been to deny support to communities, fail to provide clean drinking water, dragging First Nation foster children through the courts, and shirking responsibility by casting blame on the Pope.
On June 21, which was National Indigenous Peoples Day, here is what Minister of Indigenous Services MP Marc Miller had to say in the House of Commons, “Mr. Speaker, it is important to be clear to all Canadians and Parliament that as part of this process, not a single child has had to testify. Let me be clear once again that every single first nation child who has been discriminated against by the broken child welfare system will be fairly, justly and equitably compensated.” Imagine that these very words were spoken aloud by government in a democratic country just days ago. Imagine! Would we ever require children to testify because their human rights were being violated? What kind of place is this House of Commons?
The promises and the rhetoric continue, by a government that continues to tarnish the people of Canada, with the shade of its systemic racism, denial of basic human rights, and abuse of children.
The images of tiny bodies exhumed from unmarked graves is fresh in my mind. The anger at the continued denial and inaction of this government is fresh in my heart. I hear the chatter about a Fall election, and the confidence that the Liberal Party holds in that it may win a majority government, and it bewilders me that they could think they are so popular with all this going on.
It makes me think there are two Canadas. One for the privileged, and the other for the rest of us.
On this Canada Day, remember the contributions that Indigenous Peoples have made to this country.
Remember we are Nations who were the original partners in the founding of Canada.
Remember we were once your allies, and we need you now.