The discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C., has sparked a countrywide reaction of grief and horror.
The reactions of many government leaders have properly expressed the sorrow and regret appropriate with such a horrific finding, and flags across Canada have been lowered to half-mast.
One of the public expressions of grief have been the placing of children’s shoes and boots in public places as a memorial, such as on the steps of the Legislature in Regina and the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
This was truly a tragic finding that has rocked the world of Canadian leaders, both indigenous and non-indigenous alike — but the truth is, this has been a long time coming, and survivors of residential schools have spoken of this.
What is different is that remains of these children have just now come to light, but if one paid attention at all to the stories from former students of these schools, First Nations communities have suspected the existence of these graves for a very long time.
There were 139 residential schools across Canada, with 20 of them located here in Saskatchewan. Recently, 40 unmarked graves were found on the grounds of the former Regina Indian Industrial School.
What has taken a long time is for Canadians to come to terms with what happened at residential schools, and with how indigenous children were taken away from their families and their homes and placed into these institutions.
The hearings for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission uncovered many hundreds of such stories about the abuse and mistreatment that went on at these schools, and the recommendations from that commission were released in 2015.
True to most reports of this kind, and in spite of all the solemn promises by Justin Trudeau to answer the recommendations, nothing much has been done. The calls for action are rising once again, and now there are requests for money to do thorough radar searches of the grounds of other residential schools, because it is a certainty there will be more graves like this.
The issues around the mistreatment of indigenous peoples, and the attitudes that led to this situation, have been around for a very long time, but it’s tragic that it takes the discovery of children on the grounds of a residential school to all of a sudden awaken people to the reality of it.
Canada’s indigenous peoples are going to need much more than the placing of shoes at a memorial, and there needs to be more done to accomplish a true “reconciliation” with the non-indigenous people of this land. It may yet take many years to accomplish everything the commission set out, but maybe the process can finally happen.